We’re pretty lucky to have vaccinations and modern medicine to protect us against major diseases that could threaten the future of mankind. The residents of the kingdoms in Rosemarked are not so lucky. This fantasy novel is published by Disney’s Hyperion imprint and written by Livia Blackburne. While reading it, I routinely had flashbacks to Princess Mononoke, a Studio Ghibli film about a leper warrior.
Zivah is a teenage healer in her small village where she has mastered the art of mixing herbs and venoms to heal sick neighbors. Dineas is a trained soldier who was captured by the Amparan army. It takes the rose plague to bring their two worlds together to unite forces against a growing enemy.
These kingdoms are being affected by rose plague, a disease that has no known cure, even for healers. Those who have the disease have a visible indicator, with red rosemarks covering their body. The few who survive are the lucky ones, forever immune to the disease but maintaining their markings, which turn brown once they’re healed (umbermarked). For most citizens who contract the plague, their days are numbered.
Dineas escapes his captors when his body is tossed out with other diseased rosemarked prisoners, his captors failing to realize he had umbermarks instead. By the time he crosses paths with Zivah, she has unfortunately contracted the disease. Their two world’s collide when they both become part of plan to overthrow the Amparan’s, a ruthless kingdom determined to take over the neighboring lands by any means necessary.
Zivah has been invited to be a healer in a rosemarked compound in Ampara, her way to get inside and figure out a way to tear the city apart. Using her venoms and antidotes, she brainwashes Dineas with the ability to restore his memories if needed and he assimilates into the Amparan army, his former captives he doesn’t remember and who no longer recognize him. The story becomes somewhat of a ticking time bomb as readers experience both teenagers working together and building trust to overthrow this terrible regime.
From a storytelling standpoint, the most captivating aspect is that Blackburne wrote the story from alternating points of view in the first person. The odd chapters are from Zivah’s point of view, while the even are from Dineas. This helps readers not only better understand both characters, but also feel their growing feelings and fears towards one another. Dineas, in particular, is a fascinating psychological study into the mind of someone who has lost their memories, made new ones, and then regained his old ones. For me, he was the more captivating character.
Rosemarked makes it very clear that this is book one in a two-part series. Readers should expect a cliffhanger that doesn’t quite wrap everything up, but it at least gets the reader to a place they can deal with until then. I liken the ending to that of The Empire Strikes Back.
I enjoyed Rosemarked more than I thought I would, as teen fantasy novels aren’t usually my genre of choice. In the acknowledgements section, Blackburne gives credit to a few individuals who helped her with researching the medical and scientific aspects of the story, adding a layer of realism. While aimed at teenagers, there’s no foul language or innuendos and adult readers will likely appreciate the story as well. It’s accessible to all, like The Hunger Games series.