She speaks with an evenness that signifies either determination or shock. ‘You can’t pretend to be amnesiac among the Amparans. I can make it real for you. I can take away your memory.’
(Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne. P85.)Synopsis:
The Rose Plague kills most of the people it strikes. Others become rosemarked. They survive the initial bout of rose plague but carry the illness, and die within a few years. A small number become umbertouched. These people are immune to the plague.
The Amparan empire is growing.
When healer Zivah becomes rosemarked, her plans to study medicine are cut short. When her village allies with the Shidadi tribe, Zivah becomes part of a plan to infiltrate the Amparan ranks alongside soldier Dineas. Dineas is umbertouched. His people have been broken by the empire and he longs for revenge. He is immune to plague, and with the help of Zivah’s potions he can be passed off as a surviour with no memory of his past life.
Dineas is forced to live two lives – one where he knows his past, and one where he doesn’t. These two selves hold conflicting viewpoints. What would any of us do if we couldn’t remember who we were?
A high-stakes fantasy with a fascinating concept. A strong empire crushing smaller tribes and villages is a familiar story, but Rosemarked is about the collaboration between Dineas and Zivah, and the conflict which comes from Dineas’s double-identity. He alternates between understanding his mission and being unaware that the Amparan Empire crushed his home tribe. At those times he is a proud Amparan solider willing to serve the Empire, even if it means turning on the people and places he loves.
The plague divides people as equally as the Empire. In Ampara, the rosetouched are kept in a compound. Umbertouched are frequently resented for their luck. The virus can also be used as a weapon, which raises interesting questions about what corrupt governments could do with viral weapons.
Zivah is a great character. She is more rounded than a lot of tough female characters, but she is intelligent and willing to use her knowledge in defense of herself. Her dreams are torn apart by the illness, and by the laws around it, and it was interesting to see how this contributed to her decisions. Her relationship with Arxa’s daughter Mehtap is one of the most complex YA friendships I have read. They could be BFFs, or turn against one another in an instant for the sake of their politics. At a time when people identify with each other over their stance on Europe or Trump as equally as their personality, it is lovely to see this conflict represented in fiction.
There is a hint of romance between Zivah and Dineas. I wasn’t certain what I wanted in terms of the romance, but it was interesting to see Zivah in a position where she knew more about reality than Dineas. Was she manipulative? I think she was a pawn in a larger war, but the idea of her guiding Dineas through to the brutal end while he was unaware of what he was doing sent shivers down my spine. It was a great conflict.
The novel sets up a sequel, and I would read this in an instant. Livia Blackburne is a hugely talented voice in YA fantasy, and a writer who understands the complexity of human interaction.
Huge thanks Turnaround UK and Sarah Mather for sending a copy in exchange for review. All opinions my own.