Book Review: A Torch Against the Night – Sabaa Tahir


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
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Goodreads Description

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.

18 thoughts on “Book Review: A Torch Against the Night – Sabaa Tahir

  1. I remember really enjoying An Ember in the Ashes but for some reason I can’t remember anything that happened. I think I’ll still read A Torch Against the Night but so far I’ve seen a lot of reviews saying it’s mediocre, so I probably won’t pick it up for a while. Really great review!


    • I admit, I also forgot a lot of what happened, so for the first few chapters of Torch I was kind of finding my footing a little bit and trying to figure out what they were doing. I think the series as a whole is definitely still worth reading… but this book isn’t the kind you can’t put down (in my opinion).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. AHHH Reg I absolutely agree with EVERYTHING you said! It was a bit of let down for me too! 😦 Laia was super duper irritating to the point where I no longer empathize with her. I mean, sure she lost her family and all but everyone else is also losing their people and sacrificing so much to help her! I honestly thought saving Darin wasn’t worth that much suffering… but OMG Helene and Elias are soooo precious my heart broke for them </3 and I still adore the plot twists so I'm curious to see what Sabaa Tahir has for us on book 3! I'll be posting my review this Saturday 😀 great review!


    • EXACTLY! I felt like everyone around her was bending over backwards to help her while she was just… there, not really doing anything. I think if Darin’s importance was more explored it’d be more OK (maybe), but that didn’t happen so I was just left feeling very dissatisfied in the whole thing. :/

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t even read the Embers at all, despite the raving review! I also don’t like too many povs in a book, sometimes they work but 90% of the time it’s a no. It just takes away the connection we have with the characters because our focus is so divided. I hope you’ll enjoy the next book better Reg!

    I also tagged you for the zombie apocalypse book tag, you can check it out here 🙂


  4. I completely agree with you about everything in your review (except for the fact that I actually enjoyed this one a little more than An Ember in the Ashes). I wasn’t a fan of Laia’s character much in this book. She seemed to reach a turning point at the end of the first book, finally standing up for herself and taking charge, but in this book she seemed to hide behing Elias and Keenan and let them take lead and it just seemed like a step backwards for her.
    Also I felt a bit sorry for Elias as well, your coment how nothing seemed to go right for him made me laiugh because it really didn’t. Hopefully his luck will return in the next book!
    And oh I loved Helene as well. I think her story was my favourite of all the characters. I can’t wait to see more of her in book three, I’m really interested in where her character goes in the rest of this series!
    Great review Reg! 😀


    • Exactly – it feels to me as if her character regressed to who she was at the VERY beginning of Ember. She just became a passive participant, content to follow other people. I also didn’t like that it seemed as if everyone was sacrificing everything for her while she just… stood there (it feels). :/

      Helene’s story is definitely my favourite as well out of the three. I love her internal conflict and appreciate how hard her decisions are! Hopefully she grows even further in the third book.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yep, and I get that maybe she wasn’t confident taking the lead all the time, she could have delegated to Elias when he knew more about the subject in question than she did. But, and I felt this especially with Keenan, she just became so much less than herself in this book. I get that as well, Elias went off on his own and risked his life to save her brother and Laia just seemed to be like ‘what next?’
        In the first book I felt Helene was more of an extension of Elias than anything else but she became so much more in this book, possibly because we were seeing things through her eyes this time as well.


  5. YES! You put into words everything I’ve been struggling to put thought too. I found the plot to be very underwhelming .. though to be expected in a travel-type book, I think. I also read it just after finishing Empire of Storms, which sent my blood pressure through the roof with its action.

    Wholly agree with your interpretation of Laia’s behavior … her brother was the end-all-be-all, no matter how many died to get him out of Kauf. Maybe if his importance to the Scholar’s revolution was highlighted a bit more, I would have understood. But I was mostly just left feeling like “what’s the deal with this guy?”

    Great review! Thank you for your thoughts 🙂 🙂


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