A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Torch Against the Night is the sequel to Sabaa Tahir's best-selling debut fantasy, An Ember in the Ashes. The action mostly takes place with characters on the run, so there is more cat-and-mouse action, tons of violence, and some upsetting deaths and injuries. With more supernatural elements, this installment should appeal to fantasy fans. Strong language is mostly insults ("whore," "bastard," and "plebeian"), while the romance amps up and includes a fade-to-black sex scene and more potential love connections. Like in the original, this book tackles universal and relevant themes about whether it's better to be loyal and patriotic or to question and rebel, about the difference between oppressors and the oppressed, and about whether immoral laws should be followed. There are strong, diverse characters, most of whom are brave, selfless, and loving.
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What's the story?
A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT picks up after the events of An Ember in the Ashes: Elias and Laia are on the run, while Marcus has been named Emperor and Helene the faithful Blood Shrike (head general) of the Martial Empire, the tyrannical caste-system society where the ruling Martials oppress and enslave the Scholars. Having vowed her allegiance to the emperor, Helene is tasked with hunting down Elias, her best friend and unrequited love, and Laia, the slave girl he accompanies on a mission to free her brother Darin -- who knows the powerful secrets to mount a successful rebellion -- from prison. And everyone, including Helene, must avoid the evil machinations of Elias' sadistic mother, the commandant. As Elias and Laia accept help from familiar and new characters to reach Darin, they must also contend with supernatural forces, magic, and the possibility of death at every turn.
Is it any good?
The rare sequel that improves on the original, Sabaa Tahir's second Ember installment deepens the character development, introduces new forms of magic, and sets the stage for epic books to come. Tahir's smartest decision is to give Helene narrating duties, and it her character that most "makes" A Torch Against the Night such a layered and compelling read. Yes, Laia and Elias are still the main characters, but the story's One True Pairing has a lot to overcome, and the romance (at least between them) takes a backseat to the more practical matters of survival, escape, and the need to break Darin out of the Empire's most notorious prison. It's Helene who is left behind to deal with her own existential crisis about duty, personal sacrifice for public good, and whether to follow a leader she vowed to serve but finds morally despicable.
The magical elements that were hinted at in the first book grow in this installment. Not only does Helene still possess the power to heal, but Elias discovers he can travel between the world of the living and the purgatory-like place that the dead who aren't ready to move on inhabit. And Laia -- well, she has her own talents. There's an even greater villain than the commandant. If she's Darth Vader (hey, she's Elias' birth mom so the comparison works), this villain is the emperor, but an even creepier one that can disguise his true nature. A Torch Against the Night is the kind of adventure fantasy that should appeal to all genre readers, but the romantic tension does increase, and shippers should enjoy the dynamic that a certain new Mask serving under Helene brings to the equation of future possibilities. All readers will benefit from the fierceness of the female characters and Tahir's ability to thoughtfully insert issues of class, race, and injustice in this unputdownable series.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in A Torch Against the Night. How does it compare to that in the first book? How does violence affect readers?
What do you like best about fantasy books set in an alternate reality? Does this universe resemble any historical times or societies?
Discuss the various romantic subplots and love triangles. Which relationships are you rooting for, and why? Do you think fantasy books should mention birth control?
- Author: Sabaa Tahir
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Razorbill
- Publication date: August 30, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 452
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 22, 2019
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.