by Livia Blackburne
Zivah was considered one of the blessed ones. Having found her calling as a healer at an early age, she devoted her time and energy almost exclusively to the art of saving those around her. Under the expert tutelage of her teachers of the class of master healers, Zivah learned how to weave simple herbs into complex potions that could bring the sick back from the brink of death. She learned the reverence to be found at the feet of the Goddess; the one who doles out the power of healing carefully and with great thought, and the one who had chosen to bestow Her gift upon the pretty village girl. Zivah found her purpose.
Wrapped up in the comforts of the new life that awaits her after graduation, the quiet chaos around her is none of her concern. It is not her responsibility to dwell on the mindful arts of war and conquering. Zivah’s place is in the hospital or at a bedside, where she can put her hands to good use. But when the rose plague begins to spread curiously and unexpectedly across the troop of imperial soldiers occupying her village, Zivah’s world must collide with those who would do her people harm.
Despite her meticulous precautions, Zivah finds herself infected with the dreaded rose plague. There is no known cure in existence for the fever-ridden illness, and there are only three ways out: Death, forever plagued and a lifetime of quarantine, or the true blessing of the gods – to come out of the fever umbertouched; meaning, free from the rose plague and immune to it forevermore.
Unfortunately for the newly marked healer, the plague took it’s own course and decided to claim Zivah as one of its cruelest victims. She is forever rosemarked; her skin bears the marks of the disease and she must be put into strict isolation away from anyone who does not also have the illness, or the few who are lucky enough to be umbertouched. What can a healer who cannot be healed do? Her days as a healer are over . . . or so she thought.
Dineas was nearly broken by his stint in an Amparan prison. Beaten, tortured and eventually thrown out like trash to die after succumbing to the rose plague fevers, he was thankfully saved by a passing villager and nursed to health. Sent on his way as soon as he was able to walk, Dineas slowly made his way back to his tribe – the warrior people of Shidadi. Upon the reunion, he is told of the whispers of a plan being hatched in the Amapran Empire. The lands and villages of the gentle people in the outskirts of the city are sure to be threatened with attack as the Emperor seeks to extend the boundaries of his territories. A war that may eliminate everyone in the small villages and clusters of homesteads is sure to occur. In an effort to save those innocent lives, the Shidadi leaders have drummed up a plot of their own, and they need Dineas to help implement it. They also need the help of someone on the inside.
When the invitation to come and settle in Amapara’s rosemarked community and resume her work as a healer reaches Zivah, she is equal parts confused and intrigued. She’d done her best to save the revered Commander Arxa when he’d come down with the rose plague along with the other soldiers while in occupation of her village. But, she had done so mostly for fear that if the man died, the Empire would come down on her village with an iron fist and blame. She never expected that his thanks would come in the form of a job in the city, and she is tempted. Living alone in isolation is more than lonely, it is dreadfully sad and is leaving her on the brink of giving up. When the leader of her village and the strange Shidadi woman come to her with a proposition – to help garner inside knowledge of the plans going on inside of the city in an attempt to head things off – Zivah knows what she must do. Even if it means joining forces with the moody and surly Shidadi warrior, Dineas.
The two unlikely partners will grudgingly work together to concoct a story interlaced with lies and truth, burrowing their way as deep into the Amparan city life as they can get. In an attempt to attain their goal, they will mutually push the boundaries of their moral codes, sometimes finding themselves at the very edge of reasoning. Using all of the lessons she has learned as a healer, Zivah will pull together potions that muddle and erase Dineas’ memory, allowing him to fully immerse himself into the life of a loyal soldier of Amapara. She will be virtually in control of his truth and as a result, there will be two Dineas’ in existence. And as a softer shadow of the ruthless warrior begins to emerge, he will begin to look at everything with fresh eyes.
Rosemarked is a novel centered around two strong characters – one male and one female – making the story appropriate and deliciously captivating for all audiences. While the taste of romance lingers around the edges of the dangerous double-lives Zivah and Dineas are living, readers can be assured that the novel is suitable for ages of a (mature) 10+. Set in a richly woven fantasy world, the author has fully delivered in terms of originality and a relatable nature, something that is sometimes difficult to achieve when writing fantasy novels. Both main characters evoke empathy and trust, and readers will find disappointment only when the book comes to its close.
I may have spoiled myself a bit by indulging in the deeply detailed and well-researched fantasy-esque novels by educated women writers like Diana Gabaldon and Deborah Harkness, and as a result, I sometimes have a hard time getting into young adult books with a similar theme. Rosemarked, however, had me from the jump. I guess it doesn’t hurt that Livia Blackburne (the author who penned this as well as the Midnight Thief novels) is a scholar herself. Boasting a PhD from the acclaimed Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master in the degrees of neuroscience in accordance to reading, Blackburne is about as qualified a writer as one will find in the YA genre. Mixing innate intelligence with a fluid flair of danger, Blackburne has spun a tale centered around courage and morality, while also giving us a hunky hero and a quick-witted heroine.
Giving Rosemarked a solid 5 out of 5 stars, I recommend it to lovers of the fantasy genre – especially if you like it dosed with a liberal dash of double-agentry. Readers who have enjoyed Maria V. Snyder’s Avry of Kazan series will be interested in this duology, as will mature readers looking for a taste of lighter fare this fall.