Rating: 3/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
I’m deeply, truly underwhelmed.
An Ember in the Ashes is one of my favorite YA fantasy debuts; Sabaa Tahir’s world was mesmerizing yet brutal, and it was so easy to lose myself in the bloody story of an Empire inspired by Greek and Roman culture. Sadly, in A Torch Against the Night I didn’t manage to fully grasp that flare of magic I was confident I’d find.
“So long as you fight the darkness, you stand in the light.”
A Torch Against the Night follows Elias and Laia’s quest to free Laia’s brother from the Kauf prison, and Helene’s struggle to serve a loathsome Emperor and be the Blood Shrike everybody fears. Their paths are intertwined, their feelings tangled, their loyalties divided. Elias faces the cost of freedom, Laia the burden of crucial decisions, Helene the devastating choice between her best friend and her family, her duty, her honor. Ancient demons shadow their steps; the genocide of the Scholars drowns the streets in blood; a mad emperor’s reign of terror stifles every opposing voice; and an overly ambitious Commandant, a mother without love, a soldier serving a dark force, wreaks havoc, tortures and murders for her own agenda. In the Martial Empire, darkness prevails. But somewhere, between hopelessness and frustration, there's a torch against the night, which may be the guide to light.
“You are a torch against the night – if you dare let yourself burn.”
There is no doubt that Sabaa Tahir’s pen is exquisite. The world she built is rich, full of Asian based lore, creatures of immense power and ruthless games. I can’t help but repeat that she succeeds in combining beautiful moments and sentiments with savage murders, raw brutality, loss of innocence and despair. As Laia and Elias traveled though the Martial Empire, with Helene high on their heels, we explored cultures, magical beings, heartache, and a major, jaw dropping plot twist that made the wait for A Reaper at the Gates almost unbearable.
Helene’s chapters were my favorite part of the second instalment of this series. Her inner battle, and her eventual, foretold breaking made her a character that shattered your heart, piece by piece. Sometimes I cringed at her choices, but given the circumstances, and what she would lose if she failed the horrible emperor she served, I couldn’t help but sympathize with her. Her storyline was laced with politics, bloodshed and mistrust, and the horrors she witnessed forged her into a mighty weapon to shatter her enemies.
“Your emotions make you human. Even the unpleasant ones have a purpose. Don’t lock them away. If you ignore them, they just get louder and angrier.”
Well in this context, I have to get it out of my system before it festers. I hate love triangles. I hate insta-love. And most of all, I hate instalovetriangles. They are a plague that makes good stories turn sour, and characters you once respected insufferable. While the instalovetriangle was present in the previous book, it didn’t bother me that much because I was certain Laia and Elias were made for each other. In this one, though, I rolled my eyes so many times they still hurt. Laia is so precious, Laia is so brave, Laia is such a special snowflake we should worship the ground her holy feet touch oh my God just stop it already! I didn’t find anything special about her. She was a girl that tried to deal with all those things that went wrong in her life by lusting over every good looking guy she encountered. She forgot how Keenan belittled her or suffocated her because he was so warm and familiar and I couldn’t help but shout YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW HIM DARN IT, GET OVER HIS WARMTH! Who she loved depended on who was physically closer, that thing called brain didn’t function with all those hormones throwing a disco party! And Elias my love had fallen under her spell. I rooted for them, part of me still does, but Laia’s stupidity somehow tainted what I thought was pure.
Moreover, the fact that the majority of Elias and Laia’s arc took place on the road was rather tedious. I wanted something more, something I can’t put my finger on, but the magic of the first book, the glorious radiance that made An Ember in the Ashes shimmer and sparkle and burn was not there. There was only a shadow of its potential.
Notwithstanding the above, A Torch Against the Night was an engaging story featuring diverse characters and war, where civilizations collided and villains had the upper hand, ravaging and destroying. I just hope that A Reaper at the Gates will meet the standards of the first book, and resurrect my somehow shaken faith in these characters and their respective quests!