Review: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir [An Ember in the Ashes #2] | A Compelling Sequel Edging Towards the Dark Side

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.


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 Warnings Child 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 Ashes Elias 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.

Goodreads | Amazon


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.

me begging for these characters to be okay


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.

me to elias

“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.

me when reading about the side characters

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…

also me when reading about the side characters

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 guythough 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!

rating // ★★★★

Have you read A Torch Against the Night, or plan on reading the Ember in the Ashes series? What are some books with dark undertones that you enjoyed?


29 thoughts on “Review: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir [An Ember in the Ashes #2] | A Compelling Sequel Edging Towards the Dark Side

  1. AHHH AHHH AHH. (Warning that this comment will have lots of caps lock.) ELIAS VETURIUS OWNS MY HEART OMG. I LOVE HIM SO MUCH AHHH. He is AMAZING and deserves everything good in this world and more. Love him 😍😍😍😍

    LAIA. We STAN this incredible young woman. And omg, I get what you said about Helene so muchhh. I was verryyy iffy about her character for most of the series, I only ended up really falling in love with her in the last book…

    Ahahaha I GET that screaming. Especially Mamie Rila. She deserves more appreciation 🥰🥰 And don’t get me started on Izzi… (emojis redacted because spoilers)

    I love this review Cherelle, if you couldn’t tell!! 🤩 I honestly think screaming about this series in your comments sections is the only thing getting me through the massive hangover I have from Sky 😅 Can’t wait to hear what you think of the rest of the books!! 💖

    Liked by 1 person

    1. BRING ON ALL THE CAPS LOCK!! Indeed, Elias has captured mine as well and deserves SO. MUCH. MORE. than all the suffering he has to go through because of how much he loves others ahhh!!! 😥

      Ahhh I’m glad to hear that you felt the same about Helene… yeah, she took a big turn in Reaper in terms of character growth and Sky showed how determined and loyal to her family & people this new Helene was and I WAS THERE FOR IT!! 🤩


      Thank you so much Abby! HAHA I’m pleased to hear that and can definitely agree, your review on Sky gave me another book hangover and I had to go reread all the quotes and all!! 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This one got so much DARKER than An Ember in the Ashes! But I still adore Laia and Elias, and I totally agreed with your review. I can’t wait to see what you think about A Reaper at the Gates! I’m waiting for my library loan for Sky to come in and I CAN’T WAIT!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely, I was shocked at how intense it was, but I loved how it was all going… ahhh fingers crossed that Sky comes soon for you… I read it a week ago and all the pain and agony is still fresh in my mind, hope that you enjoy it and get a satisfying conclusion… please tell me what you think after you read okay??!! – then we can scream about it together haha… thank you for your comment, Leah! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hmm interesting I actually really like Helene. I feel like…she’s just in a really difficult situation, like there’s blackmail in there and the promise she made with the augurs and it’s just all very difficult for her. I think what she does considering her situation is really all we can ask of her.
    I actually don’t like Elias much, he’s just meh. I dunno. Laia is better than him but still not…great? Ugh that plot twist with Keenan, though….see if Laia ended up with Keenan then Elias could end up with Helene but NOPE.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh thanks for your point of view, Phoenix… true, true… I’m just annoyed that she didn’t try much to change when given the chance to in the first 2 books… but I started warming up to her in book 3, because yeah she really is in tight situations and I’m loving her changes in response as well as her loyalty in Reaper!

      Ahhh I’m so sorry that you didn’t enjoy Elias and Laia as much… and OMG YES THAT TWIST, all my complaints about love triangles in the first book instantly disappeared haha… thank you for your comment Phoenix!! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I guess that is a little annoying I just don’t feel like she had much of a choice…honestly I sorta forget what happened in book three but I think she did some good things? Heh heh….and I have yet to read book four.

        That plot twist was sooooo shocking, I just–no.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ahh I don’t want to say much in case someone gets spoiled reading this… but yep in Reaper, Helene’s character definitely changes and her loyalties change! OMG READ BOOK FOUR. READ A SKY BEYOND THE STORM! It absolutely broke me ahhh, I hope that you enjoy it!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review! I also didn’t like Helene’s POVs. She’s just so frustrating imo. There’s this inner conflict which shouldn’t even exist: why does she have conflicted loyalties between Elias and MARCUS, that stupid psycho? 🙄

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It just doesn’t make sense 😂 she has to choose between her best friend/love interest and a mad, violent psychopath 😂 and she’s like „uh no, I need to listen to the psychopath. Even if he does all that terrible stuff to my family. Because, you know, I’m LOYAL.🙈 How can you like such a character? 🙄

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Cherelle! Me and Fajar @The Write Path want to buddy read a book come late January on Goodreads, so we wanted to ask if you could set up a thread on your book club for us and anyone else who wants to join. We’re both part of the group on Goodreads, so we figured it would be fun to do it there so that others can join in as well. Thanks 😊💙

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there Cherry, thanks so much for the comment. I see you have asked about The School for Good and Evil in the “buddy reads sign up” already? Is that the one? Sure, if there are more than 3 people, we will help you all set up a thread! If not, if it is just the two of you, would it be okay if you both do it via private chat so as not to spam up the threads? Thanks so much!! 💕


      1. Hi Cherelle! Thanks for getting back, it’s all right, me, Fajar and Tiction set it up between ourselves, so it’s fine. Thanks a lot anyways 💙😊

        Liked by 1 person

  6. OH MY GOD!!! don’t even get me started on torch!!! it’s my favorite book from the series, everything about it is amazing from the character development to the world building to the plot intricacies and…

    ok, you got me started.

    I am so emotionally attached to these characters at this point that reading your words about elias literally made me tear up. He IS truly SUCH an honorable and incredible man, always putting others before himself, so selfless and strong and he goes through SO much but he doesn’t take it out on anyone he just deals with everything himself because he doesn’t want to burden anyone else and AGHH he makes my heart ache.

    Laia is iconic, she’s so strong and her journey throughout this book is amazing, and omg I cannot wait for you to see what happens with her in Reaper. Also I totally agree with you about Helene, in the first novel she was despicable and still in the second one (this one) she is not redeemed (to me at least) her worldview is just,.. not good lol.

    I can’t wait for you to continue on with the series! It gets even more layered and immersive and yes, heartbreaking. I loved this review so much it always gives me a lot of joy to see people reading these books.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. AHH SANAH, I’M HERE JUST SHOUTING: PREACH PREACH PREACH because I totally agree with what you said – I know Elias is one of the reasons of why my heart was so restless, he needs some self-care and peace!!

      Ahh I have actually completed the whole series and I concur, Laia’s character in Reaper and Sky just made me SO proud of her! Ahh I’m really glad you agree about Helene! Yeah, though she did show some mercy in Torch, I still view her as a bad guy…

      Thank you so much Sanah, I truly enjoyed reading & replying your comment! 💕

      Liked by 1 person

      1. omg exactly!! Poor Elias has been through so much he needs a break already!!

        And yes Laia definitely has SO much character growth. And Helene, in my opinion, is forgiven much too easily by a lot of readers. She had some really awful ideals that persist even to the last book.

        I’m currently reading sky beyond the storm, and I can’t wait to talk about it! I look forward to your review of it as well. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hahaha no I totally get warming up to her, she is written as a sympathetic character in the later books, but she isn’t exactly the hero of the first two, and a lot of people seem to see her as one.

          And yes Elaia first always! Can’t wait to talk about it once I finish

          Liked by 1 person

  7. first of can I just say that I love your reviews 😭❤️ I didn’t care about Helene up until the middle of a reaper at the gates. At least then she finally woke up. also Keenan. *barf*. I hate him with a passion 🤩 and omg Elias and laia never get a break and it literally hurts so much 😭

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww THANK YOU SO MUCH SAM!! 💕 OOH same… she did go through some major change in Reaper, and I started loving her loyalty to her family & people in Sky… IKR I hate how much he is entangled in all of this but I’m in awe of how Sabaa Tahir used him as such a strong plot point! 🤩 I KNOW I literally feel so frustrated about them, and their relationship in the first part of Sky was SO agonising to read about ahhh…😣 thanks for the comment, Sam!! 🥰

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s