A Torch against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

My Rating: 2/5 stars

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

So I should start this off by saying that those who were enthralled with An Ember in the Ashes will probably enjoy this sequel. I never quite loved Ember as much as everyone else seemed to, but I did really like it and bought my own copy after borrowing it from the library. (As someone with limited shelf space, this says a lot.) I also really liked the idea of a duology. Maybe it’s just because this is now part of a four-book series, but Torch suffered some serious second-book syndrome; it definitely felt like a filler book. I was highly disappointed.

A Torch Against the Night picks up pretty much immediately after its predecessor, with Elias and Laia escaping Blackcliff with the objective of reaching Kauf prison. There they plan to free Darin, Laia’s brother, whose knowledge might be key in leading a successful rebellion against the Empire.

Helene is now Blood Shrike and must obey newly-crowned Marcus, who tasks her with capturing Elias and returning him for a public execution. As if choosing between serving the Empire and saving her best friend’s life wasn’t already hard enough, Helene must also consider her family whom Marcus is using as leverage to ensure her loyalty.

The biggest problem for me was that I did not care about a single character the way I did in Ember. I no longer loved Elias or Laia, and in fact grew to dislike Laia immensely with Elias only occasionally grabbing my attention. Their chapters had me literally rolling my eyes and letting out frustrated sighs. Helene, however, was much better. I didn’t care too much for her in Ember, but I looked forward to her Torch chapters. She was the only character with internal struggles that actually mattered. In fact, the moments that Elias did manage to grab my attention were always when Helene was involved.

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

Although it has been a year since I read An Ember in the Ashes, I remember it being fast-paced and at times making my heart race. I did not feel that way this time. I knew about a hundred pages in that this book was not what I had hoped it would be. I had expected us to learn more about the world and for Elias and Laia to begin making some serious progress in starting an uprising against the Empire. Unfortunately, neither happens.

You would think with the amount of land the characters covered, surely we’d learn more about the world and different places in it, but no. The entire book is one long, choppy journey filled with the repetitive theme of the characters reaching a new place, then almost being discovered until they unrealistically avoid being captured/harmed/killed. (Except for one instance which made me angry. Think Barb from Stranger Things.) The most that ever happens, happens within the last few chapters of the book. Too little, too late.

Now, there is nothing wrong with the writing. Sabaa has a talent for putting words together and making them flow in a way that made me forget the fact that I hate first-person, present tense. (Although, I must say that if I hear the word “skies” again anytime soon, I will literally have to flip a table; it was used way too often.) If she ever writes another series I will be glad to pick it up, as I think this one is just not for me.

– Taylor

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