Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne YA fantasy book reviewsRosemarked by Livia Blackburne YA fantasy book reviewsRosemarked by Livia Blackburne

In this 2017 YA political fantasy, Zivah and Dineas infiltrate a common enemy kingdom on a spy mission to preserve their respective tribe/agrarian village from an imperial oppressor. Rosemarked follows a dual POV narrative between Zivah, a mystical healer afflicted with the deadly Rosemark Plague, and Dineas, a tribal warrior who has achieved a rare recovery from the disease.

This story is billed as fantasy, but speculative elements are limited to the mystical nature of the healing arts practiced by Zivah and a pair of crow message carriers who always mysteriously find their master and addressee anywhere. Spooks, I know, might consider the messenger crow commo plan high fantasy indeed, but to those who read the genre, this is quite low fantasy. Within the healing speculative element, however, Livia Blackburne crafts the story’s most promising conceit.

Zivah infects Dineas (with his consent) with a toxin that produces amnesia, but which she can temporarily cure with her mystic potions, restoring him to perfect awareness of his warrior past. In so doing, Blackburne effectively creates a dual personality within which resides both a vengeful tribal warrior pitted against the (almost innocent) spirited defender of the empire. On this construct turns the driving tension of the story and its best hope of rising above a potential characterization as a tired follower of the AN EMBER IN THE ASHES saga.

Zivah was a strong female character, not so fierce that she could not be appropriately framed with a healer’s compassion. Her development as a character was limited to a challenge to her faith in a goddess who is supposed to have protected healers. I liked that Blackburne muses briefly about the human inclination to question misfortune and loss, but never the natural occurrence of good fortune in our lives. Blackburne earned a PhD in neuroscience, which gives her a certain special angle on the intersection between faith and science. This emerged briefly, but would be interesting to see further explored in future projects.

The romantic subplot between Dineas and Zivah was gentle and the tension between them, thankfully, unforced. Romance ran from restrained to sweet to complicated by the recurring emergence of Dineas’ anti-amnesiac personality.

World building was of no particular note in this story. It seemed to be set on both a continent and nearby island of subtropical to tropical climate, if the existence of venomous spiders and snakes is to be taken seriously. Certain details, like an abundance of sheets and bed clothes, generally, raised questions in my mind how much memory Blackburne retains of her birth country, Taiwan.

Overall, Rosemarked was an interesting read and I am certainly open to reading other Blackburne novels.

Published November 7, 2017. 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. This smart, sweeping fantasy with a political edge and a slow-burning romance will capture fans of The Lumatere Chronicles and An Ember in the Ashes.


  • Taya Okerlund

    TAYA OKERLUND's first career was in public service in the federal government. She previously lived in Japan and China and speaks both Mandarin Chinese and Japanese. More recently, she authored YA novel Hurricane Coltrane (WiDo, 2015) and currently reads and writes in spare moments between therapy runs and child rearing heroics.