Livia Blackburne is a neuroscientist turned YA author of Midnight Thief, Daughter of Dusk, and the now-completed Rosemarked duology. We really enjoyed the political fantasy atmosphere of Rosemarked and to celebrate the release of its sequel, Umbertouched, we’re sharing a Q&A with the author. We chatted with Livia about where the idea for the duology came from, the strangest thing she Googled while writing these books, and more:
Where did the idea for the Rosemarked duology come from?
Several things. For one thing, I was at one point really obsessed with Battlestar Galactica (the newer one). And from that show, I really got interested in the idea of sleeper agents, the idea that there could be spies living in an army who didn’t know they were spies until they were “activated.”
At around that time, I also watched a play about the Hawaiian leper colony of Molokai, and I was struck by the idea of illness as raising both physical and social barriers between the sick and the healthy. Having a terminal illness is bad enough, but the quarantine and the resulting isolation makes things so much worse.
Finally, I was writing this book at the tail end of a three year battle with infertility, so on a personal level I drew on my emotions about sickness and health when writing about Zivah’s situation, especially Zivah’s musings about health and faith.
Do you consider yourself a pantser, plotter, or something in between? What was your process while writing Rosemarked and Umbertouched?
I’m more of a plotter, though things change. I usually start out my stories with a few major plot points or predicaments. That emotional spark rarely changes. From there, I expand the outline until I’m perhaps about 60-70 percent done. And then I start drafting from the beginning.
The Rosemarked duology is a political fantasy. Was anything in these inspired by historical themes or present-day events?
So the Shidadi and Dara psyches were actually inspired by a long Facebook debate about gun control that scrolled across my feed years ago. The Shidadi embody the warlike peoples who would die before giving up their arms and their identity, whereas the Dara gave up their rights for safety and harmony. I wouldn’t try to read too much into the story for my own personal political views though, since there are many differences between that world and ours.
If you could spend a day with a character from Rosemarked and/or Umbertouched, who would it be and why?
I’d love to hang out with Zivah (provided I had some immunity to rose plague). I’d love to see her in action, mixing herbs, charming snakes, and treating patients.
What is the strangest thing you Googled while writing this duology?
There was a lot of googling about blood, poisons, and the like. I spent a really long time trying to figure out if it was possible to develop immunity to poisons, and if it was possible to transfer that immunity from person to person. That required looking into blood transfusions, blood types, what happens when you let blood sit in a container for a while….. Basically lots of blood.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading Rosemarked and Umbertouched?
I’d love for them to come out full of feels for Zivah and Dineas! And beyond that, I hope they can ponder the gray areas of right and wrong, good and evil, self and other, and the question of what makes a good or full life. You know, the usual stuff.
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.
The mission was a failure. Even though Zivah and Dineas discovered a secret that could bring down the empire, their information is useless without proof. Now, with their cover blown and their quest abandoned, their only remaining hope is to get home before Ampara brings the full might of its armies against their peoples.
As Shidadi and Dara alike prepare for war, Zivah and Dineas grapple with the toll of their time in the capital. After fighting alongside the Amparans against his own kin, can Dineas convince the Shidadi—and himself—where his loyalties lie? After betraying her healer’s vows in Sehmar City, can Zivah find a way to redeem herself—especially when the Dara ask her to do the unthinkable? And after reluctantly falling in love, what will the two do with their lingering feelings, now that the Dineas from Sehmar City is gone forever? Time is running out for all of them, but especially Zivah whose plague symptoms surface once again. Now, she must decide how she’ll define the life she has left.
Together, healer and warrior must find the courage to save their people, expose the truth, and face the devastating consequences headed their way.
Umbertouched is available now wherever books are sold!