Monday, August 8, 2016

Review: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir


A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
Book Two of the An Ember in the Ashes series
Publisher: Razorbill
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!

Rating:

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!


Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!

31 comments:

  1. Oh no! :( I know how excited you were to read this one. I hate it when selfish characters and stupid triangular developments ruin an otherwise good book. I'm not sure this series is for me - that triangle would probably bother me quite a bit, and also, I hate how we don't know a definitive number of books in this series. I thought the first was a standalone and when this released I figured duology, but now there's a third book. I don't want to invest my time in a series like this unfortunately. I do hope that things 100% turn around in a positive way for you in the next book.

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    1. I know. :( Honestly the resurgence of the love triangle (and not the love triangle I expected) killed a lot of this book for me. And then Elias basically going through hell and back... naaahhh. I don't need this type of fiction in my life right now. *sigh*

      I think it'll be a trilogy! Who knows though. *another dramatic sigh*

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  2. Sounds like this is one of those series that leave it all up to the reader. Do you or don't you...If I'm super crazy about the genre I would have to check it out for myself.
    sherry @ fundinmental

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    1. Yup, up to the reader indeed. I love fantasy as well! You might really like these books, Sherry. Book one was awesome!

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  3. Oh jeeze - not the love triangle. That's a big skip for me.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

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  4. LAIA, HOW COULD YOU HURT MY DARLING ELIAS?!
    My ship is now BROKEN

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  5. Oh No! Not another one?!?! This is on my Highly Anticipated Reads List and it's so not right that it has a love triangle. UGH! Why do these authors do this to us? I really don't want to dive in and invest in a book where my heart will be torn for a character that I love. I so enjoyed the first book. Maybe I'll just wait until Book 3 to see how it all ends before I continue the series. Thank you Alyssa for your honest and heart felt review.

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    1. This was literally my most anticipated read of 2016! Trust me, you can't get any more disappointed than me right now... and I think three stars was a little nice of me. *sigh* I wish I had waited to binge-read the second and third books! But I know I would have disliked this book for the most part anyway, because of the romance. It's so bad! My heart still hurts.

      Thank YOU!

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  6. I liked the first book enough to want this one. I'm now thinking I'll grab this from the library instead of buying it. Thanks for this review!

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    1. Library is the way to go! Then you can decide if you want to buy it. You're welcome, and thank YOU!

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  7. Whoa 3 stars? I definitely want to read this one, but I have to admit I'm a little concerned now. I'll still read it though for sure and see for myself! :D

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    1. Three stars was me being nice, I think! I hope you like it more than I did, Erin. =)

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  8. I haven't read An Ember in the Ashes yet...I know, it's so terrible! *hides* I do want to read it though, so I avoided the spoilery section.

    I really appreciate how you distinguish between knowing something's a good book, but not a good book for you. This has been happening to me fairly recently lately, and I always feel bad because I don't want to give the author bad press for a book that was actually good - I just didn't enjoy it because it pushed all the wrong buttons. Glad this doesn't just happen to me! :)

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    1. Don't feel bad! You'll get to it when you get to it. =)

      I felt a little bad for all of the negatives, but the book didn't quite work for me. But I know many people will enjoy the book and not have the same issues that I did. Honestly I think my review is a drop in the bucket and won't affect her publicity. :D

      You're not alone! *hugs*

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  9. I don't think rating have to make sense, just go with what you feel. I listened to the audio of book one last year and really liked it, then was annoyed by the whole will they make a sequel or not business. I ended up getting an audio copy of this one last week and my expectations are lowered.

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    1. DUDE! I remember you being irritated about that. Penguin needs to take chances and roll with it. ESPECIALLY with how well this book ended up doing. *sigh* I hope you enjoy this book more than I did, Nereyda!

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  10. Oh my God! I was scared to read your review because I can't help but read between the lines and I'm ALWAYS translating things wrong in my mind. *Sighs* What I did read and I'm so glad I did... is the "Helene and Elias are not a thing anymore". Bless you! I was so scared about that.

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    1. I do the same! I was vague on purpose but if you read between the lines, you'll definitely see my hints.

      Helene and Elias are definitely not the triangle to worry about! It's the other one...

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  11. Oh. Now I regret buying this book :( But holy crap. THANK YOU SO MUCH ALYSSA. Thank you for letting me know. I am so not reading book one :( Well.. I'm thinking about reading them both when book three and four is out, maybe? But yeah. I'm so goddamn disappointed. She sleeps with someone else? Seriously? Fuck love triangles. I did not know this. Now I'm so upset. Uuuugh. So NOT a book for me :( I'm sorry all of that happened sweetie :\ It just sounds oh so bad. Hmph. But I'm glad you still managed to like a bunch of it, even so :)

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    1. Ehhh, yeah. This book was up and down. In the end, it was fine (kind of), but at least 60% of the book was rough.

      Yup, she has sex with Keenan. And then Keenan turns out to be someone not so great... it's painful. I hated him from the start, but it's even worse that Laia sleeps with him.

