A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
Book Two of the An Ember in the Ashes series
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Rating: 3 stars
Source: ARC received via trade
Summary (from Goodreads):
A Torch Against the Night takes readers into the heart of the Empire as Laia and Elias fight their way north to liberate Laia’s brother from the horrors of Kauf Prison. Hunted by Empire soldiers, manipulated by the Commandant, and haunted by their pasts, Laia and Elias must outfox their enemies and confront the treacherousness of their own hearts.
In the city of Serra, Helene Aquilla finds herself bound to the will of the Empire’s twisted new leader, Marcus. When her loyalty is questioned, Helene finds herself taking on a mission to prove herself—a mission that might destroy her, instead.
What I Liked:
Huh. I feel a little bad about my rating, given how excited I was to read this book. Like, I have been ecstatic for months, after hearing that there would be a sequel. I adored An Ember in the Ashes. But this book didn't live up to my vast expectations. While I think it's a well-written book, and the author will go far with this one (like she did with Ember), there were many things that didn't work for ME, as a reader.
Elias and Laia are the two most wanted people in the Empire. Fleeing chaos, the Commandant, the new Emperor Marcus, and the new Blood Shrike Helene, Elias and Laia are determined to reach Kauf prison and free Darin. But something deadly happens and slows the pair down, only to meet up with past allies, one of whom is questionable. Meanwhile, Helene struggles to gain respect and loyalty as the new Blood Shrike. Everyone knows of her deep friendship with Elias - including the Emperor, who sends Helene to hunt down and kill Elias. While hunting Elias and Laia, Helene will find out if she's capable of truly betraying her best friend - and what truly lies in her heart.
The positives: I was never bored, there are a lot more explanations about magic, the hunt is a merry chase, and the body count is pretty staggering (which makes things interesting). Other positives are more minor and I'll mention them briefly.
I was never bored while reading this book, which I always consider when I rate books. Was I bored? Was I enthralled? Did I want to chuck the book? Did I fall asleep? Did I want to hug the book? I wanted to chuck this book several times, but I definitely wasn't bored. Tahir writes an excellent story, and she writes it well. The plot is interesting (though I had issues with some of the events), there are twists and turns that are predictable but much appreciated.
I am very happy to see more explanations and usage of magic in this book. One of the things I wanted to see more of was magic, as well as why Laia seemed special, and what she was seeing. There are efrit and jinn and a reaper, all kinds of creepy and neat creatures. Pretty much everything mystical and magical in book one is explained in this book, and in big ways. Laia is and isn't as special as we think. Elias, on the other hand, has a lot going on in the magic world.
The body count is crazy high in this book. Most of them are Scholars, unnamed victims in the war. But there are some critical deaths in this book. The carnage is everywhere!
I'm feeling kind of ehh about Laia, but I loved Elias in this sequel. He undergoes a subtle transformation. He has always been more compassionate than most Masks, and that trait comes into play in a big way. Elias is hurt mentally and physically and emotionally the most in this book, and I kind of hate Laia for it (she's to blame, indirectly and directly), but I like what Elias has turned into. He is so selfless, and he uses his Mask training for good.
Overall, I think the author expanded this world really well, as well as she expanded the setting. Experiencing the story from Elias, Laia, and Helene's POV was interesting, and not too confusing. I'm impressed with the depth and raw emotion of this book, and how dark it is. But some things were not to my liking, and I'll discuss them below.
What I Did Not Like:
***PARAGRAPH FIVE HAS SPOILERS***
This book frustrated me. On the one hand, I had been SO excited to read it, and I wanted to love it. I saw great reviews even earlier than my own, so I knew that it probably wasn't going to disappoint. Emphasis on probably. On the other hand... well, now that I've read the book, I've found that I didn't love it. I wasn't feeling very positive at the end. I was trying to decide if I wanted to give this one three stars or four stars, but four stars seemed way too positive. I have no idea if my justifications for giving this book three stars will make sense, or "add up", but know that I don't *feel* like this is a four-star read!
