“How dare he throw my failures in my face as if I’m a schoolchild to be reprimanded? But he’s not wrong, is he? Every time I needed to make a decision, I chose wrong. Disaster after disaster.”
So…2 stars again. But also, like 1.5 stars? I can’t decide. I had high-ish expectations for this one, too, based on the continued hype, Tahir’s Instagram which shows her awesome plotting methods, and rave reviews by other readers. The first book, while hailed as a masterpiece by many, was just mediocre for me. But I was really hoping this second book would be stronger! Alas, I was wrong.
Below, there be spoilers!
Yeah, this book was just not good. In any way. In the first one, An Ember in the Ashes, I was at least interested in the plot, the society, and invested enough to want to find out more about Elias, Laia, the Commandant, and Helene. Not Keenan; he was a douche. While the writing was not top-notch and there were definite plot holes, I attributed its flaws to it being a debut novel that was still finding its footing. I thought for sure that the second novel would be better and would manage to tap into all of that underutilized potential. However, in A Torch Against the Night, anything mildly interesting about the culture, the characters, or the storyline vanished like a desert mirage.
The book opens right where AEITA left off, with Laia and Elias on the run from the Commandant and the Empire. It then collapses into a slew of repetitive scenes where Elias and Laia are almost caught, somehow sneak away, and continue running. It gets so boring! This book felt completely unnecessary, because nothing happens. The entire premise is that Laia wants to free her brother from the Kauf prison and Elias has vowed to help her. Que illogical decision making, melodrama, slogging travel scenes, and merry-go-round chase scenes…for 450 pages. There is no solid plot structure whatsoever and it seems like the entire book is filler (maybe because the publishers wanted to stretch this would-be standalone into 4 freaking novels). All of the action scenes are over the top and redundant. The skeletal plot is barely held together with endless scenes of hollow action, and there is no substance. The otherworldly creatures suddenly popping up and the whole subplot of the Waiting Place was strange, clunky, and detracted from the original concept. There is way too much going on here, nothing makes sense, and every meandering plot point is just random nonsense. Where the first book at least had a solid foundation to build upon, this one is sitting on quicksand.
All the while, despite how desperately Tahir is trying to drill into the reader’s head that this world is brutal and the Masks are unfeeling war machines, the majority of the novel’ is the sniveling inner monologues of four idiot teenagers in a love square. I couldn’t stand the sappy relationship drama in the first book and, where I hoped it might get better in the second, it just got worse. We have Elias, who is a boring, self-sacrificing soldier who just wants to be good, in love with Laia. Helene is scorned by Elias, who she loves, so she vows to hunt him down and kill him. Right. She couldn’t make a decision to save her life (or her family’s…too soon?). Some new bloke beats the shit out of Helene early on, but then they become buds and he crushes on her. Then we’ve got Keenan, a rebel asshole who is also in love with Laia (and therefore must hate Elias).
Laia meanwhile is the dumbest, most selfish little twit in the world with no redeeming qualities that should warrant such love. She is the absolute worst! She spends her time “loving” whoever is closest to her at the time – “Oh, Elias is so brooding and dark. I must touch him, because he burns me so good. But wait, Keenan is here now! He is simply smoldering and I desperately love him. Boo! Elias left and I need comfort. I shall sleep with Keenan! What’s that? Oh no! Keenan is the terrifying Nightbringer demon who only used me to steal my jewelry?? Oh well, he must have truly loved me. I will go back to making out with Elias now.” Literally. That is her thought process and her entire focus during the whole damn book. She actually measures how strong she feels, based on which guy she is touching that day *eye freaking roll.* Oh yeah, she remembers to whine about her poor brother when it is convenient for her and acts like a naive bleeding heart about the entire world, but doesn’t care one bit for the people she gets hurt or killed for her own agenda. The quote at the top is her convincing herself that she doesn’t need to feel bad, either. It’s not her fault she’s so weak, stupid, and selfish! She is just plain brainless and is certainly a special snowflake now with her random invisibility powers. Where did that even come from? There was no explanation! And really, the “terrifying” Nightbringer demon is some love-sick chump? Over Laia??? Not likely.
God, I could not stand these characters one bit. There was absolutely no character development in the book and they all felt so flat. Not a single one had depth or a multifaceted personality. The side characters were largely more interesting than the main bunch, but even they were superficial plot devices. Also, there was zero sense of urgency or danger, when there really should have been. The book is written in present tense for god’s sake and it still dragged on. The brutality that I admired in the first book, and the villains, became gratuitous and cartoonish. I think this had a lot to do with (aside from the characters just all around sucking as human beings) the fact that Tahir’s writing was not up to snuff. She spends so much time telling the reader what is going on or how they should feel, that nothing felt natural. It was transparent and juvenile. The foreshadowing was emphasized to the point that any shock or suspense a plot twist might have garnered was ruined. The character’s thoughts basically laid out the whole, shoddy mess for the reader and erased any sort of nuance from the story. I honestly felt like Tahir was holding my hand and whispering in my ear like, “Ok Laia is confused now, because Elias just said he didn’t want to kill the goat. She is wondering if he’s talking about himself. Cause he’s poisoned. Remember?? Oh and don’t forget to notice how dark Keenan’s eyes are when he is watching Laia!” Like holy shit, I get it! It gets tiresome real quick and any capable reader will find their eyes rolling into the back of their head after a few chapters. Oh and if that doesn’t make you want to DNF this thing (it will), then the use of cringe-worthy fake swearing most certainly will! I fell into a blind rage every time a character said “skies” or “bleeding hells.” And it was a lot. Ughhhh!
I really don’t even feel motivated to rant any longer about this book. It was so bad and I am genuinely confused by the good reviews it has. I will not be continuing the series. Moving on.
Cake, are you with me?