Serena’s Review: “Rosemarked”

29346927Book: “Rosemarked” by Livia Blackburne

Publishing Info: Disney-Hyperion, November 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: A healer who cannot be healed . . .

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. And amidst the constant fear of discovery, the two grapple with a mutual attraction that could break both of their carefully guarded hearts.

Review: I was very excited to receive a copy of this book in the mail for review. I had seen it bouncing around on a few review sites, but generally it seemed to land fairly unnoticed. Which, now having read it, is quite a shame! “Rosemarked” is a powerfully simple story of invasion and colonization, hope in the face of loss, and the resilience of two characters who are set with an impossible task.

Zivah, a young healer, finds herself with the unwelcome task of caring for a troop of Amparan soldieres who fall ill with the dreaded rose plague while passing through her home. While her people have arranged a peaceful treaty with these forces, their lands is still regularly plundered and their people harmed. But Zivah knows her duty. She saves as many as she can, including the commander of the guard, but finds herself now cursed with the plague herself, doomed to die in a few years when the fever returns. But her life is not over. She finds herself drawn into a plan to infiltrate the Amparan capital to better learn what their plans are for her homeland. Now, alongside Dineas, a young solder who only recently escaped the dungeons of the city he now marches back towards and who still carries mental and emotional scars from this time, Zivah has a chance to use her knowledge of poisons and healing to save her people.

The story is told with alternating view points between Zivah and Dineas. This worked particularly well due to the vast differences in not only their personalities, but also in their life experiences and how these have shaped their worldviews. As a healer, Zivah struggles with her new reality, doomed to a short life in which even her vast knowledge cannot save her. Further, as she is highly contagious, her entire vocation has been lost to her. In this new mission, she is asked to bend and manipulate her own oaths as a healer to do no harm. What is “harm” when the balance is between individuals and nations? Where is the line when using her knowledge of herb lore and poisons?

Dineas, too, has a powerful arc throughout the story. After his time in prison, he is too broken to return to the capital as he is, not able to put on the performance necessary to convince the Amparan soldiers that he is one of them. Instead, Zivah uses a complicated potion to take away his memories. With this act, the story ultimately ends up with three characters: Zivah, original Dineas, and the Dineas who has no memory. This new Dineas, freed from his memories of torture and hatred, forms a close relationship with the healer who “saves” him. However, as their mission continues, the old Dineas must be brought forth routinely to report on what new Dineas has seen. This leads to much inner confusion and tension as he imposes his own memories, fears, and prejudices onto the actions and emotions of a self who has been freed of his difficult past. Both versions of Dineas’ are soldiers to the core. But through their two perspectives, one jaded and one naive, they each struggle with the harsh realities of warfare and the knowledge that soldiers on either side of any war are ultimately people themselves, with their own loves and lives.

The rose plague plays a large part in this story, not only through the massive impact it has on shaping Zivah’s now shortened life, but in the portrayal of this world as a whole. The plague kills the majority of those it touches. A small few recover but are doomed to live solitary lives in plague villages, waiting for the return of the fever that will claim them. And an even smaller number recover completely, the rose-colored marks on their skin browning, resulting in their being known as “umbertouched.” Through Zivah’s eyes, we see the half-life that those left with this in-between portion of life are forced to live. Cut off from society, the rosemarked are shuffled out of sight into grimy, lawless colonies, similar to a leper colony. They can not interact with loved ones, for fear of passing on the disease. And they have no future, living only on borrowed time. What’s worse, for the majority of them, society prefers to pretend they simply no longer exist. Zivah, and all the others she meets who are rosemarked, are living life in a very different want than the average person. They know their time is limited, and with this in mind, their mental calculus of risk and reward is very different.

Also, for a fantasy novel, there was practically no magic in this story. Really, other than the fact that it is set in a made-up world that is pestered by a fictional plague, this book could read as historical fiction. I quite enjoyed the lack of magic in this story, and the slow, methodical way the plot plays out. The story is simple and straightforward, relying heavily on the strength of its two central characters and their individual arcs throughout the book. For some readers, this may read as a bit slow and dull.  But for readers who enjoy character-focused stories and who can appreciate a fantasy novel with very little magic, “Rosemarked” is definitely a book worth checking out! It’s the first in a duology, with the second, “Umbertouched” set to release next fall.

Rating 7: A character-driven story that perhaps lacks depth, but still touches on important topics of vocation, one’s role in the world, and the horrible decisions that ongoing warfare brings upon a people.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Rosemarked” is a newer title and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads list, but it should be on “Best Fiction Books About Diseases or Viruses.”

Find “Rosemarked” at your library using WorldCat!

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