Bookish Review: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

ATorchAgainstTheNight_CV 4.14A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Published: September 2016 by Harper Voyager

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Rating: ♄ ♄ ♄ ♄ ♄

Goodeads | Buy on Amazon

I pretty much pounced on A Torch Against the Night as soon as it came out. And boy am I glad I did but at the same time, I’ve seen the next book in the series is not due to be released until 2018… 2018??!! WHY!!! Anyway, enough hysterics, let’s dive on into this review.

A Torch Against the Night is the second book in the An Ember in the Ashes series which I read earlier this year (review here) so minor spoilers ahead as to how things were resolved at the end of the first book. Following the events of the Fourth Trial, Elias and Laia are now fugitives on the run from the Martial Empire, now headed up by Emperor Marcus and Helene Aquillas, his Blood Shrike, but also Elias’s oldest friend at Blackliffe Academy. After Laia saves Elias from his execution, they journey to Kauf prison where Laia’s brother Darin is being held. However, hunted by the Empire, the Commandant and otherworldly forces, the path will not be an easy one for any of our characters and difficult choices will have to be made…

Ahh where to start? Because I read the last book so recently, the plot and characters were still fresh in my mind, but Tahir made it really easy to pick up where the reader leaves off and you get totally immersed straightaway. In this book we get to see the characters dealing with the aftermath of the Trials in the last book. I found the exploration of Elias’s guilt and remorse really interesting and gave the character a lot more depth, and the chapters in the Forest of Dusk were brilliant, hinting at what we’ll see in the next book. The idea that we make the best choices we can, and that our best intentions can turn into the worst of mistakes and regret really resonated with me and made the characters feel so much more realistic and human (as if Elias needed to be any more perfect, but I digress…)

So you’ve made a few bad decisions… So has everyone attempting to do something difficult. That doesn’t mean that you give up, you fool.

Tahir excels at writing strong female characters and in A Torch Against the Night we get the whole gamut of different personalities. I loved encountering the strong Tribal characters (Afya, can I be your friend you sassy thing, you?), the reliably ruthless Commandant, as well as some other old and beloved characters from the first book, but the real standout is easily Helene. Helene Aquilla, you are flawed perfection wrapped up in scims and white blonde hair. Her various predicaments (to put it veeery lightly) throughout the book are just heart rending. I cried and raged on her behalf, she is the best kind of flawed character dealing with the ultimate unrequited love for Elias which complicates things to no end but her perseverance to protect and remain loyal in the face of so much is really admirable. I’ve raved about Helene but Laia is equally awesome, she really comes into her own in this book, asserts her independence and makes difficult choices all with saving her brother in mind. One of the things I really liked was that Tahir kept the romance to a minimum and did not try to shoehorn it in – as far as I’m concerned these kids have got plenty to deal with already.

She needs nothing else. She needs no one else. She stands apart.

The pace of A Torch Against the Night was something that really struck me. Although its a middle installment, at no point did any of the plot lines feel like filler fodder. Although I guessed parts of the bigger picture as we sped along, I absolutely did not guess the “reveal” at the end and this is all down to Tahir’s fantastic story-telling. She gives us enough info that we don’t feel totally blind-sided when the reveals come along, but also keeps enough just hidden so that we’re hooked to keep going. I liked that all the different plot lines contributed to the wider story arc in some way and the world-building also developed in a way that brings this book and the last together. There’s also something to be said of the events that our protagonists face – the obstacles are relentless and Tahir is not afraid to really up the ante to make sure there’s no coasting through here. Didn’t do my blood pressure any favours though – there were many points where I was so done and I’m just the reader!

If you’re on the lookout for a quality YA fantasy series, An Ember in the Ashes, should be very high up on that list. The only thing is, after reading this book, I realised there’s TWO more books to go still – folks PSA this is not a trilogy.

Have you read A Torch Against the Night? What were your thoughts on the ending? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

Waiting on Wednesday: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which puts the spotlight on eagerly anticipated upcoming releases.

September 2016 is looking so promising for YA fantasy releases, especially sequels, so I had to decide on which one I was most looking forward to for this WoW post. Now drum roll please… Sabaa Tahir’s A Torch Against the Night won out in the end!

