A Torch Against the Night
by Sabaa Tahir
★★★★★ (5 out of 5 stars)
Elias and Laia are running for their lives. After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire.
Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars’ survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.
But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias. The pair must fight every step of the way 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.
Bound to Marcus’s will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own—one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape…and kill them both.
I really liked this book. The few small things I didn’t enjoy as much in An Ember in the Ashes were absent from this one. Tahir took a beautiful, cruel world with compelling characters and made it even better. She gave us more insight into the characters’ past and their reasoning. And she brought new and well-developed characters into the fold whom I’m excited to see again in the next book. I’m looking at you Harper.
The biggest difference for me from the first book was Laia. I really enjoyed her chapters and was excited to see her build her confidence and trust herself. She made some mistakes and she suffered for them, but she kept moving. The contrast between who she is now and who she was at the beginning of the first book is tremendous. Such fantastic development.
Elias continues to be as engaging here as in the first book. The Commandant and the Warden were sickening. Marcus, the new Emperor, was interesting. You can see some madness beginning to take hold in him. The newer characters Afya, Tas, Mamie Rila, etc., were great additions to the story. Perhaps my favorite character to read was Nightbringer. Ah, he’s so intriguing. He’s definitely a bad person and I don’t want him to succeed, but I feel for him and what he has been through.
The only thing that really bothered me in the book was Helene. I know that there are far worse/cruel characters in this world, but I guess I don’t expect more from the Warden or the Commandant. I just couldn’t get on board with all the terrible things Helene was doing in the name of “duty”. The inability to think for herself and break the rules if it’s called for is to me a profound weakness and, at times, disgusted me. Although, from what I can see by the end of the book, I suspect her blind loyalty is beginning to waver. I hope she grows and begins to push boundaries and test out doing what’s morally right, not just what’s senselessly loyal.