A Torch Against the Night – Ancient Rome meets the Holocaust

  • TitleA Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2)
  • AuthorSabaa Tahir
  • Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
  • Words to describe: Tense, dystopian-esque, strategic
  • Publication Date:  August 2016
  • Publisher: Razorbill
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Sabaa Tahir shows no mercy for her characters. They suffer, suffer again, and then suffer more. And each time, they survive. Somehow.

A Torch Against the Night is the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which was Tahir’s debut novel.

Torch burns more violently than Ember did, and spares no one at the end, or, almost no one, because it seems the Commandant is a demon with too many lives and no heart.

What is so thrilling about Tahir’s writing is that everything, and I mean everything plays a role – every tidbit of information scattered either in Ember or in Torch, every simple line a character says. Nothing is left unused. And it makes the writing as sharp as a Teluman sword.

“But you, Helene Aquilla, are no swift-burning spark. You are a torch against the night – if you dare to let yourself burn.”

Helene, the newly appointed Blood Shrike, features more in Torch. And I loved it. She’s similar to Elias, a Mask whose training is as ruthless killers who are to the Empire what the Janissaries were to the Ottomans. They live to serve the Emperor, and die serving him. Helene, though ruthless when needed, battles between her will to serve, and her heart. She struggles even more than Elias did, because she has more to lose – her entire family is threatened to the slaughter by the new emperor Marcus. And the Blood Shrike can afford no mistakes.

Torch picks up where Ember left off, seamless and tense. And the story grows more tense with each chapter. Friends become enemies, enemies because either allies or hesitant allies. And the supernatural has more of a grip on the living than you’d expect. Tahir is brutal in her scheming, and her characters show the same cunning and mercilessness. The Commandant is no longer the only half-mad villain – Marcus is right on the edge with her, though he seems far more insane than the Commandant is. Both have their demons, but it’s hard to tell much beyond that.

I did think is was a bit of a “cheat” that Laia can disappear because of the efrit’s magic. But the seed was sown in Ember for that plotpoint, and I can’t fault it too much. I did wish her new power wasn’t such a major force in her breaking Elias and Darin out of Kauf, though, and that there would be more plotting and more cunning involved in that. Still, I don’t fault the plot for growing that magic and using it when most needed.

Cook is also more interesting, but I can’t figure her out. She could have killed the Commandant, if she’s so stealthy as to scale an unscalable wall into Helene’s quarters. And yet, she failed to poison the Commandant much earlier, and suffered for it. She knows explosives, and yet never took down Blackcliff and escaped all those years she worked there. She seems to be fierce about Laia’s safety, but I don’t know why. Something seems off with her, and nothing was explained in Torch about the why.

“So long as you fight the darkness, you stand in the light.”

All in all, a great sequel, and I’m about the start on the next book, Reaper at the Gates. I expect more cunning, more tension, and more blood.

Favorite quotes in A Torch Against the Night:

“Failure doesn’t define you. It’s what you do after you fail that determines whether you are a leader or a waste of perfectly good air.”

“Don’t lock yourself away from those who care about you because you think you’ll hurt them or they’ll hurt you. What point is there in being human if you don’t let yourself feel anything?”

“Fools pay attention to words in a fight. Warriors take advantage of them.”

“Elias and Laia are each other’s countermelodies. I am just a dissonant note.”

“Willpower alone cannot change one’s fate.”

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