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Publication date: 8 September 2016 by Harper Voyager (UK)

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult

Synopsis: 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. (Goodreads)

Why I’m looking forward to it: I read the first in the series, An Ember in the Ashes, earlier this year (review here) and the series has totally made it’s way onto my top 10 YA fantasy series list. I had lots of questions, especially about the wider story arc, after the way the first book ended so I’m really looking forward to getting some more answers and seeing the fallout of Elias and Laia’s choices. Also really interested to see Laia and Elias interact more under different circumstances (some more romance perchance? Sue me.) and how they’ll have matured now that they’re more clued up about what they’re dealing with. 

There were also some great supporting and secondary characters, with intriguing back stories so I’m hoping to see some cameos in the book. A Torch Against the Night is the middle book in the series so I’m fully expecting to have more answers by the end, but if the first book is anything to go by, it’ll be quite the rollercoaster of drama and feels! 

What upcoming releases are you looking forward to?

Bookish Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

coverfullAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Published: April 2015 by Harper Voyager

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ♄ ♄ ♄ ♄ 1/2

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

An Ember in the Ashes was a book club read and one I’d heard a lot of hype about as the next big fantasy series. The book couldn’t have come at a better time though because I was in the mourning period whilst waiting for the next installment in the Throne of Glass series, and I was hoping An Ember in the Ashes would fill that void perfectly.

Elias is a warrior trained at the most fearsome military academy in the Martial Empire. Laia is a slave, robbed of her freedom and her family. But their dreams and destinies are more alike than either could have imagined. When Laia’s brother is arrested for treason against the tyrannical Empire, she sets off an extraordinary quest to free him. Forced to sacrifice her own freedom and turn spy for the rebels, she meets the academy’s most promising student, who harbours his own rebellious thoughts against the Empire that he’s been brought up to serve. Together they realise they are both destined to play a part in a bigger game that could threaten the future of the Martial Empire itself.

I loved An Ember in the Ashes – that is basically the bottom line. However, having read it for a book club (always dangerous, prepare to either tear the book apart like an angry mob or pledge undying allegiance to it!!) I got to see how other book clubbers responded to it which is always interesting. The actual set up of the book was brilliant, it had all the classic elements of an epic fantasy – power struggles, prophecies, political maneuvering, and enough drama to keep me hooked. Whilst a rebel faction isn’t anything new in a YA fantasy, I did like how their objectives and their ethics were ambivalent, and the same goes for many of the characters too. Tahir was also cruel enough to sprinkle many clues about how the rest of the series will play out and what our protagonists have to look forward to, that I was practically eating out of her hand trying to join up the dots and guess.

I also found myself vested in the characters, their individual story arcs, and their interactions with each other. I cared about both the heroine and the supposed villain and shipped them most ardently 😉 I really liked how Laia was motivated not by some heroine complex but by her love for her brother. It was refreshing to see her not suddenly turn into a warrior princess and military strategist overnight just because she was a Protagonist on a Quest and associated with the rebel camp. Even though there were points where her naivetĂ© led to some facepalm moments, overall it made her character more realistic. Elias was also interesting in that he was a defector  even though he was one of the best Martial soldiers and as high up the social pecking order as you could get. It was intriguing to see his internal conflict around morality which is actually a major part of the book.

However, there are definitely elements of the book that even I can concede could have been handled a little better and may irritate some readers. First of all, some of the love triangles were unnecessary and quite a few of my fellow book clubbers heartily agreed. I admit I was a little disappointed that Elias and Helene couldn’t just have a platonic relationship. I thought their shared childhood growing up under very difficult circumstances is more than enough justification for her to care deeply about him. There were also some elements of instalove, and risking of lives based on fleeting acquaintances (par for the course really).

Another niggle was with Tahir telling us multiple times that the Commander was the Big Bad and the students of Blackcliff were the most loyal and sadistic of the Martial Empire’s servants. Sometimes this wasn’t totally convincing. Sure, the Commander did punish Laia once severely but she didn’t follow through on lots of her threats – the facial mutilation that never was seemed to be a classic cop out by the author to keep the protagonist attractive and perfect. Also, most of the students seemed to spend most of their time angsting after each other and playing out their love triangles/rhombus/freaking polygons rather than being the brutal soldiers and assassins they were supposed to be. Now I’m not asking for more sadistic elements for the sake of it but it just seemed like Tahir told rather than showed this particular aspect of her world building.

An Ember in the Ashes is one of the rare occasions where my rating could be called slightly irrational – I’m totally aware of some of the glaring issues with the book but I nonetheless adored it overall and it was pretty near perfect for me. The goods definitely outweighed the not-so-greats for me and the series is now up there with my other favourite fantasy series such as the Throne of Glass and the Lunar Chronicles series.