I can’t really pick which Ember in the Ashes book is my favourite, this one or the last one, but what I will say is this one is as sad and angry as its ending is absolute perfection. In my review of the last book, I said that young-adult books that follow the traditional dystopian formula can still be fresh and electrifying, and the same goes here, by far.
A Torch Against the Night takes place no more than a second after the last book, when Elias Veturius was ordered to be put to death by his classmate and adversary Marcus, at the request of his own mother, Keris, and what’s more, he’s there with Laia, running through the tunnels of Blackcliff Military Academy and trying to escape so Laia can get herself to Kauf Prison, where her brother Darin is either being held captive in or died in. At the same time, Helene, Elias’s long-time best friend and yet 100% loyalist to the Martials, the soldiers who can’t read and have authority over the world and the Scholars, is being interrogated for her involvement and at the same time trying to discover herself more. With all that said, we have our second race against the clock in Sabaa Tahir’s debut series.
Now, what a cruel book this is. Are you tired of YA and think it’s not effective anymore? Haha, joke’s on you. A Torch Against the Night follows up on the feels of unfairness and nastiness of its predecessor and never fails to make you furious. The Commandant may just be the most effective antagonist I’ve ever heard of. She’s the understatement of insane. She’s perfectly fine with killing innocent children and old men just for stuttering in interrogation. President Snow can forget about being the cruelest YA villain.
This book also knows the ways to make every other book with a similar storyline stale and light, especially in the story of Elias, who has the power to see people’s spirits before they decide to “move on”. It’s just a never-ending burst of real grief and real sadness.
There also ends up being a new kind of enhancement for Laia and there’s a slight mystery on how she can activate it and what her weakness is. But it can be hard to keep all our thoughts and feelings together while everything happens so fast. There’s even a walk through a market, and Tahir already showed how nasty this world is that I was so scared of her getting caught, and when she almost is, I was scared of where she’d stash a body. That’s how much I wanted her to stay ahead of the people ahead of her. Maybe it was when the Commandant gave her that scar in the first one for smuggling out a note to the resistance that was useless anyway. But this is all the real deal. And during a section in Kauf Prison, well…Not since Escape from Furnace have I felt as inside the prison, as claustrophobic, and as caring as the prisoners than I was here. What can I say other than this series shows the poetry of Young Adult fiction and despite its long page count I think reluctant readers will devour it?
Now, all praise aside, this book has a few chunky moments, such as the decision two characters make on making an enemy live. It seemed a little cheesy a choice. And also, Helene ends up tortured for information, and then later on she’s with this character without really giving him any suspicious glances, and there’s also a scene near the end also involving Helene where I just really REALLY wanted her to do more. If that last one wasn’t in this, this would be a complete 4, and in a way, it is. I think this is closer to a 4 than a 3.5. At the end, when Laia is reunited with someone very dear to her and to the rest of the world, I felt a true victory. Just talking about it makes me both grateful I’ve already read A Reaper at the Gates and am going to get A Sky Beyond The Storm very very soon.