Title: A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2)
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
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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.
A Torch Against the Night is simply the superior YA Fantasy of the year. Hands down, there’s no competition.
An Ember in the Ashes was merely a prelude to the sinister follow up. The story remains about oppression, but unlike the first book, this is where readers could vividly see the resistance first hand. The stakes are higher. There is more gore and violence.
My heart is very delighted with the intricate political prose, but there are truths in it as well that parallels our past and contemporary times.
There are scenes that will undoubtedly take a dig at your heart such as this:
I look to the little boy in his arms. Ayan. Tiny dark crescents curve beneath his lower lashes. His eyes meet mine, and I touch his cheek, soft and round. He should be innocent. But he’s seen things no child should. Who will he be when he grows up? What will all this violence make him? Will he survive? Not another forgotten child with a forgotten name, I plead. Not another lost Scholar.
If it’s a story of war, it’s going to be a story of survival as well. A Torch Against the Night touches that, but truly, the heart of the story is the girl who dared and the boy who rejected his destiny that is built on systematic oppression.
We have a tyrannical emperor who is beyond ruthless, and a commandant who is also beyond salvation.
Let’s talk about Helene Aquilla’s dangerous feminism.
I could understand the allure of her character. She’s a woman who carved a path for herself in an environment that undermines women. She’s a sword-wielding soldier, loyal to the empire- to her duty, family, and Elias. But her firm stance on Scholars are threaded with racism and classism. This is very important, since I’m getting the vibe the narrative is brushing it off under the rug. This is not the first time she made an offhand comment about the oppression of the slaves. She made countless of remarks on book one as well.
“Didn’t the Scholar rebels understand what they would unleash when they revolted? Didn’t they realize the death and terror the Empire would rain down upon them?
“I’ve never seen the Scholars as enemies, exactly. An enemy is someone you fear. Someone who might destroy you. But the Scholars will never destroy the Martials. They can’t read. They have no steelcraft. They are a slave class-a lesser class.”
If there’s one thing I got from Helene’s character, it’s that she thinks the martials are the superior race from the Scholars and the tribal people. To her Scholars, who are canonically brown people who have been enslaved and systematically murdered on their own land are subhuman. For Helene, they should merely accept their destiny as slaves. To her, they don’t deserve to uproot their lives and dream. This is what makes Elias and Helene different. Elias with his given maternal’s privilege and station, he saw through everything. His eyes are wide open and conscious with the imperialism that is going on around him. Like Helene, he was brainwashed by the empire too, but he stopped himself before he become a harbinger of destruction. Helene had that chance. He showed her the terrifying lives of the Scholars. She chose not to be moved.
To me her “empowering” arc isn’t truly empowering. She might be powerless and marginalized when she’s surrounded by the Martials, but she has her white-empire cloak that protects her. Helene’s suffering is nothing significant compared to the ethnic cleansing of Scholars. I want everyone to remember that.
I’m in awe of Laia and her strength. She’s a fun character to read. She grows and learns from her mistakes. We should revolutionize that.
The romance didn’t take over the plot. (sad face) It was barely there. Though, it was enough to keep me going. Who would ever have thought Elias is romantic at heart?!? Who noticed those suggestive metaphors? I am swooning.
“You are my temple,” I murmur as I kneel beside her. “You are my priest. You are my prayer. You are my release.”
If you’re on the fence about picking it up, you still should consider. There are lovely resurfacing characters, women who don’t need protecting, tight knit friendships and family dynamics. It’s basically my dream.
Without doubt, A Torch Against the Night is a revelation and revolution. Given the political climate right now, this story is more relevant than ever.
Review also posted at Goodreads and Amazon.
About the Author
Sue discovered the magical world filled with words at a young age. They have been her constant companion ever since. In addition to being a full time bookworm, and a dessert enthusiastic, she also runs the first fansite for Vampire Academy’s Lucy Fry called Lucy Fry Source. When she’s not tucked between the pages of her books, you can find her at her personal blog. You can also follow Sue on instagram and goodreads.