***WARNING! This book review reveals spoilers from the previous book in the series, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***
To see my full review for book #1 – An Ember in the Ashes – Click HERE
To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the series – Click HERE
Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars
I realized I was not staring into his eyes. I am staring into my future. I see it for a moment. Pain. Suffering. Horror. All that I love, all that I hold dear, awash in blood.”– Sabaa Tahir, “A Torch Against The Night”
I feel like this quote perfectly sums up what reading these books reduces you to because while I am so heavily and emotionally invested in this series, I can admit that it sometimes feels like Sabaa Tahir steals a part of my soul with every new title she releases!
Yes, I back up what I say… I’m basically calling her Voldemort, and her books are Horcruxes with bits and pieces of my soul ripped out from within me.
The death’s needed for this evil spell? Her characters, or emotions like happiness, joy, and/or naive hope that may still be felt before reading this series.
After devouring the previous book, I couldn’t wait to see what happens next with Laia and Elias! So many cliffhangers, especially with the major one of them escaping through the Catacombs from the Empire after that epic showdown?! It’s stuff like that that’s probably why I have anxiety issues.
Anyways…Taking a step back and looking at all the factors that encompass this story, it’s easy to distinguish the ones that other readers may scoff at and wonder why people praise these books, like maybe it’s not the most original sounding story or there are thousands of other titles that sound just like it. I can admit, it’s not the most original story ever told; hardly anything ever is anymore, but it’s not what a book is about necessarily. What matters nowadays, at least for me, is how it’s told…there is a difference.
There’s a reason we call out clichés and tropes in books of all genre’s: they’re familiar and used over and over again and again, but if someone can make them still feel new and enjoyable, all the better! A story doesn’t have to be original, it just has to be engaging, and these books definitely fit that bill for me!
One thing that I want to point out is what I believe the author does so incredibly well is how she depicts the cold brutality of a corrupt and unjust world, and the flood of emotions that impassions us because of it all. It may be hard to read for some readers, but there’s no denying that its an accurate portrayal of whats going on in certain countries today, and what has happened in violent parts of the history of humanity.
She’s almost like Suzanne Collins in a way; Sabaa Tahir shows the harsh reality of a tyrannical, militaristic rule in a way for younger readers to be able to catch their first major glimpse of it and possibly understand it a little better; exposing them to a harsh reality of how dark and sadistic the real world/humanity can truly be. While doing that, she also allowing them to experience a raw story that is heavy, addicting, fast paced, absolutely chilling, well plotted, but also just plain magnificent and memorable!
What It’s About:
Quite literally, we’re brought back to where the previous title left off as Laia and Elias have officially joined forces and are attempting to flee the Empire while running towards a secret exit down in the Catacombs. They become fugitives and are being hunted by newly crowned emperor Marcus and Elia’s mother, The Commandant (I literally get chills just thinking about her every time!)
Laia is still determined to rescue her brother, Darin, by venturing up towards the dangerous Kauf Prison where he’s being held because he may hold the key for their people’s salvation. Elias wants to help her; doing so may mean sacrificing his own freedom (and totally not over the fact that he may have developed feelings for her).
Things of course never go according to plan, and otherworldly forces are gaining power and influence to work against them and plot to bring an eternal darkness onto their world. Laia and Elias must outsmart them all: including Helene—Elias’s best friend—and newly appointed Blood Shrike. She is tortured with the task of hunting them both down and bringing their heads back to the new bloodthirsty emperor or risk losing everything and everyone she holds dear…
What I Liked:
- More Voices Are Heard! As a fantasy series develops, more and more characters step up and become more prominent in the overall story, some usually more interesting than others. It works incredibly well for this series, and is an occasion where you actually love to hear everyone’s side of the story, and not dread certain people’s chapters while impatiently dying to get back to others. Everyone has an interesting arc within the story that creates a rich and wonderful reading experience!
- Helene’s Development! In the previous book, Helene honestly didn’t do much for me…she was elitist, spoiled and prejudiced towards the scholars of this world (aka lower-class and/or slaves), and only really served as an ally/potential love interest for Elias and competitor against Laia, so she could’ve been just reduced that basic bitch… All that changes in this book, thank god! She’s so much more substantial and really goes through a lot of heavy shit while making extremely hard decisions, and becomes more fleshed out and relatable. She gains a voice while she struggles with the inner battle over what is right and wrong; she really became one of the best characters in this whole series!
- The Plot Thickens! The author adds so much more themes and aspects to her debut series to keep it addicting and page-turning: so much more character development, political intrigue, mythological and magic components: and it just continues to drive home the higher level this series is at compared to most other YA Fantasy titles out there on the market.
What I Didn’t Like:
- Not As Fast Paced For Me…While I absolutely loved the previous book, I only liked this sequel. For me, it just felt like it had more slower paced moments than the previous book, and the series overall went in a different direction than what I had personally envisioned for it. The story does gain more momentum and the stakes do get higher, but after the initial set up in the beginning, I just didn’t connect as much for quite a bit of it.
- Too Much Paranormal Addition…Now hear me out, I do like that there’s more magic and paranormal occurrences taking shape within the story: the fact of having The Nightbringer as the villain with the mystery and lore surrounding him made that route inevitable, but for me personally, I just felt like maybe this book had too much added all at once to the point of it feeling excessive or too much too soon. The author decided to go in a direction where it becomes a much bigger influence on the overall plot, and it’s a direction I wasn’t the most fond of…I rather enjoyed the simplicity of the magic from the previous book and how little we saw! For me, the tiny moments where it makes an appearance made it feel more impactful and meaningful. It’s not necessarily a bad direction, just kind of an unfavorable one, but I continue to love the series, please note that!
A good addition to an addicting series; it wasn’t my favorite compared to the previous book but fun nonetheless. More and More magic/otherworldliness add mystique and adventure, and the plot of course takes a turn for the worst and tears your heart out, stomping it on the ground into a pulp…but you’ll love it! I recommend this series to anyone who like epic, fantasy-genre adventures with different points of views. This series truly can stand apart from the many, many…many titles that also fit that bill.
Thanks for Reading!
— Nick Goodsell