      Love triangles are the actual worst! They ruin nearly every book they're in (for me). Part of me wishes I hadn't bothered with this series!

      Still, I'll be reading the next one (and the fourth one), more likely than not. So I'll let you know how those go!

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  12. SPOILERS BELOW




    A lot of your points make sense, but overall, it must be pointed out that all of this is NOT for Darin. It's for Scholars, the Empire, and basically existence - it's to use Darin's knowledge to stop the genocide of Scholars, and maybe even put someone like Helene in power to create a better world.
    Laia is a bit selfish, but not as you state, because do remember she saved Elias's life, and while she wanted him to help her - she even gave him a way out, she tried to convince him to stop helping her and just go live out his life with his tribe.
    Elias had agency and remember, he was the one who pushed Laia away emotionally.

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    1. I think a lot of the points you made are up to every reader's interpretation! It's okay that we disagree and/or see things differently. =)

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  13. I just completed this book and I have to agree with the analysis given though there is something else that really got to me - so much so that I almost set the book down unfinished permanately: Children being killed and or tortured in a somewhat descriptive brutal fashion. It was just too heavy, brutal and sad! After holding my breath to get through a family with children being butured - I was led up the same path again and was about to set the book down because writing like that isn't worth reading the book for...until I realized that 'this' family would actually escape...only to find another boy being tortured not too long after.
    Death can and is expected in some settings - I get that and deal with it; however, it was overkill in this book for me. I'm sorry but it literally felt like someone was describing the horror stories of children that Isis captures!
    It was too much and if it was what I wanted to contemplate in my free time I'd just turn on the news. In the end the negative emotions experienced, while reading the book, far outweighed any of the positives.
    If there is another book to follow this one, it would have to have a happy ending that is off the charts for me to buy it.

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    1. Oh! I didn't even mention that really - but you are absolutely right! I remember being annoyed (amidst my annoyance over Laia's stupidity and all of Elias's suffering) about the senseless deaths and being sent to prison and such. No. The author went overboard with the brutality in this book. I definitely agree with you on that. :/

      Unfortunately there are TWO more books to follow this one... I can't say that I'm happy about that, at this point! Crossing my fingers for a happy ending too. :o

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  14. Wow I did not see this book going the direction that it did. So disappointing in regards to Laia (sleeping with Keenan.. really?!?!), and what is the purpose of the Nightbringer?; Helene still fighting her devotion for Elais and poor Elais had to be tortured over and over again. And now he's not really 'all' there anymore. Wow. Your review was spot on again (really thought the killing was over the top too much) and I'm not sure how book #3 will be. I do hope Elais' background with his family gets flushed out and he gets to come 'all' back to earth. I'm really disappointed with these most anticipated sequels being not up to par with their 1st books, you know? Thanks again for your honest thorough review!

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    1. RIGHT?! I was so disappointed in terms of that aspect as well. Elias got the worst end of the deal, in all of it. I definitely agree about the senseless killing. :/ I hope the author takes it easy on Elias in book three. Funny, I said the same thing about book three of the Truthwitch series... I hope that author goes easy on Merik. *sigh* So many sequels have not been as great as their predecessors. It's a shame!

      Thank YOU! =)

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  15. (note: there are spoilers)
    OMG. I'm in the middle of reading this and I am also annoyed by Laia's stupidity. Where did the heroine I loved in the first book go?! First, when Keenan and Izzi followed her--she should have turned them away! They were not needed to break into Kauf, and it would be more work hiding two extra people. Plus, then Keenan (who I hate) would not be in the picture, and then Izzi would not have died. Her 2nd stupid choice was to save a couple of scholars who she didn't even know, which resulted in Izzi's death and the destruction of a tribe. Stupid to the nth degree--there are scholars dying everywhere already, what's the point in saving 2 to kill people in the tribe that's helping you and your friend? I also hate how Elias's tribe suffered because of Laia too. The least Laia could do is to love Elias and keep him company before he dies from the poisoning. But now I just read in the review above that she sleeps with Keenan! Ok, that's it, I'm not gonna read anymore of this book. Especially since I just got to the part Elias gets caught by the Warden at Kauf. Why does everyone suffer except for Laia? It's just not fair. Honestly, I think Elias should have killed her, or let Helene kill her. Then Marcus would not be emperor, and thousands of scholars and other poor souls in the empire would not have had to die. She pretty much brings death and destruction everywhere she goes, without even suffering a scratch.

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    1. I feel bad for Helene too...at this point I'd rather her end up with Elias than Laia.

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    2. I completely agree with your thoughts. Keenan was a nuisance in book one, and as much as I didn't like him in book one, I hate what the author did with him, in book two. And what she did with Elias! And his tribe! And pretty much everyone! Laia is the only one who is pretty much unscathed. I wanted better for Elias. And maybe Laia should take some of the crap too? Ugh.

      I don't want Helene and Elias but I do feel very bad for Helene... I definitely could see the author making her a martyr.

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