A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
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. (Source: Goodreads)
I was VERY happy with this book, and I’m really glad I finally read it! I’m a huge fan of Sabaa Tahir’s writing, I adored the first book, An Ember in the Ashes, and it holds an extra special place in my heart as one of the books that got me back into reading again after so many years of not reading. This series is on its way to becoming one of my favourites of all time.
Overall, this book is a great follow up for the first, and I really appreciated how it had little summaries and explanations in the beginning to remind me of things that happened in this first book as it’s been 2 years since I read that and I am the QUEEN of forgetting what happens in the first book of a series. I really loved Helene’s POV, it really helped get the reader more into the minds of the “bad guys”, and to have a bit of dramatic irony with Laia and Elias not knowing certain things that Helene knows of. The world building is amazing as always, and I especially loved the introduction of some great magic.
I’m going to split this review up into two parts: the positive and the negative, it just feels a bit easier for me to talk about it in this way.
Firstly and quickly, THAT COVER! It is absolutely STUNNING. My first book has been lent out to a friend and I really wish I had it right now to just admire how pretty they look beside eachother on a shelf. I am SO excited to see how the 3rd book will look.
Helene’s POV, as mentioned, was a great window into the side that Elias and Laia are running from. Helene was one of my favourite characters in the first book, so I loved getting even more from her in this one. It seemed essential to have her POV in this book, because otherwise the reader would have had no knowledge of what has been happening from the commandment, the emperor and all else that is happening during the chase for Laia and Elias. Usually I would get annoyed when characters have conflicting emotions and flip flop with decision making, but I think Helene was written perfectly and her dilemma and emotions about having to capture and kill Elias felt very real, and not just exaggerated for the sake of the plot.
I also love the way that Laia is written. She doesn’t make irrational decisions that would just make a reader angry because of how dumb they are, but rather she really does try her best, she learns from mistakes she makes, and she grows. She is constantly becoming better at combat and I loved seeing that character development and how by the end of the book she was able to fight completely for herself. Rather than complaining on and on about Elias going solo, she quickly understood why, and adjusted her plan to make sure it was the best fit for her (and Keenan) to survive. Similarly with her mistakes, she doesnt go on and on complaining but decided that she must do better and do good to those she hurt to make up for any bad choices she had made.
All the action scenes were written well and were easily followable. I find sometimes action scenes can be written in a way that can be confusing to follow and I often have to read them over multiple times, but I didn’t feel this way in this book. As well, the scenes with the villains were written so well, they were all portrayed as very smart, and the twists were unexpected. Theres nothing worse than a predictable villain and there was none of that from the start to the finish of the book.
I don’t have many negative things to say about this, but to start, I am not a huge fan of romance that feels forced and love triangles, which this book had both of, and even had an extra big love triangle (or maybe more like 2 triangles intertwined?) The relationship between both Laia/Elias and especially Laia/Keenan felt a little forced. I get that Laia and Keenan were both having a really hard time and it was more of a comfort and enjoyment thing for them getting together, but it felt like the whole relationship was only there to make the twist about the Nightbringer more shocking. I also wasn’t a fan of how Laia was able to just forget about her emotions for Elias when she was with Keenan, and how it was like once Elias left she was immediately in love with Keenan. The whole thing felt a little strange, and I think I’m totally on board for Helene/Elias more, their relationship feels a little more natural to me.
One other small issue I had was with the descriptions of the Nightbringer. The whole thing with Keenan felt so sudden, like it came out of nowhere or like it was stuck in last minute. I also felt like there wasn’t enough description with the Nightbringer and I was getting a bit confused, so maybe it will be a bigger focus in the next book? I hope so.