After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt Elias and Laia as they flee the city of Serra.
Laia and Elias are determined to break into the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison to save Laia’s brother, even if for Elias it means giving up his last chance at freedom.
They will have to 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.
( From the book blurb)
Titles in the Series (tetralogy):
Book 1 An Ember in the Ashes
Book 2 A Torch Against the Night
Book3 A Reaper at the gates
Book 4 A Sky Beond the Storm
The best things about the book:
- the world-building- we’re getting more glimpses of both the Martial world and the tribes the Emprire conquered;
- the sense of adventure;
- the book is action-packed and has a good pace;
- the introduction of the third POV-Helene Aquilla’s.
…and some things I wasn’t particularly sure about…
- romance- two very weird intertwined love triangles don’t add anything useful to the story apart from making everyone involved seem weaker and more confused;
- villains- I want to know more about their motivations-we got a glimpse into the Commandant’s birth-story in the last book (not enough!) and we meet a new villain (The Warden) who appears to have morbid curiosity about pain and inmate psychology, but what about Marcus? Hannah was also one-dimensional. The Nightbringer seemed a lot scarier before the Twist and before Laia ‘read’ his thoughts.
What this is all about:
A brief recap of An Ember in the Ashes
Laia and Darin’s family are Scholars, an oppressed group of people conquered by the Martial Empire (inspired by Ancient Rome). Scholars are free, but there are countless restrictions on what they can do. Darin becomes an apprentice to Teluman, the only blacksmith capable of producing arms that don’t break in the fight against the Martial Army. Darin is caught with his sketches of new secret weapons and sent to prison. Laia escapes and embarks on the mission to save her brother’s life. She contacts the Resistance who promise to help her as Laia and Darin are the two surviving children of the legendary founders of the Resistance movement. Laia is sent to Blackcliff, an elite military school, where she is supposed to spy on Keris Venturia, the ruthless School Commandant. In Blackcliff Laia meets Elias Venturius, one of the best cadets. Meanwhile, Augurs predict that the bloodline of the current Emperor is about to end and a new Emperor has to be chosen among 4 recent graduates in 4 Trials. Elias and his best friend Helene Aquilla are among the Aspirants. Whoever wins the Trials will become the new Emperor and choose their Blood Shrike, the Second-in-Command. Gentle, loyal Elias abhors the violence the Empire has become synonymous with. The Augurs promised that he will gain freedom at the end of Trials, but how and what kind of freedom is unclear.
So what is Book 2 about? warning-spoilers for Book 1 !!!!
Laia and Elias are on the run…Elias has given Laia his word to help her get Darin out of the Kauf prison, but first they need to avoid being caught. They manage to escape the city, although during this fight something important happens that will determine the trajectory of Elias’s life. Helene Aquilla has sworn her oath to the new Emperor and is sent on the mission to capture and kill the Empire’s most wanted traitor, Elias. On their way to Kauf, Elias and Laia are joined by Keenan, Laia’s liaison with the Resistance movement.
Helene’s point of view brings new aspects into the story- the volitalie nature of the political situation in the Empire, her efforts to control and command the Black Guard, impossible choices she is facing that will forge her into a very different figure from the cadet girl we met in Book 1.
There is a lot of action and movement -basically, 70% of the book is on the road from Serra where the Blackcliff is to the North where Laia’s brother Darin is kept in the prison. We meet Elias’s adoptive mother, who is the opposite of Keris in everything. Elias’s biggest dilemma is outlined in the previous book in the Third Trial, where his decision cost his friends’ lives and he has to learn to live with it. The less I say about his love life, the bettter.
I felt strangely detached from Laia in this book. Laia in An Ember in the Ashes was more flawed, showed promise for development -a healer who has to become a spy and a soldier, a sheltered girl who feels she lacks the courage and selflessness of her parents has to survive and get stronger. Here we see less determination and more confusion. She discovers having her own magic, so I guess we’ll see her come into her own powers later in the series. The less I say about her love life, the better.
There were some excellent secondary characters in this book- I want to know more about Cook, Afya and Soul Catcher. And, of course, I want more Helene who appeared to be the most complex character in The Torch Against the Night.
Overall, I enjoyed reading the book, but I did feel that it was on a lengthy side with its 464 pages. Not that I wanted it to be shorter, but I would have prefered more focus on the character development rather than action.