Second books in series were never my thing, I mean come on, the infamous “second-book syndrome” is a real problem, where various middle books in series were essentially just extensions and filler books. Typically, only introductions or finales manage to engage and amaze, that is until I met A Torch Against the Night.
A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT by Sabaa Tahir
Genre(s): Fantasy | Age Group: Young Adult
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #2
Published: 30 August 2016 | Read: 13 December 2020
No. of Pages: 452
Click here to view Trigger WarningsChild abuse, panic attack, slavery, torture, death, genocide, fade-to-black sex scene, ghosts/spirits/unearthly beings
Click here to view synopsis which has SPOILERS for book 1: An Ember in the AshesElias and Laia are running for their lives. After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire. Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars’ survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom. But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias. The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene—Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike. Bound to Marcus’s will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own—one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape…and kill them both.
To make it clear, this review has NO SPOILERS for Book 1: An Ember in the Ashes.
Where should I start? Let’s begin by talking about my new favourite characters.
In An Ember in the Ashes, I was mostly like “Okay you guys are admirable and cool, please make it through.” In A Torch Against the Night, I was rooting so hard for them, screaming and squealing, but mostly screaming because this book was so horrible to them. (more on that later)
I normally crave drama and complications in books. They are the plot right? But for Torch, I was literally pleading on their behalf for them to be okay and for them to succeed. That was how much I was invested in the characters.
Time to start screaming about them. First and foremost, let me get this out of my system: OH MY GOODNESS THIS BOOK COMPLETELY WRECKED MY PRECIOUS DARLINGS BOTH PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY AND I HATED SEEING THEM SUFFER AND THOUGH THEY STILL ROSE STRONGER, I WAS SO SO SO HEARTBROKEN.
The person who suffered the most would be ELIAS. I thought I admired Elias a lot in An Ember in the Ashes, but woah my devotion and respect for him is now… colossal. He is such an honourable man, and literally does not care for himself at all and always does things for others at his own expense. Not to mention the fact that his health has taken a toll, and that his mental state thanks to all the guilt isn’t the best. Elias goes through so much pain in this book, whether it be the physical kind *shivers*, or the constant depressing fact that looms over his head and makes him worried and withdrawn, not wanting to hurt anyone.
Come on, can he not have a break?? LIKE HOW IS HE SO ARGH I NEED TO HUG HIM… actually, Laia please hug him more for me.
“Failure doesn’t define you. It’s what you do after you fail that determines whether you are a leader or a waste of perfectly good air.”
And LAIA. SHE IS A QUEEN OKAY. In An Ember in the Ashes, she went through some incredible character growth, from a shy, timid, ordinary girl to one full of strength and tenacity. And in A Torch Against the Night, you can truly see this changed Laia shine bright. She takes control over her own life, over her own choices and impacts others. She becomes braver but we still see how much she falters. And the fact that she does make some pretty terrible mistakes and is still blind to certain important truths made her so human.
Her feelings are being majorly messed with in A Torch Against the Night (i can’t say much because spoilers) but though our Laia goes through so much heartbreak, she presses on. AND I LOVE HER.
“Don’t look so worried. Most successful missions are just a series of barely averted disasters.”
As mentioned above, A Torch Against the Night was just as brutal as the first book and this time not only to our main characters, but also to our side characters and how our side characters were involved, the way they uniquely moved the plot was so good.
Let me just shout their names and convey my emotions so that I can avoid spoilers while those that have read it understand my PAIN and HAPPINESS and EVERYTHING. IZZZIIIIII!!! KEENAN???????!! MAMIE RILA!! !! !! CoOoOooooOOOOk…
I loved A Torch Against the Night so much, even the bad guys! *reels back in disgust*
No I mean I hate them (ew marcus, ew commandant, ew ew ew) but I loved the role they played in the story. I loved how everyone was kind of against everyone and we got a kind of morally grey bad guy… though the number of bad guys in A Torch Against the Night felt a little intoxicating, it definitely made the book a hundred times more intense and raised the stakes so much.
“But you, Helene Aquilla, are no swift-burning spark. You are a torch against the night – if you dare to let yourself burn.”
Speaking of bad guys, let’s talk about Helene. When I found out that Helene gets a POV in this book, I was not pleased. She was never a character I liked, with the classism she embraces. I liked how her POV made me understand her better, but her not wanting to change, her constant disdain for others lower than her annoyed me to no end.
And I am sorry, I still don’t like her and was exceptionally bored during her POVs. I think the only thing I liked about the POV from Helene was being able to get some insight on what was happening with the Emperor from an “insider”.
Plot wise, A Torch Against the Night starts off quickly, full of action from the end of An Ember of the Ashes which I was thrilled at… but the pace faltered quite a bit in the story, especially when trying to tell 3 POVs at one time. Although each character: Laia, Elias and Helene, had a very distinct voice, I found the story across their perspectives a bit jumpy and hard to follow.
However, one thing I loved about the plot was how dark it was getting.
We have more of the supernatural elements hinted at in An Ember in the Ashes, I truly enjoyed seeing how they were flawlessly integrated into the story and used to complicate things… especially that of death and The Waiting Place! I’m super excited to see how that turns out in A Reaper At The Gates.
Another thing would be how big it was… for me, An Ember in the Ashes as more plot focused on the individual lives of our two protagonists, but for A Torch Against the Night, it does so while maintaining a world view. I loved seeing all the politics come into play, the different cultures within the empire such as that of the different tribes, and all the new places we got to explore. Points once again to the world building!
“Your emotions make you human. Even the unpleasant ones have a purpose. Don’t lock them away. If you ignore them, they just get louder and angrier.”
Overall, A Torch Against the night was such a compelling sequel. Laia, Elias and the others are all firm favourites of mine now, and the plot was just so dark and intense! The only let down was Helene’s POV and the weird pacing of the plot, but other than that, I truly enjoyed this and I am going full speed ahead with this series!