A couple weeks ago, I had the chance to do a buddy read with my wonderful excellent incredible friend and brain twin Áine, and we ended up reading Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne! We had a fantastic time, I discovered she’s a faster reader than I am (SHE’S SUPER FAST, GUYS, IT’S AMAZING), and we both ended up writing reviews, which you can check out under the cut. Hopefully, if you pick up this book, you’ll enjoy it as much as we did!
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.
TW: needles, various degrees of terminal illness, self harm, torture
Oh man, I really loved this a lot, I think! It started with the cover, of course, because that watercolor is just sooooooo pretty and makes me wish I had any kind of talent with watercolors. Alas, I only have shaky hands and basic color sense, so it’s not the pursuit for me, and I just admire other people’s watercolor work instead. The map inside the book is also this stunning dark pink watercolor affair, and since I love both maps in fantasy books AND watercolor, it was off to a great start!
Of course, the other thing I actually found myself really invested in were the characters, especially Zivah. A healer who can no longer heal freely thanks to her illness, she’s still devoted to her path, and persistently so. I ADORED her pragmatic, persistent, clever ways. All the circumstances are against her, and sooner rather than later, she’s going to die. That’s just the nature of her illness, as is the fact she can’t touch anyone but those already afflicted or those who are umbertouched and immune to the plague she carries. She is lonesome, cut off from the life she was supposed to have, but she does her utmost with it. Maybe she’s not as kickass as other heroines in fantasy, but she’s practical and grounded and incredibly strong in the face of terrible odds.
Dineas, the other main character, was also fascinating, especially because he had to grapple with the consequences of the plan he shared with Zivah to infiltrate the Amparan ranks. It forced him to reckon with a side of him he barely recognizes as himself, and he handles it well as the story goes on. He also COMMUNICATES, which was super damn refreshing in YA. I’m tired of reading about couples I’m expected to ship and finding that they just miscommunicate (intentionally or not) ALL THE TIME. But Dineas is upfront about his feelings at basically all times, and I enjoyed it (though he’s my second favorite because Zivah was just more interesting to me overall).
The other thing I really appreciated was the romance. It is slow burn (my favorite!), and even though I’m not head over heels for the ship itself, I don’t hate it, which is a pretty big deal. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a slow burn that didn’t leave me really frustrated with the lack of chemistry between characters the whole time. Dineas and Zivah make a lovely team, and on top of that, their goals are not brushed aside for the romance. They still have to navigate the dangers they’re in and their feelings, which means it’s not all sunshine and roses, but it’s also not entirely doom and gloom.
The only thing that made this a four star read and not a fiver was that it was missing a wow factor. I think this comes down to the setting and pacing, which were a little on the contained and slower side. I love some action in my fantasy stories, not just political intrigue and romance, so this book had to work a little extra hard to fully keep my attention, and now and again, I did catch myself skimming and had to go back.
Overall, though, I’m really glad I got to read this book, and I’m excited that the sequel comes out this year! It’s on my TBR for sure, and I hope it ups the ante just a hair more (and that it’s a duology because wow do I love duologies).
One of my not-so-secret loves is political epic fantasy with fantastic worldbuilding, and this book came through on both those fronts.
The Main Players:
-Zivah: Zivah has been training as a healer, and the book opens with her passing her tests that will make her a full, certified healer. But only a few days after passing, she falls ill with the Rose Plague, a horrible, contagious disease that leaves few survivors. She manages to pull through, surviving the first fever, but comes out Rosemarked. This means that while she didn’t die during the first fever, she is still extremely contagious, and, in either a few months or a few years, the fever will come back and kill her. Because of this, she can no longer act as a healer, the job she has spent most of her life training for.
-Dineas: Dineas is a prisoner of war. He was captured and taken away from his people, the Shidadi, and has spent the last several months/years being tortured by The Amparan Empire. He has also been infected with the Rose Plague, but unlike Zivah, he survives and comes out Umbertouched, meaning he has beat the disease completely. However, the soldiers did not know this, and threw him on the pile of bodies, where he was saved. Now, he’s on the way back to his tribe.
Dineas is on the run from Amparan soldiers, and ends up in Zivah’s shed. It turns out that Zivah’s people and Dineas’s people have been working together in secret in an attempt to take down the empire that has been enslaving and killing everyone who goes against them.
Zivah has been offered a chance to go act as a healer in a special compound for those who have been Rosemarked. It gives her a chance to once more do what she believes is her calling, but it requires her to leave her village, her family, so she originally turned it down. Until, someone points out that Zivah taking that position gives her and Dineas a chance to enter the empire without suspicion. When they get there, Zivah will wipe Dineas’s memory, giving him a chance to gather information without the possibility of him giving something away.
What I Liked:
-The attention to detail in this novel was stunning. The worldbuilding was rich and complex and clearly shows the differences in cultures, down to the fact that the characters speak different languages. This is an often-forgotten element in epic fantasy novels, and it’s made better by the fact that they don’t make a huge deal about it. Which is a good way to put the worldbuilding style: everything is said like you already know this specific detail, completely bypassing the infodumping that is often prominent within this style of novel.
-The character development was fantastic. This novel is very character-driven, and both Zivah and Dineas’s growth over the novel is clear.
-And, speaking of characters, I love both of them. Zivah is genuinely kind-hearted, and she just wants to help people. And she doesn’t end the book as a cold-hearted killer. She stays good and kind and gentle, but with a bit more of a backbone. Her moral code is strict and doesn’t waver, but not in the annoying “this character can do no wrong” sort of way.
And Dineas is almost two totally different characters throughout the the book. Dineas with his memories is angry and distrustful and just generally pissed off about life. He thinks things through carefully, doesn’t act without weighing his actions first or thinking about the potential consequences; good or bad. But Dineas without his memories is more reckless, quicker to trust, and acts closer to the nineteen-year-old he really is. The differences are subtle, but definetely there.
-I loved the way both the Rose Plague and the methods of healing were brought about. Fantasy plagues can be rather hit or miss, but here, it felt like a real illness, and the healing, while it used fantasy plants, actually seemed scientific. Zivah knew what specific herbs and plants are supposed to do, so she combines them to try and get her desired result. It’s an excellent bit of worldbuilding.
-Can I mention the cover? it’s beautiful. And the map. It just makes me drool.
What I Disliked:
-This is a slower novel, and there were a couple of times throughout the book where things could get a little bit boring.
-The romance felt mostly “eh” for me. I wasn’t against it, I just felt pretty indifferent about it. Even by the end of the novel, I still didn’t really have an opinion on it. It’s totally a slowburn, though, and maybe future books will build up the tension more.
-The side characters fell rather flat to me. And the difference felt even more stark because so much care was put into the development and building of Zivah and Dineas, to have this side characters that were pretty one-sided felt especially jarring.
However! I still really enjoyed this book, and I enjoyed it more than I was expecting I would. It’s a very solid epic fantasy, and I will be reading the next book.
So have you read Rosemarked? How did you like it? And if you haven’t, do you think you’ll read it now? Either way, we hope you enjoy it!