Book Review- A Torch Against the Night

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Author: Sabaa Tahir

Genre: Fantasy

Series: #2 in the An Ember in the Ashes series.

Rating: 4.5/5 (or an A)

“Most people…are nothing but glimmers in the great darkness of time. But you…are no swift-burning spark. You are a torch against the night- if you dare to let yourself burn.”

Non-spoiler thoughts:

Oh man, you guys. Tahir has once again dazzled me! I was fully expecting this book to be great, but it was such an epic and full-steam-ahead thrilling read. If you don’t know, this book is the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes (which I reviewed here). This series is set in a world based off of Ancient Roman culture, and follows our two main characters- Laia, a slave and spy for the rebellion- and Elias- the top student in the military academy. Neither feel free in their lives.

I took so many notes, and looking back over them, most are just me reacting to the insanity of things happening like ?!?!? What’s happening?! Why is the world on fire?? Why do I have so many feels?? Ahhh! 

I keep thinking that this is like the darker, more grown-up version of Percy Jackson, and while it doesn’t have a whole lot plot-wise in common with the PJO books, it still reminds me a lot of it for some reason.

I gave this book only a slightly higher rating than the first book because I’m leaving just a little room for the books to come (of which there are two more). I can feel this palpable crescendo in the intensity of the situations of the characters and dire events on the horizon. I’m crossing all my fingers and toes in anticipation that Tahir delivers with an awesome punch in the third and fourth book. We’re going great places you guys, I can feel it.

I can’t really tell you much more than that, because this is a sequel, so I’m going to dive right into my spoiler thoughts. If you’ve not read this book and wish not to be spoiled, click away, and you can come back once you’ve read the book and we can talk about the epicness that is Torch. 🙂

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Spoiler thoughts:

Okay, so I know what’s on all your minds. Who saw Keenan coming?!

Cause I didn’t. Not by a long shot. Everyone in the book was saying how he seemed off, how there was just something about him that they didn’t like, and I’m over here like, “What are you talking about? He’s actually not that bad of a guy; he lost everyone he loves so of course he’s going to have some issues, but he’s working on it and like??? Just give him a break???? Especially you, Elias, with your smug little attitude…”

But no. Keenan’s the Nightbringer, and I’m left feeling like:

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Why did you betray me Keenan? I stood up for you, and now you’re evil. Great.

It’s actually quite interesting. The concept that the Nightbringer has lived so many lives, and whilst in human form does still feel human emotions. Does he feel hurt or guilt when he betrays the people he got close to to get the silver pieces? What’s going to happen the next time he and Laia meet? Laia is obviously disgusted with him, and doesn’t want anything to do with him, but will the Nightbringer still have and acknowledge feelings for her? And I’m still a bit confused about the silver pieces. We know that the king jinn, Nightbringer, needs them all to be given to him willingly, and that together they form the weapon that the scholars used to defeat the jinn a bajillion years ago. But how will bringing all the pieces together help release the jinn stuck in that tree in the Waiting Place? Can it be used as a key?

Speaking of the Waiting Place, I absolutely love the way the afterlife works in this world. It’s very reminiscent of the way the Romans thought of it, but it has its own Tahir flare. The Soul Catcher is kind of like a lighter version of Death in the Book Thief in my mind (though they don’t look the same in my head); they don’t really concern themselves with what’s on one side or the other, they’re just there in this in-between place to transport souls from one world to the next. And then there’s one person that catches their attention, that makes them interested in the world of the living. Granted, the Soul Catcher has a lot more empathy than Death; she really feels for the people that come and go. And now Elias is the new Soul Catcher, and I’m so interested in what that’s going to be like for him in the next book. I’m a sucker for the “novice in training” trope, and of course I know Tahir’s going to twist that into something really cool, like she is want to to with tropes. I wasn’t even really sad when Elias basically traded his soul away, because I think that it’s something he could really do well; like, he seems like the perfect person for the job.

But, then again, there’s the thing of him not being able to be with Laia, which I ship so hard! In Ember, I was hesitant, because I just wasn’t sure that they were really compatible together, but I think that both of them have grown so much as characters that I think they suit each other more now. And now they can’t be together! Gah! (or at least it’s going to be really difficult, seeing as how Elias is kind of immortal and he can’t really spend that much time away from the forest). Maybe we’ll find a loop hole or something to get him out of it in the next book?

Did any of you feel like you had been stabbed when Izzi died? Cause I did. She was my favorite character! (besides my queen, Helene) I was just so 😭😭😭 I don’t even have words. When Elias helped her move on I was so moved and I didn’t want to see her go!

