Author: Livia Blackburne
Publication Date: November 7, 2017
When Zivah falls prey to the deadly rose plague, she knows it’s only a matter of time before she fully succumbs. Now she’s destined to live her last days in isolation, cut off from her people and unable to practice her art—until a threat to her village creates a need that only she can fill. A soldier shattered by war . . . Broken by torture at the hands of the Amparan Empire, Dineas thirsts for revenge against his captors. Now escaped and reunited with his tribe, he’ll do anything to free them from Amparan rule—even if it means undertaking a plan that risks not only his life but his very self. Thrust together on a high-stakes mission to spy on the capital, the two couldn’t be more different: Zivah, deeply committed to her vow of healing, and Dineas, yearning for vengeance. But as they grow closer, they must find common ground to protect those they love.
Books that take place in a whole other world are very hit and miss for a lot of people, including me. Sometimes the world building is shallow and boring. Other times it’s overly angsty and unrealistic. The bad guys are one note and the good guys are innocent and pure; poor serfs being punished by the evil empire/ fascist regime/ evil sorcerer. In addition, it’s often difficult for me to relate to characters and their problems when all their drama occurs in a world that I have no stake in.
However, I have to give Rosemarked serious credit for creating characters and sides in a conflict that have both depth and ambiguity. Yes, the conquering empire is being rather crappy to the conquered (as is the norm. At least they’re not taking slaves all over the place *cough* Roman Empire *cough*), but, let’s be frank, to those soldiers patrolling the land, people jumping out of the hills and murdering all their friends isn’t a very nice thing to do either. Couple this with an incurable plague that affects everyone equally, rich or poor, and you’ve got the recipe for an interesting book.
And speaking of interesting, I loved the way the rose plague worked. One of the main characters, a girl who really did not deserve to get the plague, got the plague. However, she survived, and emerged covered with red “rose shaped” contagious splotches, as well as with a 5-10 year life expectancy. And props to her village for letting her remain in the village, in a far away cabin, harvesting poisonous creatures for medicine. Because once you’ve got the plague, snakes and scorpions with enough poison to kill a grown man suddenly don’t seem like that big a deal.
Luckily for Zivah, our other main character came out of the plague with immunity, so he is one of the rare few that can be around her without fear for his life. Too bad he’s kind of a jackass. Because he was raised as a child soldier, and then tortured for a while by a commander with a really cool name. Who wouldn’t be a jackass at that point?
But oh thank god this wasn’t the kind of story where the girl slowly breaks through the boy’s angsty damaged exterior to unearth the kind compassionate soul within. Because that would have been so disappointing. The fact that the author didn’t have the two main characters get all lovey dovey romance angst on each other right away deserves to be praised.
My favorite thing about this story, however, was the fascinating dynamic that plays out with the concept of personality, morality and relationships. Long story short, near the beginning of the book, Zivah agrees to temporarily take away all of Dineas’s memories in order to help him infiltrate the army. It was really interesting to watch the two separate character developments of Dineas; the Dineas with his memories, and the Dineas without. This concept gave the author a lot to play with, and she did an excellent job. This dynamic helped to set this novel apart from other novels in the genre.
Rosemarked was a refreshing read in an otherwise often clichéd and melodramatic genre.