Livia Blackburne brings Zivah and Dineas’ thrilling mission to a close in UMBERTOUCHED!
Zivah and Dineas have failed. Ampara’s attack on their homeland is underway. Without any proof of Emperor Kiran’s betrayal of his own people to perpetuate war, they can’t stop the massive, powerful army moving against them. Shidadi warriors and Dara townspeople alike will need to come together to battle the threat, but even with a warrior culture among them, they don’t have the resources to out-battle Amparan forces.
Meanwhile, Zivah and Dineas are not the people they were before traveling to Sehmar City in Rosemarked. In order to save Dineas’ life, Zivah broke her sacred healing vows… and she may have to do it again. Moving out of the Rosemarked colony and back to Dara also means that she’s nearly always in isolation– a nearly impossible task for a skilled healer during war, despite her extremely contagious and potentially lethal condition.
Dineas keenly remembers the horrors of killing his own people while posing as an Amparan soldier under the effects of Zivah’s memory potion. Though they know the circumstances, many of the Shidadi blame and refuse to trust him in the aftermath. There are also unanticipated effects of the potion that have Dineas wondering where his true feelings lay, especially as he searches his a traitor in their midst. At the same time, there’s a palpable tension between Dineas and Zivah. She fell in love with the bright and hopeful Sehmar City Dineas, a boy without the burdens of the world upon him. That boy is gone forever.
The strength of this duology is in its world building and characters, both of which make as great an impression in Umbertouched as they did in Rosemarked. If you love the side characters from the first novel, fear not– your (surviving) favorites will be back, from Dineas’ former Amparan bestie Walgash to the mysterious rebel Mehtap, who isn’t taking any side but her own. We also get a few new characters including a major ally who works with Zivah on her most perilous mission yet. I really love all of these characters, filled to the brim with moral quandaries and unpredictable emotions. During their adventures, readers get a more intricate picture of the massive fantasy landscape that Blackburne created.
Though the novel dives into war, the pacing of Umbertouched is very similar to book one until about the last 25 percent. Which is to say it runs on the slower, more character-driven side. This still worked for me on the whole because those slower moments involved a lot of scheming and searching that lent itself to a payoff later.
Honestly, Umbertouched didn’t capture my attention with the same fervor I had reading Rosemarked. I think it’s because of the huge shift between Zivah and Dineas that keeps them apart for much of the novel. Their chemistry is fascinating, but readers see a lot less this time. There’s plenty for other character interactions to bask in and action to marvel over, though, so this plot still ranks pretty high in the grand scheme of things.
This duology is built around the idea of a often deadly outbreak known as the Rose Plague, but the novel focuses on the ”why” of disease without paying much attention to the ”how”. It was a bit frustrating at times because I wanted answers that would provide more hope, but at the same time, Blackburne also smashes a major trope and I give her all the respect for that.
If you love stories of conspiracy, war, pandemics, and impossible odds, Umbertouched is a thrilling conclusion that complements its predecessor and will leave you curious but satisfied in its own bittersweet way.
RATING: 4 OUT OF 5 STARS
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.