By: Hannah Rapp, Young Adult Librarian
Usually when I talk about books I’ve read on this blog, I stick with the first book in the series, or a whole-series review. But I’ve been fortunate enough to get an advanced reader copy of a much-anticipated sequel, and I am way too excited not to talk about it! Warning, Spoilers Ahead for anyone who hasn’t read An Ember in the Ashes.
What I Just Read: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
What’s It About (Jacket Description): 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.
Do I Like It: Loving it so far!
Thoughts: After I read An Ember in the Ashes last year, I was recommending it far and wide. It was exciting, gritty, pulse-pounding fantasy with dystopian elements, and I couldn’t put it down. It wasn’t a perfect novel – few debuts are – but I enjoyed it and saw a ton of promise for expanding on the world-building, delving deeper into characters and relationships, and giving the incredibly evil, awful, hate-able villain more room to make readers cringe. So it will come as no surprise to anyone that when I had a chance to read an advance copy of the sequel, I jumped on it. And I am thrilled to say that A Torch Against the Night is not only meeting my expectations, but I’m finding that so far, I’m enjoying it at least as much if not more than the first novel.
The sequel takes us on a trip through the Empire, with our main characters Elias and Laia running from the terrifying new Emperor and of course, the ice cold, cruel, and brilliant Commandant. I love the chance to see more of the Empire, and so far the pacing in this book seems even better than An Ember in the Ashes. I definitely enjoy watching Elias and Laia’s friendship – and more? – develop now that they are on more equal footing. Laia’s increase in leadership and power make her more of a match for Elias (and eliminates the creepy slave dynamic from the first book), and that power extends to her other relationships as well. Even the hints of a love triangle are bothering me less than they usually do, since both love interests have a good mix of swoon-worthy qualities and serious faults. And because I’m a sucker for friendships, I’m excited about the return of Izzi, who like Laia, is growing in strength and confidence, and promises to be a wonderful friend and foil for the main character.
But while all of this is great and wonderful, I think my favorite parts of A Torch Against the Night are Helene’s points of view. I found Helene one of the most interesting and fascinating characters in the first book, and getting to see her suddenly gifted with newfound power as she struggles with her warring loyalties to Elias, her family, and the empire, is incredibly compelling. Helene isn’t a “good guy” by a long shot, but she’s also not the same style of heartless villain as we get in the Commandant and the Emperor. She is flawed and fascinating, with her own moral code, and promises to grow a lot as a character in this installment of the story.
On top of all this, I can’t put it down – I read the first 150 pages of this book in two sittings, and am eager to gulp up the rest of it. For fast-paced, dark fantasy, this series is an easy winner. Add in some of my favorite book elements in any book like strong women characters, great friendships, and complicated morals, and it’s easy to see why A Torch Against the Night is keeping me glued to the page!