“Failure doesn’t define you. It’s what you do after you fail that determines whether you are a leader or a waste of perfectly good air.”
The Trials are over, and Marcus has been crowned the new Emperor of the Martials, with Helene Aquilla sworn to serve as his Blood Shrike despite her reservations. Elias and Laia flee the capital on a mission to free her brother, Darin, who is being held in Kauf prison. With the knowledge of how to forge Serric steel, he has the potential to change the course of the Scholar rebellion. They must figure out how to outwit Kauf’s sadistic Warden to free Darin, assuming he is still alive. But first they will need traverse half the Empire to get to him, and Helene Aquilla is on their heels. Now sworn as Blood Shrike, and with her family as hostages, she is charged with killing the traitor Elias Veturius in order to secure Marcus’ rule.
A Torch Against the Night picks up right from where An Ember in the Ashes left off, with Elias and Laia trying to flee Blackcliff in the aftermath of the Trials. There is no second-book lag here, but an immediate plunge into a high-stakes mission. The action is fast-paced, and I raced through the entire volume in twenty-four hours. Sabaa Tahir puts an additional clock on the action when Elias is poisoned, giving further urgency to their journey. Scholar rebel Keenan and escaped slave Izzi rejoin the action, forming an uneasy alliance as the group disagrees about how best to effect Darin’s rescue from the supposedly impenetrable Kauf. Keenan remains a somewhat uninspiring rival for Laia’s affections, but Izzi’s return was welcome, even if Tahir does not put her to particularly good use.
In An Ember in the Ashes, Elias and Laia alternated narration. But Helene Aquilla was one of the more intriguing secondary characters as Elias’s long-time friend and companion in arms, and the sole female student at Blackcliff. Newly sworn into her role as the Emperor’s enforcer, she must now take up the duty of hunting Elias down. Happily, this also means that Helene becomes one of the three point-of-view characters in A Torch Against the Night, and indeed she is the torch of the title. Alone in her new role, she turns to the Augurs for reassurance that she is making the right choices for her future and the future of the empire. The augur Cain assures her that she will be “no swift-burning spark” but rather, “a torch against the night.” And the only cost is that she must let herself burn. Her role as narrator provides a deeper look into her character as she is faced with these difficult decisions.
The magical elements of Tahir’s world are also coming more into evidence in this volume. Both Laia and Helene must call upon the powers they gained through their contact with the supernatural in An Ember in the Ashes. The Augurs continue to be a presence, and the nature of the Commandant’s elusive Master becomes evident. But most fascinating of all is the Soul Catcher, a creature who watches over the Waiting Place where souls cross over to the other side. As Elias fights the effects of the slow-acting poison, every time he becomes unconscious he slips into the Waiting Place where the Soul Catcher bides her time.
A Torch Against the Night proves to be a fast-pasted continuation of An Ember in the Ashes, and it continues to develop Tahir’s intriguing world and a characters. A third volume is expected in 2018.
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