A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
Published by Razorbill in 2016
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #2
Genres: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction
Verdict: Definitely read this!
I was busy reading something else but I got my hands on this and had to read it because I enjoyed the first one so much. Judging by how quickly I read that, I felt it ok to take a break and have a go at this. That, and the impatience I feel waiting for the next book in the series (due in 2018), should illustrate how wonderful I think this YA series is. It picks up immediately from the first novel with Laia and Elias trying to escape the Martials to begin their desperate journey to rescue Laia’s brother Darin from a prison in the North. Because I read the first one relatively recently, it was easy to fall back into the story and pace. Another point of view has been added, that of Helene, Elias’ best friend and now greatest enemy. Her conflict between what she should do and what is right becomes more pronounced, and you can see her grow as the hardships and heartbreak harden her into something new.
Elias is further developed into an empathetic, altruistic, reluctant hero. He’s intense, he overthinks everything and he feels that everything is his responsibility. He almost seems perfect next to Laia, who in this novel is thrust into situations she doesn’t understand without the bigger picture or knowledge of how to strategise. The result is many disastrous decisions and a lot of guilt. She feels the weight of her failures and flounders for a time, but she learns from her mistakes and grows stronger and more confident.
The introduction of new characters, both villains and allies, enrich the story in so many ways. The villains are complex, with the otherworldly evil character seeming more human than the brutal, sadistic human villains. The Nightbringer is shown to be more layered than I expected while the one-dimensional Commandant and a new character, the Warden, are intensified. Old characters are reintroduced and changed, some darker, some lighter. The story is starting to expand upon the otherwordly aspects that were hinted at in book 1, and during the journey to the prison the world the story is set in begins to unfold. We start to see the different races of this world and how they interact with the Empire. We also start to see their crumbling relationships based on the change in power from book 1.
I saw the twist coming, but this is mostly because I’m jaded and I understand how these stories work. To Tahir’s credit, the clues were subtle and almost went unnoticed. Once again, the novel is well-written and a bit of a breeze to read. I admit I found it hard to put it down, I enjoy these characters and the world they’re set in. I’m also enjoying the supernatural part, the magical creatures are given depth and both good and bad aspects. There are elements in this story that remind me of others, like the Pirates of the Caribbean and Faith of the Fallen, but overall I’m curious to see how this plays out in further novels. The many facets of the story have been set up in a such way that Tahir could truly surprise.
If you’re a fan of well-structured young adult stories, then read this. There’s nothing new under the sun, but this story moves at a great pace, and has enough tension to keep you coming back for more.