A Torch Against The Night, by Sabaa Tahir
Genres: Young Adult, High Fantasy
Rating: ✮✮✮✮ +½
“Most people,” Cain says, “are nothing but glimmers in the great darkness of time. But you, Helene Aquilla, are no swift-burning spark. You are a torch against the night—if you dare to let yourself burn.”
(Highlight the blank spaces for spoilers!)
I was surprised with all of the controversy over An Ember In The Ashes. I devoured it. I had never read a story so full of rage and despair. It was intoxicating in its cruelty; it made me furious, but in a way that riles you up, makes you hope that the protagonist tramples the villain into the ground.
It’s only fair to note that A Torch Against The Night starts out slow – dead slow. But that quickly diminished, and the old pace set in. It sets off right where the An Ember In The Ashes ended, with Laia and Elias on the run from the Empire. They’re blazing a trail to Kauf prison, where Laia’s brother is contained, hoping that they can release him and use his knowledge of weapons to fight back against the Empire. While they run, Helene Aquilla – the new Blood Shrike, and Elias’s former best friend – is hunting him down against her will, and the Commandant is slaughtering every free Scholar in sight. Add in the fact that Elias is dying of Nightweed poisoning, Darin might face execution at any moment, and that the two of them are the most wanted fugitives in the Empire, and you have one tension-filled, action-packed story that feels like a blade hanging over your head, about to come down at any moment.
I think the addition of Helene’s point of view was smart because it brings us back to how things are with the Empire. With Marcus as Emperor and the Commandant playing him like a violin, we are constantly reminded of its corruptness – of why it needs to be brought down. Additionally, we get inside of Helene’s head. She doesn’t want to hunt down Elias, because she loves him, but if she refuses to, her family will be slaughtered. We feel her struggles, her powerlessness, as she’s manipulated to do the Empire’s bidding.
“Ah.” He tilts my chin up and searches my face. “Panic, fear, and desperation. I prefer you like this, Blood Shrike.” He bites my lip, sudden and painful, his eyes open the whole time. I can taste my own blood.
“Now, Shrike,” he breathes into my mouth. “Go fetch.”
I also love the direction the story is taken. The arc of the story is twisting around as new motives are revealed. More of the fey are popping up, including the jinn, which excites me to no end because I love Arabian mythology. (Does that mean there will be ghouls as well? Oh please, please.) Things are getting more complicated, and the Empire may not be the biggest threat out there.
Also: I can’t believe Keenan was actually the Nightbringer. I wouldn’t have been able to see that coming even if it were right in front of my nose.
I’m so excited to see where this series goes. I don’t care what anybody else has to say about these books: I love them. The story is dynamic, and it contains an unparalleled viciousness that I love because it pulls me in completely and wraps me around its finger – and honestly, that’s all I can ask for in a good book.
Sabaa Tahir is a force to be reckoned with.