*Disclaimer: Some spoilers for An Ember in the Night. Go read that first and come back.*
Dang it, I’m ticked. After I finished this book, I realized that I would have to wait until 2018 for the third book in the series. Why, Sabaa Tahir, whhhhhhy?
Anyways, before I dwell too long on that thought, let me shift gears to implore anyone who hasn’t read An Ember in the Ashes or A Torch Against the Night to do so.
Anyone who has read any of my Young Adult reviews knows I’m not the biggest fan (especially of Dystopian YA). But after reading both of Tahir’s books, I really think that I’ve found a gem among the disappointments.
The first book, An Ember in the Ashes, was riddled with YA cliches, but at least there was meat behind them. I really appreciated the development of her lead characters, Elias and Laia. Both were complex in their own ways; Elias, a warrior of the elite Martials, betrays his people to save Laia, a Scholar girl who became a slave (and a spy) to save her brother. Both narrowly escape with their lives.
A Torch Against the Night’s plot is deceitfully straightforward (saving Laia’s brother from Kauf prison) so Tahir can focus on the characters and flesh out the world she created.
In the first book, Laia and Elias are both born anew, purged by the cruel world they live in. The second book continues their development on a subtle level: Learning the importance of one’s own agency.
For her part, Laia learns to trust herself despite the consequences of past choices.
Elias, on the other hand, is so consumed with righting wrongs that he can’t see the damage he creates by taking others’ choices from them. Taking someone’s agency away isn’t noble or excused by good intentions.
For the first half of the book my only complaint was the love triangle. This trope is the one holdover from the first that I was weary of. Not only am I just sick of the trope, I hate how it usually ends up destroying the will of the one caught in the middle. I thought this was going to happen again, and then Tahir genuinely surprised me with the outcome.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but trust me, stick with it.
The highlight (for me at least) was the added narration of Helene Aquilla, the new Blood Shrike and second to the Emperor. In the first book, Helene is a strong supporting character, but sometimes it felt like she was just there for a love triangle. Not so in the second book.
Laia’s and Elias’ narrations are good, but Helene brings a whole new dimension as her first mission is to hunt down the traitor she loves, Elias. Helene gives the reader insight into the inner workings of what’s happening in the Empire and fleshes out the obstacles that Laia and Elias have to face.
The first book only foreshadows Helene’s importance to the overall story, but now the reader is given a front seat to the sad tale of Helene’s unmaking as she, like Laia and Elias before, is transformed by the Empire’s bloodlust. By the end of the first book Laia and Elias found the strength within them to be brave. By the end of A Torch Against the Night, Helene becomes the person she needs to be to save the empire from itself.
Tahir also delves deeper into the ‘otherworldly’ side of the novel as The Nightbringer becomes more central to the overall story. The spiritual realm is shown to be very real in the first book, with effins, wraiths, and jinns. In the second book the reader is plunged head first into The Waiting Place and the mythos behind it.
For his own purposes (which are focused on in A Torch), the Nightbringer has aligned with The Commandant, the main antagonist from the first book and Elias’ cold-hearted mom. Both are on the edges of the story, causing chaos as they commit genocide. Yes, straight up genocide. No one is spared and it can be hard to read sometimes.
Tahir doesn’t spare the reader from witnessing the horrors of how the Martials treat the lowly Scholars. Everywhere Laia turns she sees the handy work of The Commandant and her crusade, and wonders if there will be any Scholars left. Meanwhile, Helene witnesses the new Emperor’s sadistic nature as he becomes a Game of Thrones villain.
A Torch Against the Night was mainly about moving pieces around and developing story and characters. Now that everyone is in position, I can’t wait for the next chapter of the series. I just hope the excitement can carry me to 2018.
In The Margins:
- R.I.P. to characters I was legit sad and surprised to see go.
- Afya is amazing, more of her please. Actually Tabir has an array of interesting female characters. Thank you Sabaa Tahir!
- No TTT next week, but don’t worry! I’ll have a review for Saga Vol 3&4 up on Tuesday.