Title: A Torch Against the Night
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Young Adult
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Hardcover: 452 Pages
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.
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Ember in the Ashes series
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Hardcover
Last fall, Ana and I read and reviewed one of the largest-hyped YA novels of the year: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. While we both finished the novel, I enjoyed it a little more than Ana–and thus, this fall, I decided to continue with the series solo.
A Torch Against the Night begins immediately where Ember leaves off–Laia and Elias are on the run from the hordes of Masks, who desire to bring them in for questioning and death. After barely managing to escape the catacombs beneath Serra with the Masks hot in pursuit, Elias is mortally wounded with poison at the hands of his mother, the former Blood Shrike known as the Commandant, and Laia discovers an untapped ability to defend herself. Together, the pair make their way to Kauf–the dangerous prison controlled by the Empire–to break Laia’s brother free, before he is lost forever and the Scholars’ rebellion is truly crushed. Matters are further complicated when Elias and Laia are joined by faces from their past: Keenan, one of Laia’s friends (and perhaps something more) and Helene, the new Blood Shrike to Emperor Marcus, and Elias’s former best friend (and perhaps something more).
Ah, A Torch Against the Night. Where do I begin? I was conflicted about book one, An Ember in the Ashes: while my rational brain grappled with the conflicting and underwhelming facets of the story (the love quadrangle, the window-dressing treatment of violence and rape, the unresolved questions about the world), overall I finished the book with a sense of exhilaration and a hunger for more. A Torch Against the Night continues forward with some of the things I desperately wanted to see expanded upon from the first book–namely a larger sense of the world, and the magic within this particular world–however, frustratingly, allots the majority of its time and energy into the least appealing parts of the story.
Allow me to elaborate. One of the things I loved so much about the first book was the contrast between Laia and Elias, especially when it came to skill and ability. Laia was refreshingly underpowered–she had no special superpowers or abilities, but rather was so appealing in her earnestness because she continued onward to fight for her family and her brother without any assistance or magical blank checks at her disposal. Kiss all of that goodbye in book 2, wherein Laia has the ability to disappear with magic, draws the never-ending fascination of djinn and efret, and has developed the ability to read peoples’ minds. OH, and did I mention that an ancient creature of darkness has fallen in love with Laia and thus she’s even more super-special? Ultimately, all of this means that Laia’s narrative doesn’t hold the same rawness or vulnerability as it did in the first book, which is a shame.
Meanwhile, in comparison to Laia, Elias’s narrative is super emo–he’s been poisoned by his mother and wants Laia but cannot subject her to falling in love for a man that is going to die, so instead of passionate (but chastely) kissing her, he pushes her away and pines for her beauty and longs to worship at the altar of Laia from afar. (I know that sounds glib, but these are actual excerpts from Elias’s narrative.) But he also kinda loves Helene, who has been sent to follow him and rein him in, but cannot have her, either. Woe, Elias. Woe. This consumes the bulk of Elias’s narrative–while there are some powerful moments involving the Tribes and his birth mother and his clan, and his guilt over having killed other Masks to survive, Elias is reduced to plot device/romantic quadrangle participant in this second book, much to this reader’s frustration.
One of the few bright spots in A Torch Against the Night is the novel’s third narrator, Helene, whose arc struggles with the power that the Empire has over her hostage family (and what her family has in turn traded to ensure that she lives), plus her own conflicted feelings for her lost now-traitor best friend, Elias. Helene is the most nuanced character in this largely filler and didactic novel–her emotions, her sadness, her conflict is what kept me involved in the story when all else was devolving into stolen glances and hands touching inadvertently and prosaic declarations of love (both with melodramatic words and magical object transference action).
It’s not all bad news, though–while plot developments are frustratingly slow moving, there is action in A Torch Against the Night, and there are some memorable character moments–the time spent with the Tribes and Mamie Rila were powerful, and I loved the addition of other tribeswoman Afya. Additionally, the dramatic ending to this novel and Helene’s final lines concluding her arc are utterly awesome… I’m just not entirely convinced that everything else in this book is worth that moment of payoff. I finished this book but I’m unsure that I’ll be continuing the series. And as such, I can’t truly recommend it.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
How did they find us so fast?
Behind me, the catacombs echo with angry shouts and the screech of metal. My eyes dart to the grinning skulls lining the walls. I think I hear the voices of the dead.
Be swift, be fleet, they seem to hiss. Unless you wish to join our ranks.
“Faster, Laia,” my guide says. His armor flashes as he hastens ahead of me through the catacombs. “We’ll lose them if we’re quick. I know an escape tunnel that leads out of the city. Once we’re there, we’re safe.”
We hear a scrape behind us, and my guide’s pale eyes flick past my shoulder. His hand is a gold-brown blur as it flies to the hilt of a scim slung across his back.
A simple movement full of menace. A reminder that he is not just my guide. He is Elias Veturius, heir to one of the Empire’s finest families. He is a former Mask—an elite soldier of the Martial Empire. And he is my ally—the only person who can help me break my brother Darin out of a notorious Martial prison.
In one step, Elias is beside me. In another, he is in front, moving with unnatural grace for someone so big. Together, we peer down the tunnel we have just passed through. My pulse thuds in my ears. Any elation I felt at destroying Blackcliff Academy or rescuing Elias from execution has vanished. The Empire hunts us. If it catches us, we die.
Sweat soaks through my shirt, but despite the rank heat of the tunnels, a chill runs across my skin and the hairs on the back of my neck rise. I think I hear a growl, like that of some sly, hungry creature.
Hurry, my instincts scream at me. Get out of here.
“Elias,” I whisper, but he brushes a finger against my lips—shh—and tugs a knife free from the half dozen strapped across his chest.
I pull a dagger from my belt and try to hear beyond the clicking of tunnel tarantulas and my own breathing. The prickling sense of being watched fades—replaced by something worse: the smell of pitch and flame; the rise and fall of voices getting closer.
Elias touches my shoulder and points to his feet, then mine. Step where I step. So carefully that I fear to breathe, I mimic him as he turns and heads swiftly away from the voices.
We reach a fork in the tunnel and veer right. Elias nods to a deep, shoulder-high hole in the wall, hollow but for a stone coffin turned on its side.
“In,” he whispers, “all the way to the back.”
I slide into the crypt, suppressing a shudder at the loud crrrk of a resident tarantula. A scim Darin forged hangs across my back, and its hilt clanks loudly against the stone. Stop fidgeting, Laia—no matter what’s crawling around in here.
Read the full excerpt online at EW.com.
Rating: 5 – Meh. I was going to give it a 6, but apathy is the name of the game today.
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