A Torch Against the Night
- Author: Sabaa Tahir
- Genre: YA Fantasy
- Publication Date: August 30, 2016
- Publisher: Razorbill
- Series: An Ember in the Ashes #2
Just a heads up — if you haven’t read An Ember in the Ashes, you may want to skip this review until you have. I promise not to give away any spoilers for book 2, but there will be spoilers for book 1. You can check out my spoiler free review for book 1 here.
TRIGGER WARNING: torture, murder, slavery, genocide
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.
This story picks up right where An Ember in the Ashes left off, which is great because I didn’t want to miss a second of the story. This book is just as fast-paced, page-turning, and engrossing as the first one was.
In addition to hearing from Laia and Elias’s POVs, we also get Helene’s POV as well. It adds an additional layer of complexity and depth to the story, and it was done beautifully. Each of the characters had their own voice and I never found myself getting confused as to who was narrating the chapter. Each character is dealing with their own issues and conflict.
Laia, of course, is still focused on getting to her brother and busting him out of Kauf. Along the way, she’s forced to make some difficult choices and learn to put her trust in people. Naturally, she makes some mistakes along the way, and I was definitely shocked at how some of her plot twists panned out. In addition, there’s still that weird connection between her and Elias.
“Perhaps I have become so accustomed to the burden of secrets that I do not notice its weight until I am free of it.”
Elias has his hands full as well. He has just turned his back on everything he’s ever known. He left Blackcliff, his family, and his friends behind, just to help Laia on her quest. He’s now a wanted fugitive, his mother is hot on his trail, and his best friend is now hunting him down.
Finally, Helene is dealing with her own feelings for Elias and her direct order to hunt Elias down and kill him. She’s torn, but she doesn’t have any room for error, since Emperor Marcus (evil jerk that he is) definitely has her on a short leash. He knows her weaknesses and has no issue exploiting them to his benefit. Apparently, this is the key to her evolution in the grand scheme of things.
“‘You are my masterpiece, Helene Aquilla, but I have just begun. If you survive, you shall be a force to be reckoned with in this world. But first you will have to be unmade. First you will be broken.’”
Helene’s chapters also give us an important view into what is occurring in the Empire, since it’s pretty significant. If you recall, there is a pretty strict caste system in the Empire, and while Martials and Masks are drawn from Illustrian and Plebian castes, there is still some discrimination within the ranks. As a Plebian, Marcus becoming Emperor causes some dissension among the Illustrian families.
This book creates a perfect storm — discrimination within the Empire, an Empire on the cusp of civil war, an entire class facing genocide, two escaped fugitives being hunted as they race to save one young man from a sadistic Warden, and one woman facing an internal struggle between her heart and her duty.
It’s an absolute rollercoaster of a story and I couldn’t put it down even if I wanted to (which I totally did not, since I would read until my eyes closed against my will at night). I loved the Southeast Asian/Middle Eastern vibes, the diversity of the characters, and how traditional spirits like jinn and efrits were incorporated into the story, along with some even darker elements.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 14
Categories: Book Review