**This review will contain unmarked spoilers from the first book, An Ember in the Ashes.
Remember that one time when I was so excited to read this book because I loved An Ember in the Ashes? Yeah, Book 2, A Torch Against the Night was pretty much everything I’d hoped it would be and more. I loved this book for so many reasons, I barely even know where to start.
The second book in Sabaa Tahir’s series follows Laia and Elias after they barely escape Blackcliff with their lives. Rather than try to leave the Empire, the two decide to travel to Kauf prison to save Laia’s brother, Darin, who may be able to help the Scholar rebellion. Meanwhile, Helene, under orders from the newly appointed Emperor Marcus, must hunt them down and prove her loyalty to the Empire. But our protagonists on either side face dangers both human and not.
Perhaps one of the things I liked most was getting the perspective of my precious baby, Helene Aquilla (yes, I am aware she could probably kill me with a single look, but she is still precious). When I saw that we would be getting her point of view in this book, I was thrilled. Seeing into some of her thoughts while carrying out Marcus’s orders was heartbreaking, and her development as a character, though very well-written, was not the hope-filled journey I had hoped it would be. Which just made me want to read her sections even more. [SPOILER] I actually cried for her a little bit when Marcus killed her family, and after reading her last lines in the book, I had to set the book down for a little while before I could finish the last chapter. [END SPOILER]
The whole time she was hunting Elias, I really felt for Helene. Tahir did a great job of balancing her emotions so that you don’t want her to actually capture Elias (because it’s Elias and they are best friends) but you also kind of want her to capture him, because the other aspects of her life are a living hell for her until she can bring him back to Marcus. The whole time you’re kind of walking this tight rope with her, questioning not only what she will do, but what she should do. And Tahir gives her no easy way out, instead forcing her to make tough decisions. In this interview, Tahir talks a bit more about the choices regarding Helene, and some other things, and her words sum up my own thoughts, too.
Helene’s perspective was also a nice way to break up Laia’s and Elias’s narratives. While I loved their points of view in the first book, I was afraid that once they started journeying together, we would basically be getting the same story from two different people. Helene’s narration broke it up a little, and added some great tension and emotion into the book.
Speaking of Laia and Elias…
I love Elias, and his loyalty to the people in his life. While his development as a person is very subtle, I could start to see him move away from feelings of penance and moving toward recognizing that the hurt and frustration he’s been harboring has only hindered him. But my favorite scenes with Elias have to be the ones where he is in the Waiting Place. We get to see a somewhat gentler side of him that has, up until now, been reserved for Laia and occasionally Helene. Even this gentler side has the passion and fierceness I’ve come to expect from Elias, though. When dealing with certain people in the Waiting Place, he is kind and almost tender with them, but it’s like he is so protective of people in general, that he channels all of the ferocity of his Mask self into his gentleness, because he doesn’t want to hurt them, but he is also not about to let them keep harboring the hurt and anger they’ve refused to let go. So, while his arc may have been a bit more subtle, my love for him was not.
Laia, unfortunately is a different story. On the whole, I still love Laia, but all of the reasons I could not give the book the full five stars stem from her. [SPOILERS for the rest of this paragraph] My first problem is that, around halfway through the book, all the strength Laia gained from Book 1 falls apart for a while. She is left to travel alone with Keenan, who immediately assumes leadership of their mission and criticizes every idea Laia has and every question she asks, reminding her of all the mistakes she’s made. At one point, she thanks him for this, and berates herself for thinking she could ever make the right decisions. Needless to say, I was less than impressed that, for about 75 pages or so, Laia lost all of the development she had gained in Book 1. On top of that, her travels with Keenan seemed to develop their relationship too quickly. Among other things, it results in Laia giving her mother’s armring to Keenan. To me, this seemed wildly out of character for her, and it definitely seemed way too soon for her to be so attached to Keenan. And it’s even more frustrating since this seems to be the launching point for the next book; for me, it needed to be a little more fleshed out to make it believable.[END SPOILERS] By the end of the book, however, Laia is back to her awesome self, kicking butt and saving lives.
Through the development of the characters, both major and minor, we are also given more insight into the otherworldly creatures like the jinn and the efrits, and the magic and powers that come with them. While I loved seeing the mythological side to the world, one
of my favorite parts of this novel was that we finally got to see more of the cultures that exist outside of Blackcliff. Up until now, we’ve only really seen the Martials and the Scholars, but in this book, there is a lot of interaction with the Tribes, and even the hierarchy within the Martial class becomes clearer. The Scholar Rebellion exists right from the beginning of this book, but the chaos and tension between the different peoples only gets worse. I could definitely see the cultural hierarchies becoming a huge factor in later novels.
All-in-all, I loved this book, and the fact that I have to wait for two more books before I can see the resolution is KILLING me!! I can’t wait to see how and where these characters end up, and to continue exploring the world of Serra.
Overall, I gave A Torch Against the Night 4 stars: