Trilogies tend to follow the same pattern; the first book is good, awesome even, it draws you in and makes you pick up the second one; the second book is sloppy, not nearly as entertaining and not nearly as good; the third book is the best in the series, it wraps it all up nicely and leaves the reader satisfied. Every trilogy I’ve ever read has been true to this pattern, A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir is no exception.
Last Fall I read the first book in this series as part of my August TBR jar challenge; not only was I sucked in I was all out amazed at this book and this story. I loved it. I loved every heart breaking second. To prepare for the second book I gave An Ember in the Ashes a quick reread; it held up to my original assessment which surprised me. It was still an emotional roller-coaster, I cried in several places even though I went in knowing how everything played out. If anything I enjoyed it a little bit more because I knew the levels of horror each character would face and seeing their innocence before it all just hurt so much.
Then I picked up book two.
A Torch Against the Night picks up exactly where An Ember in the Ashes left off. Literally exactly. Same scene and everything. We follow Laia and Elias through the city’s catacombs while they are being pursued by auxes and Masks alike, including Commandant Venturia. Meanwhile the rest of the city is in the throws of a Scholar uprising creating a wonderful backdrop of chaos and destruction from which our unlikely heroes must escape.
This is where the book stops being good.
I’m going to spoil quite a bit after this point so continue at your own risk. Go ahead and skip to the last paragraph for a spoiler free summery and rating if you are so inclined.
The very first thing that made me want to toss the book aside occurs 28 pages in when Laia and Elias manage to capture the Commandant. Working together they had knocked her unconscious and tied her up in an unknown location. They were alone with her. Just the two of them and the Bitch of Blackcliff all tied up and defenseless.
“I’m not going to kill her. If you want to, then hurry. We’re out of time.”
Elias refuses to kill her, and Laia doesn’t as well. They had her. They walked away.
Killing Keris Veturius would have not only been revenge for many hundreds of wrongs she’d committed but it would have made the entire world a slightly safer, happier place to live. I may be in the minority in believing so but her being defenseless at that moment should not have changed the fact that she needed to die and I do not, for a second, believe it is in character for neither of them to want her blood on their hands.
Elias is having an internal struggle with killing and Laia had yet to kill anyone at that point. Big. Fucking. Whoop. I genuinely hate this scene that gets used in every story; hero gets the bad guy but shows mercy because they don’t want to stoop to that level. No. No. Elias had accepted killing mostly innocent Auxes in the tunnels to get free but he turns away from a quick kill that would have saved THOUSANDS in the coming months? I don’t buy it. Its not even really discussed, he tells Laia she can kill her and then they just leave. It comes up a little bit later when Laia mentions that they should have killed her but that’s it. They don’t even talk about WHY they didn’t kill her. Ugh.
Tahir seemed to be trying to hard with this book. There were more points of view, there was more action, more plot lines, more emotions, more, more, more,more, more! This book is a jack of all trades and a master at none. Nothing in this book seemed to have any depth; the relationships, emotions, actions, everything all seemed to be happening at surface level for all of the characters and it made most of them appear to be doing things that didn’t make very much sense.
The biggest example would be the “love triangle” between Laia, Elias, and Keenen (the Kvothe wannabe/Jinn demon). Several times after she began traveling with the red haired asshole Laia has to literally tell herself she loves him.
“Love. I love him. Don’t I?”
There is NO evidence to support this. She liked him, sure; she had little reason not to, he was okay as far as people willing to risk their lives for you went but a little bit of attraction and a common goal does not equal love. I genuinely don’t know why this romance thing had to happen. The story would have worked out just the same if Laia had started loving the Kvothe understudy as a friend or brother and it would have made SO. MUCH. MORE. SENSE. Instead Tahir forces this uncomfortable and unhealthy romance in which Laia has to remind herself daily that she totally 100% loves this guy and totally 100% doesn’t love Elias. The whole thing comes off a bit “I guess I love him because it furthers the story” and that makes for one hell of a shit romance.
Page 295 is where I almost stopped reading the book. That is the page that Laia and the Nightbringer have sex. My exact words when I read this were “I genuinely hate this book. I’ve made it to a god damn sex scene and I just don’t want to read it anymore.” I know because I texted that to a friend. I was serious. I almost put it down. By that point I was just done with how YA this book was in all the worst ways. It is everything I hate about YA. Every. Gods. Damned. Thing. It is cliche. It has unhealthy relationships. It has a love triangle. It has 2 dimensional characters. It is all the things The Lunar Chronicles was but it didn’t even have the decency to be a gripping emotional roller-coaster.
At the end of the day that is what does this book in; pet peeves and outright flaws can all be overlooked if the story is compelling and this simply wasn’t. It was boring. There were interesting bits but a book shouldn’t be eh but with good bits, its should be good with great bits if not better. I could bitch and moan all day but I’ll spare you. You’re welcome.
In short this book suffers a terrible case of Middle Book Syndrome; it is sloppy, it lacks depth, it seems rushed, and it’s boring. I hate it. I would not have read it had it not been for how much I enjoyed the first book. The first book suffered from many flaws found in most YA but it was also just good. It was well written, it grabbed me, it held me, it made me fucking cry. Actual tears. Torch barely held my attention.
2/5 stars- I wouldn’t recommend