Title: A Torch Against the Night
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Published: August 30, 2016
Genre: YA Fantasy
Elias and Laia are running for their lives. 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.
Basically, I started this book on September 27th, 2016, got about 33% through, and then had to put it down because of school and didn’t read another book for the rest of 2016. Then, last night (1/2), I found the time to finally pick it up again, and then literally flew through it – A Torch Against the Night was so good. I have so much to say about it.
There are going to be a lot of spoilers in this review, but all will be hidden! It’s just that, if you have yet to read A Torch Against the Night, this may be mildly frustrating for you to read, because a lot of this review is hidden under spoiler warnings.
I think the packaging of this book deserves a solid 4 stars – it’s definitely really pretty, but not one of my all time favorites. I do like the fact that there’s a little Elias and Laia running together, though (I almost didn’t notice it the first time I looked at the cover!).
Leigh Bardugo was ON FIRE with A Torch Against the Night. Her writing was so dynamic and fast paced, and she created some of the most heart wrenching and terrifying scenes I’ve ever read. Her writing is also very clean, which might sound a little weird, but what I mean is that her writing never gets flowery or over-the-top – it’s always very crisp and pleasant to read, which I really appreciate.
Additionally, I really loved the different perspectives that we got to read from – mainly, I loved the addition of Helene Aquilla’s POV. I thought it was so fascinating to be able to observe the storyline from the perspective of her, as the Blood Shrike, and as an individual, and Leigh Bardugo did such an amazing job of giving her a distinct, personalized voice, as she does with all her characters.
The characters of this book, like I said in my review of An Ember in the Ashes, are phenomenal. They all have so much personality, and are so distinct and independent that no one would ever confuse their voices with each other. There are so many characters that I want to talk about, so I’m going to try and get through all of them.
Laia went through a lot, to say the least. She didn’t always make the smartest choices in this book, it’s true. But in her defense, she’s been manipulated to no end, used as a tool, and cornered and attacked to no end – I really want to emphasize the fact that she was manipulated <spoiler> throughout this entire book. She trusted Keenan, who is a master at the art of manipulation, and I can’t blame her for being a victim </spoiler>. Despite all this, Laia is such a genuinely good character. She feels everything, and only wants to save her brother, and relieve the world of some pain. I have to admire and love her for that. I’m also so curious about <spoiler> her ability to disappear – I thought it was one of the most interesting aspects of this book, and want to learn more about it, and what she is </spoiler>.
Elias is such a trooper. That boy has been through so much, some pain almost unimaginable (<spoiler> the fact that he thought Mamie was dead – I felt so bad for him </spoiler>), and yet he got up each time and kept fighting. And he did more than that – he held on to his good instincts and his lionheart, and always fought to protect others. I genuinely really, really love him and his character. More than that, though, <spoiler> I’m so intrigued by the storyline Bardugo has created for him – the fact that he’s now the Soul Catcher opens so many doors and has given me so many questions, and I’m really excited to read more about how this will affect the rest of the series <spoiler>.
My heart breaks for Helene Aquilla. She’s honestly now one of my all time favorite fictional characters – she’s so smart and strong, sharp and brave. But her heart is so tormented and confused, and she’s always struggling to draw the line between what’s right and wrong, and how that intersects with her duty to the Empire. <Spoiler> I’m so curious about her healing abilities, too – I want to learn more about them, as it was so fascinating to watch Helene as she healed Cook, and also want to learn about the instinct protectiveness Helene now has over Laia. </spoiler>. Helene goes through some of the worst torment anyone could bear, and <spoiler> my heart bled with hers when she was forced to watch, helplessly, as her mother, sister, and father were killed </spoiler>. I want nothing but good things for her.
“But you, Helene Aquilla, are no swift-burning spark. You are a torch against the night – if you dare to let yourself burn.”
Keenan – <spoiler> I have this really frustrating ability of being able to guess a plot twist, and therefore spoil myself of any potential shock factor (I blame it on my willingness to think the worst about both people and book characters). However, I will say that Sabaa Tahir doesn’t make the truth about Keenan too unpredictable – she builds up to our realization, and drops hints here and there throughout the book. So, I’ll just assume that I was able to guess both his impending betrayal + the truth of his identity because of good foreshadowing. But I thought the Nightbringer was interesting in a completely different way – he was cruel and manipulative, but at the same time, he really became Keenan, and truly cared for and loved Laia. There’s a part of him that’s filled with sadness, and haunted by those he had to trick in order to obtain parts of the Star. This is kind of a head-spinner for me, to be honest, and I’m nervous to watch him in the process of constructing the Star </spoiler>.
Izzy – <spoiler> Izzy deserved better, and I’m just so grateful that she was able to move on </spoiler>.
The Warden was a newly introduced character, who was absolutely terrifying – he sent shivers up my spine repeatedly, and some of the scenes involving him and his torture techniques made my stomach turn, to the point at which I would have to put the book down for a minute or two. I just couldn’t wait for someone to get rid of him, HAHAHA, which sounds kind of bad, I know.
The plot of this book was absolutely wild. A Torch Against the Night didn’t suffer from Second Book Syndrome at all – it was perfectly paced, was extremely substantial, and a lot of extremely important events take place, rather than there just being information dumps or filler scenes.
There were many points in this book where I was absolutely terrified for the wellbeing of each of the characters (minus the Warden. Fuck the Warden) – from Laia and Elias fleeing Helene, and often the Commandment as well, while trying to get to Kauf, to Helene being entirely at Marcus’s mercy, I just couldn’t put this book down. I was absolutely flying through the pages, desperate to find out what would happen next. This book is filled with twists and turns, with new threats constantly surfacing and new revelations being made.
Aside from the main plotline that we knew about when we began reading ATATN, I thought that Tahir did a great job with some of the other storylines she weaved – the new truths and new identities that Laia, Elias, and Helene have learned about themselves were so interesting to read about, and I’m so excited to see how they’ll play into the rest of the series.
The worldbuilding that took place in this book was also phenomenal – an issue that I had with An Ember in the Ashes was the fact that there wasn’t a lot of worldbuilding, but A Torch Against the Night paints a detailed picture of its world throughout our characters’ travels, from depicting the lives of the tribes to portraying the Forest and the horrors of Kauf. I love good worldbuilding in fantasy books, and Tahir did a beautiful job.
Overall, I’m more than happy to give A Torch Against the Night a 5/5 star rating. ATATN didn’t contain any of the (very) minor flaws I found with An Ember in the Ashes, and I’m so disappointed that I’ll have to wait until 2018 to read the next installment in this series.