This review may contain minor spoilers- I have done my best to avoid spoilers whenever possible, however I may have let little details slip here or there!
After the tumultuous finale of An Ember in the Ashes, I, like most readers, couldn’t wait to get my hands on A Torch Against the Night. I simply needed to know where it was all going, and I simply needed more of Laia, Elias and Helen (no, I don’t, and never have, liked Keenan). So, as expected, I headed over to my local bookstore and picked this up the day it came out (they were actually still putting them out on the “New Releases” shelf when I showed up). But let me tell you – the wait was worth it – because this book is absolute perfection.
Elias and Laia are running for their lives. Following the events of the Fourth Trial, an army led by Masks hunts the two fugitives as they escape the city of Serra and journey across the vast lands of the Martial Empire. Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—and save her brother, whose knowledge of Serric steel is the key to the Scholars’ future. And Elias is determined to stay by Laia’s side…even if it means giving up his own chance at freedom. But Elias and Laia will have to fight every step of the way if they’re going 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. Helene’s mission is horrifying, unwanted, and clear: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape…and kill them both.
Readers be warned … Tahir will rip your heart out, crush it, and then mangle it some more with A Torch Against the Night. Honestly, this book is a heart-wrenching emotional roller coaster from Page 1 right until the final words. Just when the reader believes their favourite character(s) are in the clear, some grand plot twist springs up and crushes all hope; just when the reader thinks it can’t get any worse, it can. And yet, as long as there is life, there is hope, and so continues our heroes harrowing quests and adventures as they seek out answers, freedom and power.
As with other recent book reviews, I will be breaking down my feelings towards A Torch Against the Night in three main categories – character development, world-building and plot progression/story telling.
- As with An Ember in the Ashes, A Torch Against the Night is told through three main viewpoints – that of Laia of Serra, Elias Veturius and Helene Aquillas. While in the previous, the narrative perspectives all took place in the same setting (primarily Blackcliffe), in A Torch Against the Night, the narrative is split between two settings the majority of the time (sometimes it is three, and on very rare occasions, one).
- Laia of Serra has finally escaped Blackcliffe, and with the help of Elias, she intends to finally free her brother from his imprisonment at Kauf. From the get-go Laia is strong-willed and driven, dead set on her mission of freeing her brother at all costs. However, she’s also dangerously attracted to Elias, a tension both of them fight against (for their own reasons). As the tale progresses, Laia begins to lose faith in herself as everything goes awry, giving leadership to Keenan (which is perhaps the worst decision she could have made, just saying). Despite this, I still love Laia’s character – her struggles, both internal and external, do an excellent job showcasing what it means to be human, and it makes her easy to sympathize with.
- Elias Veturius is finally free of Blackcliffe, but he is hardly free of his past and the Commandant’s wrath. As he and Laia flee, he carries the burden of the Commandant’s final rage with him; a fact which leads him to avoid his growing attraction towards Laia, lest he cause her more harm in the future. Yet despite this, he is utterly devoted to freeing Laia’s brother, Darin, from Kauf; he feels it is his duty, as a former Mask, to right the wrongs he committed. Darin’s knowledge of Serric steel could forever change the lives of the Scholar’s, and with the Commandant on a genocidal war path, his people need him more than ever. Elias is perhaps my favourite character – he is humble, yet brave, devoted, tortured, and utterly driven to do right by those he cares for. He is also kind, and caring, and if he doesn’t end up with Laia at the end of all of this I’m going to be very mad.
- Helene definitely got the short end of the stick – stuck as the Blood Shrike to Marcus, the cruel, homicidal, and potentially insane new Emperor, she is tasked with finding, torturing and executing her once best friend, Elias, and his accomplice, Laia. While Helene does not want to kill Elias, she struggles to do what she morally believes is right, what is right for her family, and what is right for the Empire. As she searches for Elias, she is forced to consider who she wants to be, and more importantly, who deserves to live, and who deserves to die. She’ll also discover a secret plot that could change everything, if anyone is willing to follow her.
- As for secondary characters, my favourites among them were definitely Izzi and Harper (he’ll grow on you, I promise). Tahir doesn’t typically put a lot of effort into developing her secondary characters, but I felt that Izzi, and especially Harper, got a lot of character development, and that built them up quite a lot. In regards to secondary characters I am not a fan of, number 1 has to be Keenan (read the book, you’ll get it), but Marcus is also up there as well. He’s just straight up despicable, but again, he didn’t get a whole lot of development in this book, so its hard to hate him when he’s still mostly an unknown entity.
- The world-building in this book, as with An Ember in the Ashes, was a bit patchy. I feel like Tahir is still leaving a lot unexplained, but at this point I am unsure if it’s unintentional or simply ignorance. The magic system is still completely unexplored, its just kind of there, coming in handy for quick fixes and even quicker escapes. The societal castes are also still a bit hazy at best; although, I feel that the Tribes became much more fleshed out throughout this novel, which was greatly appreciated, as they played a significant role in this story. For me, I think the biggest downside of this novel was simply the lack of detail that went into the world-building; Tahir has now spent two novels info-dumping, painting the Empire and the surrounding world with broad strokes (at best). As a reader, I feel that I need more details on existing elements, rather than more new elements – in fact, all the new jargon and players are becoming quite confusing as I don’t quite understand all the original jargon yet.
- The lack of focused world-building did, however, allow Tahir to create a quick-paced, action packed plot. There’s hardly any down-time from one scene to the next. Different narrative points also allow Tahir to give one or two characters some downtime while simultaneously have the other(s) engaged in some really tough stuff (torture, executions, battle and the like). The plot is relatively straight-forward (get to Kauf, save Darin OR find Elias, do as the Emperor bid me), yet littered with enough twists and turns that the reader remains intrigued.
Before I wrap this up, I must say that I was very disappointed by one major instance towards the end of this book. If you’ve read some of my previous reviews, you’ll know that I hate loop-holes when it comes to death. Unless there is some pre-introduced way to escape inevitable death/come back from the dead, it just shouldn’t happen. No matter how much I love the character, it’s an automatic turn off for me when authors pull this kind of stuff. Really. GRRM is onto something with Game of Thrones.
Overall, I liked this book. It had a solid story, with likeable heores and despicable villains. At times, it had me on the edge of my seat, reading as quickly as I could, desperate to find out where the story was going. It was definitely worth the wait, but I feel that it suffered from second book syndrome. It simply wasn’t as good as the first, and fell into some pretty cliche holes that I would have rather avoided. However, I’d definitely still recommend this read, espcially if you’re a fan of An Ember in the Ashes. I’ll be patiently waiting for the next installment, and hopefully some answered questions along with it!