Title: A Torch Against the Night (2016)
Series: An Ember in the Ashes – Book 2
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian Fiction
Extent: 452 pages
Release Date: August 30, 2016
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.
I’ve been looking forward to this book ever since I finished An Ember in the Ashes, a book that I thought was amazing: fast-paced, action-packed, and equipped with multi-layered characters. In light of that, unfortunately, A Torch Against the Night turned out to be somewhat underwhelming for me.
Torch takes us to the next (and final) leg of Laia’s journey to save her brother from a prison called Kauf, this time accompanied by Elias who is willing to do literally anything and everything to help her achieve her goal. We get both of their perspectives as well as the POV of Elias’s former partner, Helene, who now faces the trickiest situation she’s ever been in and must learn how to balance her heart with her mission. This book is a travel book — the characters are always on-the-go to their next destination.
“Mercy is weakness. Offer it to your enemies and you might as well fall upon your own sword.”
If previously I was in love with Laia and admired her character, I wasn’t really in Torch. She struck me as incredibly selfish and passive, too focused on her personal goal to give much care to the death and destruction caused by it. At some point, saving Darin just seemed too… simple, too self-centred, in this backdrop of war — it made me feel like his life is worth more than hundreds of other people’s, and I just don’t really buy that.
Elias, for his part, suffers so much in this book — mentally, physically, emotionally. Literally nothing goes well for him, and yet he is still hell-bent on doing all that he can for Laia. He was so dedicated to her cause, even if it meant he’d have to lose everything that mattered to him. It actually bothered me a little that he seemed to work harder for her mission than she did, even if I understood that he wanted to and was better equipped for it, being a former soldier and all.
“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.”
In Torch we also hear from Helene, who is so amazing and everything I could ever wish for. While I love her, though, I’m not entirely sure about the multiple perspectives — on one hand I’m glad that we got to hear from her as well, but I felt like it made the plot a little bit too complex, like there were too many things going on. The book’s focus felt fractured to me and I have to admit that I checked out a couple of times.
My dislikes aside, Torch still has Tahir’s amazing world-building. There were more magical/paranormal elements in Torch than in Ember that made this book, and this setting, feel more fantasy-ish than dystopian (which Ember felt more like). This is also a book that doesn’t pull punches: the body count is high, the brutal twists sort-of-predictable but appreciable, and our characters are practically dragged through hell.
“So long as you fight the darkness, you stand in the light.”
4 stars for Helene and Elias, 2 stars for Laia, and 3 stars for the rest of the book. I liked Ember better, but I am excited to see where else Tahir will take us in the next installment.