My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2
Series: An Ember in the Ashes (Book 2)
Hardcover: 464 pages
Release Date: August 30, 2016
I read this book about three weeks ago, and I’m just now getting around to properly reviewing it. It’s not because I didn’t like it. No, no. I just got distracted by all the Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom hype. Which, I think, is a pretty good excuse not to review this one right away. Anyways, on to the review!
“Failure doesn’t define you. It’s what you do after you fail that determines whether you are a leader or a waste of perfectly good air.”
A Torch Against the Night starts right where it left off in An Ember in the Ashes: with Laia and Elias running for their lives as they are pursued by the Martials of the Empire. They are desperate to evade these men, as well as the Commandant, and to find their way towards Kauf where Laia’s brother is being held captive. Of course not all goes to plan, and there are some unforeseen events that take place along the way that ultimately provide a wide range of twists and turns that had me gasping out loud in some places, especially towards the end.
First, I have to say that Tahir is a gifted storyteller. Her writing is precise, powerful, and emotive. She doesn’t rely too often on embellished description nor does she attempt to elongate events that are not worth our time. As a result, the story is fast-paced and downright thrilling. Rarely do we have a moment to just breathe. There’s always something going down. Someone running for their lives, hiding, hunting, haunting, observing, scheming, lying, loving.
The sequel is just as brutal as the first book, if not even more so in its own way. Tahir isn’t afraid to harm her protagonists. Often in YA fantasies, the MC(s) are placed in a horrendously tragic world where all the bad things happen to everyone else around them. But not in this world. We learned this in the last book. Laia was beaten and scarred, and Elias was forced to do an unspeakable action that continues to haunt him to even the end of this book. Tahir doesn’t shy away from placing her characters in harm’s way and she makes sure to let us readers know that these events have weight and actively affect her characters’s behavior and actions.
There is just enough action to keep me invested and the romance was, thankfully, held in check. I’m just about done with insta-love connections, and so I’m grateful that Tahir chose a different path, one in which Laia has affection for two boys, and makes certain decisions that break her heart, but in the end, keeps it whole. It’s a slow-burn romance, so don’t expect too much romantic affairs in this one.
Elias is a wonderfully flawed, but still lovable character who can steal the heart of any girl. He is brave, competent, charming, intelligent, caring. All things good, basically. But I want to focus on the women for a second. This book was Laia’s book. This was her time to shine, to grow, to harden, and to rise up as a leader. She made many mistakes, but in the end she learned her lesson. Her character development was by far the best.
My biggest disappointment in this book just happens to be Helene.
“But you, Helene Aquilla, are no swift-burning spark. You are a torch against the night – if you dare to let yourself burn.”
Yeah, she wasn’t burning bright enough, to be honest. I was excited to learn she would be given her own POV, but her chapters often fell flat for me. Her thinking was very much the same as the last book, and she didn’t rise up and take out Marcus from the inside as I had hoped. But there was some character development, just not in the way everyone would expect, which I suppose is a pretty smart choice for Tahir. Predictability in a book is never fun, so I suppose Tahir did well to keep us on our toes.
The villains are just as nasty as they were in the first book. The Commandant’s presence was dialed back a bit so Marcus’s character could be highlighted a bit more. He’s just as terrible as before, even more so if possible, but somehow, some way, Tahir made me actually feel sorry for him. He’s suffering from his horrible decision in the last book and his guilt and shame are constantly haunting him. Tahir adds some humility to his character and reminds us that even though he’s a despicable human being, he is human nonetheless, and his actions have taken a toll on him.
The book was, all in all, a very well-developed story with great characters, action, romance, and mystery. It’s definitely a powerful sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, and is quite possibly better than its predecessor. I can’t wait to see how this story ends.