A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2) by Sabaa Tahir

images.jpg“You are a torch against the night – if you dare to let yourself burn.”

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: fond the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape…and kill them both.

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Personal Thoughts:

A Torch Against the Night explore an expanded universe of An Ember in the Ashes. Right after Elias and Laia’s escaped Blackliff, the two are on the run for their lives and to a mission of rescuing Laia’s brother Darin from Kauf, the most secured Prison of Serra. While Helene now a new Blood Shrike has a task of finding and killing Elias.

Sabaa Tahir did a wonderful job in this second installment. It is better than the first book, which really says something. In this installment, readers will be treated with lots of actions, constant dangers, tricky alliances, and bunch of characters that are all well-developed.

Let start with Elias. Elias truly rise in this installment. Sabaa Tahir did a great job of breaking and remaking Elias character. It’s a hell of a journey but surely worth every ounce of aches. The way he makes Elias vulnerable is well done. By removing Elias’ strength she add a huge tension and danger to the plot. Making this sequel edgy and a thrilling read.

Elias is still self-sacrificing and loving but without his mask, and with his condition, and with the additional presence of his adoptive family, Elias shered some emotions and feelings that will surely affect readers. Hearts will race, ache, and warm for Elias in this installment.

Helene Aquila is another character that undergo a huge development in this book. Just like Elias Helene was broken and remade in this installment. The thing she went through in the end just to fulfill some prophecy of sort is really heartbreaking. I can’t imagine myself in her shoes. I don’t thing I can find any strength after all the things she went through. She’s a true warrior who will do anything for the sake of the Empire.

As for Laia, her quest to free her brother, Darin bring some experience and realization, as well as open hidden power of her. As she tries her best to save the only family she has, Laia become a symbol of hope to other scholar like her.

The villains – The Commander, Marcus, and The Warden are all menacing in their own ways. They are ruthless, cunning and manipulative. They will do anything to gain power or simply get what they want.

Besides with the characters, Sabaa Tahir also managed to gradually develop the world of this series. As Laia and Elias leave Blackcliff to get to Kauf and free Darin, readers will get the chance to meet other scholars and tribes, and see their relationship to the Empire. All the politics, scheming, and plans of different sides are laid out one by one as the story progresses. From the internal power struggle of the Empire with Marcus as the Emperor, Helene as the Blood Shrike, The Commandant, all the gents and scholars. It’s a mess of alliances. No one knows who to trust, everyone’s has their own motivations, loyalties are questionable.

The fantasy aspects of the story also didn’t disappoint. It offers some twist and turns I didn’t see coming. Too bad I can’t discuss them here without touching spoilers.

With non-stop dangers, enough twist and turns, and brilliant characters developments, A Torch Againts the Night is a solid sequel. Sabaa Tahir perfectly crafted a very engaging, dark, and riveting fantasy in this new installment of An Ember in the Ashes series. Will definitely go back to this fantasy world both in the next installments and through rereading.

* This review is based on a copy I received courtesy of the publisher, Penguin Random House International.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes

“Fear is only your enemy if you allow it to be.”

Laia is a slave.

Elias is a soldier.

Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Personal Thoughts:

When there’s an overwhelming amount of hype that surrounds a particular novel, I usually try my best not to pick up the book until my expectations lowered. So after months of ignoring the gorgeous copy from my shelf, I finally agreed to Precious to read An Ember in the Ashes together.

Being a fantasy novel, An Ember in the Ashes is a familiar ground to me. So familiar that sometimes it feels like I have read the same book before. The main characters, Elias and Laia are from different side of life. A mask and a scholar who are opposite in status but brought together by circumstances. The other came from the military, serving the government/emperor while the other once is from a group of rebels called the resistance. These two are our main narrator who delivered a flowing and gripping story in-spite of alternating points of view.

“Just because he’s a good leader doesn’t mean he’s a good person.”

Elias mother, The Commander is an interesting character but unfortunately wasn’t developed or explored much in this first installment. If only her motivations and reasons for being bad or not caring much about her son is explained or at least hinted more I might applaud the author for creating a menacing and well rounded villain.

Also, I still don’t understand how Elias’ mother become the Commander at the first place? For a world that is dominated by men, how come a woman like her managed to get the highest position in the military? And why she doesn’t have remorse for girls like to the slaves she has if ever she ever actually experience low treatment before? Isn’t it too convenient for the plot to have one girl once in a while to join the military just like having Helena as one of the top students, and Elias’ best friend who also like him more than a friend?

“There are two kinds of guilt. The kind that’s a burden and the kind that gives you purpose. Let your guilt be your fuel. Let it remind you of who you want to be.”

The romance just didn’t work for me. I think I would prefer this better without any romance at all. As much I want to get the “feel” factor, the romance in here are more irritating than anything else (well at least for me). It’s not even the pairing or choices that I have issues with. The romance frustrate me because it feels unnecessary for the plot. It feels so force. The pairing, whichever pair it is has no spark at all.

Same with the gore and actions. As much as I enjoying reading all those gory details, I don’t think it gives any push to the plot. Sure I like the idea of the trials where the best of the best are fighting each other for the position of the next ruler. But is it really necessary? Is brutality the only way to become a ruler? What about intelligence, compassion?

All in all, An Ember in the Ashes is a gripping read with all its gore and actions but unfortunately I think it didn’t live the hype that surrounds it. Though I enjoy the story as a whole the plot holes and not so original plot lines are impossible to ignore.