What is fantasy? The technical definition is: “Fantasy is a genre of fiction set in a fictional universe. Magic and magical creatures or other supernatural elements are common in many of these worlds.” Notice that the main aspect of fantasy is setting! Magic (despite what we believe) is NOT a defining characteristic… Still it is something we expect!
Rosemarked Duology #1
by Livia Blackburne
Published November 7th 2017
A healer who cannot be healed is joined by a soldier shattered by war, together they will take on infiltrating the Empire… When Zivah catches the deadly rose plague her life as a healer is cut off from her, in order to recapture her life and practice her art she will become a daring spy. After being tortured and thrown out with the garbage, Dineas will undertake a mission that will mean abandoning who he has become to change the future.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This has not influenced my opinion.
It took me quite a while after I finished this book to wrap my head around it… I requested it spur of the moment having NOT read the books marketing compares it to (The Lumatere Chronicles and An Ember in the Ashes), based solely on the emotional impressions the blurb gave me… I.E. MY GUT said to give it a go.
One of my main questions was… What genre is it?!
“Any one of these creatures in front of me will kill a normal person in several heartbeats, and now I must survive three bites at once. The test of the deadly venoms is more than just a test of my body. It is a test of dedication and discipline, an embodiment of the principle that one who safeguards the lives of others must first be able to heal herself.”
It is set in an alternate world, of a medieval nature, with an Empire honing in on other people’s land. There is NO MAGIC, nor any fantasy or paranormal aspect or creature. It’s not historical in nature but you can tell the writing was informed by a knowledge of world history. Due to the herblore and rampant plague I call this combination of world building fantasy realism.
It takes the realistic details of a fantasy world and plays them out without any of the actual fantastical elements. A pretty neat, almost slice of life sort of world if a fantasy world were real. Due to there being NO fantasy elements, there is conflict but it is a tone and pace to life in the real world rather than the bookish one. In fact, ALL of the drama, twists and conflict is more akin to realism or real life. So while there were two pretty mega twists they are “small beans” if you compare them to your typical fantasy story.
If magical realism is a favorite of your then this has a complimentary feel…
Can a “sort of” fantasy story be good without fantastical elements?!
“Preener.” I point at the dogs. “Drive, that way.” And then I point in the direction of the steward. The crow takes off eagerly—he’d happily harass dogs even without orders from me. One moment he flies high, and then he dives straight into the middle of the hounds.”
YES! While the premise of an Empire dominating the area is not a new one, the details make it pop as well as the realistic nature of the story. Dineas’ use of crows as messengers was pretty special! I LOVE the use of animals in stories, even common ones like birds! And his weaponlore positions him as the man who can infiltrate the army.
I was really quite taken with Zivah’s knowledge of herblore and her use of poisons. She’s been trained as a healer and uses all of her skills to help Dineas in his role as spy. These two elements are at the core of the story and plays out in spectacular “realistic” fashion. It is definitely a unique balance as you do have to suspend disbelief that his birds and her herbs can have this affect (look at the author’s credentials!) but if you do then it makes events super compelling.
The plot though is well developed for both characters. Dineas must earn trust in the army and Zivah works in quarantine to find out about the outbreak in her area. And where those cross over there is a little something special brewing…
Obviously with two main characters, one of each sex, this is a romance, right?
“Blind kittens, groping at the teat. And they’re surprised when they’re thrown into a bag to be drowned.” Heat floods through me at his words. “And where has fighting gotten your people? Does it comfort your dead in their graves?”
Right, BUT do not expect the story to get swept aside for the romance! These two have NO REASON to fall in love. They each have some pretty bitter feelings toward life and love is NOT going to suddenly make everything they’ve gone through better. Again it was amazingly true to life without those hopeless tropes that make readers view romance in such an idealistic light!
There was NO love triangle, NO insta-love (far from it) and really if they hadn’t both taken on this task to infiltrate the Empire they NEVER would have fallen in love! I know readers are looking for books with LESS LOVE but this truly is one of the best YA romances I’ve read as far as pacing of their relationship and the uniqueness of their circumstances! Plus we get both characters POV which is a really great change from it being solely from the female perspective…
The important question is… WAS IT GOOD?!
I quite loved it! Everything was well researched and well developed and the storytelling was spot on… A truly superior dual POV narrative! Each character rang true to the personality developed and had their own unique voice that sucked you into the POV. The skills a writer has are normally hit or miss, developed over a career but here our author seems to have those skills well in hand.
As a Reader…
I am CHOMPING at the bit to read the next book!! At the end of this book everything has gone to hell and so you have NO CLUE where this duology is headed… that excites me as I HOPE Blackburne is able to duplicate and heighten the special mix of details and realism that she captured so well in Rosemarked.
Realism! Fantasy World! NO Magic! Crow Messengers! Herbology! Battles! Empires! Dual POVs!
I feel like the people are based on Asians… from the bamboo forests, to the step farming as well as the coloring of the people… her black haired and light colored, he browner with lighter hair, both speak to different Asian peoples… The nomads of Mongolia? Or a Chinese sect? Very well done world building that is subtle and yet just enough! The inter area fighting and domination of the people also speak to an Asian culture!
As a writer, I really appreciated that nothing was said of race, but we simply were dropped into this world where culture collides and two people must muddle through their differences and find common ground…
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Premise & World Building
⋆ ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Cover & Title
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Development & Storycraft
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Writing & Narrative
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Plot & Pacing
Fantasy Realism with Slow-burn Romance = Winner!
How do you feel about fantasy worlds with NO magic?
Are crow messengers and herbology interesting enough details to intrigue you? Do you enjoy dual POVs?
Do you want to read Rosemarked now?
Thanks for reading XOXO
**Please note that I had NO genre to drop this review in so it went into Magical Fantasy. My thought process is that I saw the herbology as a very realistic “magic” that the characters used to accomplish their aims!