Series: An Ember in the Ashes #2
Published by HarperVoyager on September 8th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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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.
A Torch Against the Night is the sequel to Sabaa Tahir’s first fantasy book, An Ember in the Ashes. This review contains spoilers for the first book, but not for the second.
Elias and Laia have brought down Blackcliff Academy and are on the run from the Commandant. They decide to strike out towards Kauf Prison to try to free Laia’s brother, but it’s a race against time – the Commandant is slaughtering Scholars by the dozen and the new Emperor has sent out his new Blood Shrike, Helene, to find the fugitives.
I found An Ember in the Ashes to be a horrible blood bath. I discussed my dislike of the level of violence with Philippa in our podcast Ep 27. The second book was still brutal, but perhaps not quite so graphically violent. There are still people (including children) who are tortured and killed, but the violence doesn’t feel quite so gratuitous.
An Ember in the Ashes was told alternately from Elias and Laia’s points of view. In A Torch Against the Night, Helene is added to the narrators, telling of her growth into the role of the new Emperor’s Blood Shrike. Poor Helene is forced through some pretty harrowing events in this book, and my hope for her is that she is slowly growing into the woman of steel that will be needed to bring the Empire down.
The one thing that really annoyed me about ATATN was that the awful love triangle from the first book is still hanging around like a bad smell. One moment, Laia is all moon-eyed over Elias, and the next, Keenan pops up and she is fawning over him again. Flip-flopping between love interests is a pet hate of mine, especially when Elias is so adorable.
It might sound like I didn’t enjoy reading this book, but I actually did! It was very nice to get out into the world and away from that awful school and its brutality, even if the whole story turned into a fast-paced hunt and chase. The settings were amazing, especially the terrifically creepy prison. I had chills when they were approaching it!
Overall, this second book had more magic, more world-building and more fast-paced action. And best of all, it didn’t end on a huge cliffhanger! I’ll be interested to see where the story goes from here.