Anyway, the other obvious part of this book is the Helene chapters, which were some of my favorite parts! I have loved Helene from the beginning of Ember; she’s just such a strong person, and her intelligence and razor-sharp wit are so awesome. I love how she uses the fact that people underestimate her to her advantage. That scene where she plays dumb with her father in order to capture the traitor Gens is priceless! Her character is so refreshing, and her arc is a constant strive for strength and loyalty. I had this theory that she might be an anti-hero, but now I don’t think she is. By definition, an anti-hero is one who does not have the typical traits of a hero, like being brave, or quick-witted, or even just physically strong and attractive. Helene possess all of these traits, so she can’t really be an anti-hero, but I do think that her arc is more of a foil to Elias’s. In every pivotal point in these two books, Elias’s victories have been her failures; her strengths his downfalls. I love seeing foils in stories, because it’s a great way to highlight attributes in both characters. There’s just one thing that worries me: the thing about foils is that they (usually) cannot both survive. The point of a foil is that one character much succeed, and the other must fail. Usually that means one has to die, and I don’t want either to die!

I think my favorite part about this book was the character arcs. Each main character was highlighted so well and their individual point of view chapters really allowed for their growth to be showcased. At the beginning of the book, there were clear flaws that each MC had, that they struggled with and overcame by the end of the book. Laia fought with self-confidence and independence; she learned the importance of not just letting someone else save you, that you must change the world yourself if you want change. Helene struggled with loyalty; by the end of the book her strength was honed to be sharper than a scim, and now she knows what she is loyal to (the empire that she wishes to see in the future, not the commandant’s empire, and also to her sister). Elias has the most impactful arc to me; that of learning self-forgiveness. One of the things I didn’t like about him was how he blamed himself for everything, even things that were out of his control. But now he’s finally learning to love himself and allow himself happiness, free of guilt. If that’s not a lesson to take home, I don’t know what is.

A quote that stuck with me was when Elias was talking about how the poison had taken so much from him without him noticing until he regained his strength.

 “…But with the poison gone from my blood, I understand, for the first time, how it stole away my life bit by bit until it seemed to me that I had always been a shadow of myself.” -pg. 416.

That’s when I realized that the poison was a metaphor for his self-hatred. It’s a vicious cycle, a poison of its own, when you get caught in self-loathing. It will eat at you until you are left forgetting that you were ever worth anything. And you don’t even notice it until you learn to love yourself and look back on the awful place your once were at.

Thoughts for book 3:

-I almost forgot about Avitas Harper! He’s such an interesting character, I was theorizing about his backstory the whole book! We know now that he’s Elias’s half-brother, and I’m so interested in who in the world their father is. From what we’ve been told, he was good, but how in the world did he end up having a kid with Keris, the queen of evil and the source of my never-ending rage? I can’t wait to see him in the next book (and find out if he and Helene might become a thing? Because I might kind of ship it??)

-Speaking of Keris, how in the world is Helene going to out-smart her? Marcus, I think, told Helene that he knew about her coup the whole time, and I can’t wait for Helene to assassinate her. Please. I just hate her so much, there are entire paragraphs in my notes where I just scream in all caps about how much I hate her XD.

-Who the heck is Marcus talking to? Because that’s kind of creeping me out. My initial thought was the Nightbringer, but the comment about him being haunted by his brother is also interesting. Though, I think that might be a long shot, as I think his brother has moved on to the afterlife already.

-Will we learn more about the augurs? How did they gain their powers, or were they born with them? Why does Cain care about our MC trio so much? And WHY IS HE SO ANNOYINGLY CRYPTIC? I mean, I know that’s the way of oracles and augurs in Greek/Roman mythology, but come on. I NEED TO KNOW WHAT THEY’RE THINKING.

-Will we ever learn more about Spiro and Cook? Cook was a creepy character in this book, and I’m still theorizing about her connection to Laia. Is she Laia’s grandmother? Did she just happen to be really close to Laia’s parents? (Is she Laia from the future?? Haha, I highly doubt that’s it; that’s just the crazy fan theorist in me talking XD) Will Darin be able to tell us more about Spiro?

-Speaking of Darin, I love the last lines of the book where he just stares at Laia and says, “Look at you.” Because that’s exactly what I was thinking about Laia and her character development at the end of the book.

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So that’s all my thoughts on A Torch Against the Night. It took me two years to start this series, and now I am caught up and caught in the loop of having to wait a year for each new book D: But I’m so excited for the direction this series is going; I NEED THE NEXT BOOK NOW! I’m wondering what it will be called; Elias is an ember in the ashes, Helene is a torch against the night, so I wondering if Laia is going to have a cool metaphor for the title of book 3…

What about you all? I’d love to know your thoughts on this book!

And as always, have a lovely day and I’ll see you again soon! 🙂

-Abigail

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