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Zivah has always planned on being a healer working in her small village tending to the illnesses and needs of others. Now, however, after the deadly Rose Plague strikes her village, Zivah is a patient, waiting for the unpredictable --- and fatal --- second surge of her sickness. Contagious until death, she lives secluded on the edges of society, and is unable to use the skills she trained so hard to learn.

Meanwhile, tensions rise in the Amparan Empire. The villagers under their control live in fear, but unbearable restrictions and the constant weight of looming punishment have begun to seed resentment. This anger is nothing new to Dineas, one of the Shidadi, who have been fighting against imperial rule for years. When he escapes from Amparan prison after months of torture and returns to his people, a spontaneous encounter with Zivah spurs a plan to send both into Central Ampara in the hopes of gaining valuable information. As the plan unfolds, however, unforeseen consequences strain them both, while all the while the Empire looms larger.

"Blackburne’s novel is rich in a unique, well thought out setting and interesting medical concepts that distinguish this book from the masses of fantasy novels in the young adult world."

ROSEMARKED is the newest novel from author Livia Blackburne, a strong, fast-paced fantasy with unique elements that give the story a fascinating edge. A graduate of MIT, Livia’s background in neuroscience permeates the novel. Without spoiling too much of the plot, a major component of the story is memory repression, and the author’s scientific knowledge lends it a realistic note that makes the concept fully engaging, while her experience as an author aids the clear depiction of the psychological effects on the characters --- all around, it adds a unique component to the plot. Additionally, the concept of PTSD is touched upon, and though it could have been developed more, it lent a realistic element to Dineas as a character, one that we often don’t see in fantasy --- characters often seem larger than life, seemingly unaffected by their struggles.

In addition to the scientific undertones of the novel, the complex politics are another one of the book’s strongest elements. The overbearing empire, with its inner struggles for power and oppressed citizens, as well as various levels of resistance and their own tangled relationships, make the world itself seem real, even more so when Zivah and Dineas grapple with both sides on their mission. Blackburne adds even more detail to her world building with the complications of the Rose Plague, a central feature of the story. She depicts the realistic solutions an infected society would implement to protect itself, the stigma and fear that would arise over time, and the feelings of the victims themselves --- anger, resentment and hopelessness --- with vivid description and depth.

With that said, Blackburne’s novel does struggle in some places with pacing. The exposition seemed somewhat rushed --- while this ensured that the action picked up quickly, I personally struggled to connect with the characters at first, and would have liked a better glimpse at their personalities and backstories, so that the opening events could have carried more resonance. Additionally, I found that the ending of the novel was abrupt, with the climax over too quickly and the falling action very brief, and therefore almost anticlimactic.

All in all, despite some plot struggles, Blackburne’s novel is rich in a unique, well thought out setting and interesting medical concepts that distinguish this book from the masses of fantasy novels in the young adult world. Presenting thought-provoking questions and concerns, ROSEMARKED is excellent on its own --- and sets up the series for a stunning sequel in the future.

Reviewed by Rachel R., Teen Board Member on November 30, 2017

by Livia Blackburne