Two young people fight oppression against the backdrop of plague.
During the celebration of Zivah’s initiation as healer, the occupying Amparan soldiers fall ill with the rose plague, forcing Zivah and the other Dara healers to treat them. After days of exposure, Zivah too contracts the disease, but instead of dying, she is rosemarked: contagious, her body marked with rose-colored patches that signal a very short life span likely lived in isolation. Because she saved the life of the Amparan commander, he invites her to Sehmar City to use her healing skills to care for plague-stricken Amparans. Meanwhile, the Dara have allied with the Shidadi, once rivals but now also under the yoke of empire. The leadership decides to use co-narrators Zivah and Dineas, an umbertouched Shidadi warrior who has survived the plague and is now immune, as spies, sending them into the Amparan capital together to find a weakness the oppressed peoples might exploit. Though the author doesn’t quite establish the worldbuilding and time period effectively (is this some far-future Earth or another world entirely?), racial differences exist. Blackburne doles out this information unevenly, causing some confusion for readers, who will not know what the main characters look like until well into the story. (Zivah has light skin and dark hair, while Dineas has brown skin and light hair.) Nevertheless, readers will find the characters engaging, and they will have a sense of the intriguing tribal histories behind them.
A dark tale filled with tension and secrets and lightened by two brave companions. (Fantasy. 12-18)