The second book in the Rosewater series, and really, you can’t read and understand this without reading the first, so I really wouldn’t try. That said, should you happen upon this review in the far future, you could allow for a time gap between the books because you just need a general framework of the world. On the other side, that means if you read Rosewater and jumped right into this, the way Nataliya and I did, you will appreciate the lack of explanobabble that some series fall prey to. Thompson has a lot going on and needs to get to business. While Rosewater is mostly about the sensitive Kaaro, Insurrection is about… subsequent events surrounding the reveal, so everything that follows will have indirect spoilers for the first book. Yes, I get that you may not want to keep reading. (Remember: I can only remember complicated chemo regimens because I’ve worked with them for almost two decades. You think I can remember a story about aliens in Nigeria? Actually, to be honest, there’s a possibility I will; it’s that unique).
Narrative is centered around a group of four… people, with varying degrees of each viewpoint, so it can be a bit of a challenge figuring out as a reader who is central. Aminat begins the tale, followed by Jack Jacques, the ethically complicated mayor of Rosewater; Alyssa, white Rosewater woman who has lost her memory; and Anthony, the avatar/amalgam of Wormwood and humanity. Kaaro plays a more insignificant role, so if you are hoping for more of his specific character arc, prepare to let go of expectations, although I did appreciate the appearance of Yaro, his dog. An early sensitive who was brought into S45 gets a turn. Will is the last viewpoint, an author brought in to be a chronicler, but there will also be pieces of his novel scattered through the book. It’s a bit confusing, but I think Thompson is hoping to convey the chaos of both environmental and political change causing further upheaval (METAPHORALERT). In this, it is very much a book of our times.
I feel like the characters were as well-rounded as possible, given the constraints of time and narrative, and Jack will be the anti-hero you come to understand, if not appreciate. While it originally seems like Amarit will be playing an active role, she ends up being more of a tool in a political game, still deferential to S45 and the brother crutch. Unfortunately for me, I think the variety of viewpoints leads to overmuch detail in the wrong places. The early S45 character could have been left out, and Alyssa’s midstory-viewpoint minimalized. Word count could have been given instead to Anthony, for clarifying the alien world-finding philosophy, or to Amarit surviving in Rosewater, giving insight into life for the ordinary person. I tend to feel like more threads ends up in a more chaotic color weave, not necessarily a more complex one–at least here. Some people can achieve that riotous complexity. Your mileage may vary with how much you feel Thompson does.
World-building remains complicated, and in this installment, both the Nigerian-Rosewater relations and the alien complications are fleshed out, so to speak (groan). We get more insight into the local history of Rosewater, and the chaos of everyday life there. Although I’m no expert on western Africa, I can’t help feeling like Thompson is drawing more on current politics than future. It makes for a curious blend of contemporary and futuristic feel.
The plot is fast paced with a lot of action, as you might expect with such a title. There are likely some trigger-warnings here, and again this is where it feels contemporary. There is a brief mention made of a rape-camp and frequent mention of ‘necklacing’ as a punishment. Although it becomes more disturbing when you realize, hopefully, that necklacing has been a rare occurrence in any part of Africa and tends to horrify people when it occurs. So I’m not sure what Thompson is implying by bringing it back as an apparent social control.
Overall, I found it a fascinating read that provided a lot of fodder for thought and discussion. It feels a little like one of those nicely done big-budget sci-fi films that maybe lacks detail and finesse on scrutiny, but holds up fine on first go-through, and absolutely works as great after-movie conversation.
Many, many thanks to Nataliya for waiting for me and participating in a buddy read. I sincerely enjoyed our conversations about this book!