I'll start with Laia. This whole story is about Laia trying to rescue her brother. On the surface, this book is stupid. One girl trying to rescue one boy? One girl dragging down the Empire for one boy? One girl ruining Elias Veturius's life for one boy? And... that's pretty much the foundation for this sequel. I was frustrated by this. Laia is selfish - yes, it is her brother. Yes, he is supposedly able to make weapons of Serric steel (something like that - it's a rare thing). But I hate Laia a little, because of what happens to Elias because of all of this.
And trust me, I know part of me is being irrational. Elias made the choice to take Laia to Kauf. He chose, of his own free will, to leave the Empire and the Masks and not become Emperor. But I hate how Laia pushes him into doing this or that, because Elias pays for it. Dearly. Painfully. Horribly.
It was hard to read. I liked Elias and Laia both, in book one, but I really liked Elias in this book. It's clear to me that he is selfless and kind and fiercely loyal - and it almost seems like Laia is taking advantage of those qualities.
SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH.
ESPECIALLY when you enter in Keenan, the leader of the Scholar resistance. He roars back into the picture, and suddenly, the love triangle that I could have sworn wouldn't be a thing, was a thing. Laia and Elias have a great thing going on until Keenan pops back up, and then Laia is suddenly in love with him, but it seems like she has strong feelings for Elias... right? Well, in any case, Laia loves Keenan. Kisses Keenan. Has sex with Keenan.
*sigh* My problem with this is simply that Laia is lying to herself. She does indeed fall for Keenan (there is something that happens in the end that is proof of this), but it's artificial. Message me if you want spoilers, because the ending isn't pro-Keenan. It's weird how the author arrives at this ending, in terms of the romance. Good weird, if you like Elias and Laia. But not definitive. In any case, Laia makes a mistake with Keenan, in my opinion. How can you have sex with someone you think you love, when you feel some type of way about another person (Elias)?
In any case, we were all worried about the wrong love triangle. Helene and Elias are not a thing, anymore, or ever. Helene was out to kill Elias this whole time, and Elias was evading her, knowing she was hunting him. I felt bad for Helene.
Okay so I pretty much hated the romance. I HATE love triangles, so the idea of one love triangle popping back up sickened me. I liked that the love triangle with Helene disappeared. I didn't like the reappearance of the Keenan love triangle, regardless of the ending. About which I will not mention too much.
Oh, but I didn't like the ending either. Tahir does something with Elias that I abhor. I liked what she did with Keenan, with Darin, with Laia (even though I kind of dislike Laia right now), but not Elias. Elias goes from one prison to another to another, and it's a different type, every time. Physical, mental, emotional... I hate them all. Elias suffers the worst, out of anyone. He literally cannot catch a break and it infuriates me.
ESPECIALLY since most of it is Laia's fault. ESPECIALLY since I feel like Laia does not suffer at all, yet it was her suicide mission from the start.
Which, by the way, also makes me mad. This whole book is about rescuing one boy (well, most of the book). I felt like that was kind of a ridiculous premise? Laia and Elias are fleeing the wrath of the Empire, yes, but rescuing Darin seems superficial compared to fighting a war. Especially given how many innocent people died to break out one boy, because those innocent people helped hide Laia, or fight for Laia. STUPID LAIA.
Can we assume that there will be a third book? Because the ending of this book was terrible for Elias, but terrible in general. How can you end a series like that? You can't. I see that Goodreads has a book three up, so this makes me breathe a little easier.
I'll stop there.
Would I Recommend It:
I feel like it doesn't matter if I say that I recommend it or not, because this series is a bestselling series already and no one needs to make up their minds about it? If you've read AND liked An Ember in the Ashes, this book is definitely worth reading (hopefully you'll like it more than I did).
However, if you didn't like An Ember in the Ashes, or felt iffy about it, skip this book.
And if you haven't read An Ember in the Ashes, skip this series. Or binge-read all three books. Trust me on this!
3 stars. Tahir, I could not care less who ends up with who, or who dies. I just want Elias to come out of everything free, sane, and with all ten toes and fingers. I literally do not care if he and Laia are together in the end. I'm 100% sure he and Helene are never happening (this is speculation, not spoilers). But I want to see Elias eating ice cream at the end of this series, or something. I feel so bad for him!
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