Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne

Reviewed by Emily Lo Gibson

What if you were a healer whose hands now delivered death instead of life? Or a warrior suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), haunted by the shadows of war? These scenarios are at the heart of Livia Blackburne’s Rosemarked (Disney Hyperion, 2017), a fantasy adventure that touches on purpose, self-worth, and the value of scars—issues that every Christian grapples with on the journey of faith.

Rosemarked is set in the Amparan Empire, which shares similarities with ancient Rome in its brutal conquest of kingdoms and peoples. The story is told from two perspectives: that of Zivah, a healer infected by the deadly rose plague, and Dineas, a warrior who survives the plague yet remains scarred both by the disease and his time as a prisoner. A mission to save their mutual homeland brings them together on a high-stakes journey, with their own principles and the safety of their peoples on the line.

I found this book to be refreshingly complex for a teen novel. While the mission they faced is risky, with occasionally predictable twists, I was struck by the emotional depth of these characters and the moral choices they face. Zivah and Dineas both struggle with remaining loyal to their clans and vocations and loyal to themselves, in the midst of danger. Their characters are wounded physically and emotionally, which makes them very human. I particularly resonated with Zivah’s suffering, which forces her to grapple with her faith in her tribe’s goddess and her own identity as a healer. Both characters eventually manage a tenuous truce with their pain—and with each other—but the question remains: Can broken people become whole again?

Despite the positives of Rosemarked, some Christians, particularly parents, may still hesitate to read, or allow their children to read, fantasy literature. This is a complicated issue that requires more discussion. Not all books in the genre are edifying, but, as the J.R.R. Tolkien has argued in his essay, “On Fairy-Stories,” these works of the imagination can be worthwhile ways of “seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them”  

There is real value in paying more careful attention to fantasy literature, which asks us to step outside the realm of what we are familiar with and look at aspects of life in different ways. This book prompted me to reconsider my own scars and to better empathize with the pain and scars of others.

In Rosemarked, Blackburne, a fellow believer (and a personal friend), has crafted a quick read that is worth picking up and considering. The sequel, Umbertouched, will be published in November 2018.

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