Sabaa Tahir

A Torch Against the Night

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A Torch Against the Night Summary

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Sabaa Tahirs young adult fantasy novel, A Torch Against the Night (2016), is the second book in her bestselling trilogy, An Ember in the Ashes. It follows two young fugitives fleeing for their lives in a corrupt empire; their only hope of survival is by freeing a certain inmate from their kingdom’s most secure prison. Tahir, a New York Times bestselling author, grew up in her family’s 18-room motel in California’s Mojave Desert. As a child, she adored fantasy novels, and she always hoped to write one of her own. Before writing full-time, she worked nights as a newspaper editor.

A Torch Against the Night picks up where the first book, An Ember in the Ashes, left off. The two protagonists are Elias and Laia. Laia is a former slave who escaped her master’s clutches. Elias is a soldier who defied army orders and defected to the rebel cause. As the book begins, they are in grave danger.

Elias and Laia make their way through the Empire’s catacombs, hunted by the evil Commandant and her minions who plan to execute them for their crimes against the Empire. Before the pair escapes the catacombs, the Commandant finds them, and a fight ensues.

Elias seriously injures the Commandant, but he doesn’t kill her. Laia thinks this merciful act will come back to haunt them, but she doesn’t dwell on it. She is too busy dealing with a girl who won’t let them exit the catacombs until they pay a tithe. Refusing to pay, Laia gets them out of the tunnels.

Before they get far, Elias passes out. It turns out that the Commandant stabbed him with a poison-tipped blade. Laia drags him to a healer, but the news is not good—the poison is fatal and Elias only has five months to live. Laia is determined to find a cure, but Elias wants her to focus on her own survival and run far away from the Empire.

In her quest to find a cure, Laia trespasses on sacred tribal lands. The tribesmen attack her, and Elias isn’t strong enough to fend them off. When the tribesmen realize that Elias and Laia are wanted fugitives, they decide to ransom them off to the Commandant. The pair knows that they will die if they don’t find a way to escape tribal clutches.

Meanwhile, Elias’s former best friend, Helene, now works for the Empire. Emperor Marcus demands that she find Elias and bring him back dead. Although she doesn’t want to kill Elias, she cares more about her own survival and will do whatever the Emperor tells her to do. She sets off to look for Elias with three men, one of whom is a spy for the Commandant. He plans to smuggle Elias to the Commandant before the Emperor gets his hands on him.

The days go by, and Elias and Laia finally escape the tribesmen. Deciding that they need help if they plan to survive much longer, Laia wants to break her brother, Darin, out of prison. With his help, they can build an army against the Emperor. She rallies old friends to her cause, and they plot their next move.

In the meantime, Elias’s health deteriorates. He doesn’t know how much longer he can go on. Despite his protests, Laia refuses to leave him behind, and she drags him to the city of Kauf, where the prison is. Laia doesn’t know that Helene is following them and that she plans to set a trap before they enter the prison.

Helene shuts the city down in the Emperor’s name. She finds Elias and confronts him with his fate. Elias wonders how Helene became such an evil and bitter person. She admits that it is all an act. If she doesn’t obey Emperor Marcus, he will kill her whole family. Elias promises to protect Helene and her family if she defects to the rebel cause.

Elias decides to break into the prison on his own. He doesn’t want to risk Laia’s life. In the meantime, Helene returns to the Emperor and claims she can’t find Elias. As punishment and to prove her loyalty, he makes her execute other rebel families. Although it makes her sick, she does what he asks, but she plans to join Elias’s cause.

When Elias enters the prison, he soon finds out that Darin is dead. He is arrested and placed into a cell, where he awaits his execution. It is only now that he finds out Darin isn’t dead; he is in the cell beside Elias. Elias supposes that it doesn’t matter now, because they will both be dead soon enough.

Before Elias faces trial, he dies. His soul goes to purgatory. Here, he begs the gods to let him finish what he started. In return, he will bind himself to a nearby haunted forest, where he will live forever. The gods let him live; he plans to smuggle Darin out of prison. Meanwhile, the Emperor finds out about Helene’s plans. He executes her family in retaliation. She goes after Elias and Darin who are now on the run. Laia meets back up with them, and their story continues in book three.