04 December 2018

Bookishness / Umbertouched by Livia Blackburne

Read _ in the midst of a move and its aftermath

When coming home brings
death and destruction ...

Brokenness is usually not an admirable trait. Neither is failure. These have been weary times, and sometimes I just want my heroines and heroes to succeed and thrive, not botch things up like I and the rest of the world do! Yet they are made more human for it. And in Umbertouched (2018), Livia Blackburne's sequel to Rosemarked (2017), I found myself repeatedly rooting for the very human Zivah and Dineas. These characters at the helm of the story are scarred, visibly and invisibly, and yet they endure in ways that make me hopeful for myself.

The book picks up right where Rosemarked left off, as Zivah and Dineas flee Sehmar City and prepare their people for the approaching war with Ampara. Their return to Monyar is riddled with regret and uncertainty. They have become outsiders to those they love and are haunted by the repercussions of their failed mission. Zivah continues to grapple with her faith and her spiraling illness, wondering how life has value as she remains on the outskirts and awaits death. In parallel, Dineas struggles with the sense that he has betrayed his people while undercover in Ampara. His mind remains split and tormented from their time in the capital. Both characters have endured trauma and are even more broken than before.

“In the past year, I’ve helped people, and I’ve killed people.
I've saved lives, and I’ve narrowly escaped death.
But I am still rosemarked. I will still die.
That has not changed.”

As Zivah and Dineas grapple with their costly decisions, the story is mainly driven by the David and Goliath clash between Monyar’s tribes and the vast Amparan army. Although the pacing of the plot is a bit uneven, with parts that are slow and others that push too quickly, the story kept me anticipating the twists and turns as alliances are forged and tested. Dara, Shidadi, and Amparans alike must make difficult choices in order for their peoples to survive. Through these conflicts and tests of loyalty, I enjoyed seeing more of the peripheral characters fleshed out, as they tread in the moral gray zone and make justification for their actions.

It’s Blackburne’s continued exploration of complex questions through the series that make Zivah, Dineas, and other characters  three-dimensional and relatable. They are refreshingly mature in their struggles, more so than the many drama-filled characters that litter young adult fantasy these days. I was intrigued to see how they find new ways to cope and thrive, despite the sacrifices required. Even so, there could have been even more development in their story lines, particularly regarding mental disease and stigma.

Lingering quietly in the background is the question of love. Zivah’s unresolved romance with Dineas brings instances of tension along with sweet moments, as they wade through their hesitant feelings. They keep getting in the way of themselves, though, making this aspect of the book a rather slow burn. I kept wishing I could egg them firmly on!

“I wonder how much longer we’ll keep
dancing around each other like this,
pretending we don't know each other as well as we do.
Pretending that we hadn’t been in love.”

It’s not all war, uncertain love, and trauma, though. The crows dart in and out of the narrative, bringing delight and comic relief with every indignant squawk and hop. These messenger and scouting birds used by Zivah and Dineas develop distinct personalities in this book, and I’m glad they have a life of their own as Slicewing, Preener, and Scrawny.

Umbertouched is the satisfying conclusion to the Rosemarked series and is one of my favorite reads of 2018. Older teens (and teens at heart) would enjoy its challenging perspectives, but it’s still fitting for younger teens as a cleaner read than many books in the genre. Umbertouched’s unique take on brokenness, loyalty, compassion, and sacrifice bring a welcome dose of humanity to a crowded YA fantasy sphere.

See my reviews of Rosemarked for Goodreads and Stone Hill Readers’ Reviews.


Umbertouched (Rosemarked #2) by Livia Blackburne
November 6, 2018
Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher / Goodreads / IndieBound / Barnes & NobleAmazon

Trigger warning: Trauma, PTSD, terminal illness, mild violence, war scenes

Note: I received an advanced reader copy of Umbertouched in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Disney Hyperion and NetGalley for the opportunity. I was also a beta reader for an earlier draft of this book and have enjoyed seeing how it transformed from rough manuscript to fully-formed book.

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