Review: A Torch against the Night by Sabaa Tahir (Spoiler-Free)

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but I will be referencing some events from the first book in the series, so if you haven’t started it at all yet, beware. Click here for my review of An Ember in the Ashes.]

Laia and Elias have narrowly escaped from Blackcliff with their lives, but are now the most sought after fugitives in the Empire – an Empire which is vast, and which they must cross in its entirety if they are to reach Kauf prison before Laia’s brother is executed. And close behind them is the Emperor’s most elite fighting force, the Black Guard, with Helene Aquilla now at its head, Elias’ closest friend.

A Torch against the Night picks up exactly where An Ember in the Ashes left off, throwing us straight back into the frenzied action of Elias and Laia’s escape, and although there are quieter moments later on in the book, the high tension – and the incredibly high stakes – is something that is maintained throughout. And despite the bulk of both Laia and Elias’ chapters being concerned with travelling, the plot has plenty of game-changing twists and turns, both in terms of what’s currently going on, and in terms of backstory. We also have a new POV character in the form of Helene, which as well as keeping us in touch with the Empire’s side of the story, gives us a fascinating insight into her character… and as a result, I found myself rooting for her a lot more than I did in the previous book.

There is a lot more of Keenan in this book, too, and like Helene, his character benefits from the extra screen-time. I found his growing relationship with Laia somewhat awkward – especially considering the simultaneous deepening feelings between Laia and Elias, which I was much more in favour of – but had managed to shed almost all of my former distrust of him by the time the story reached its mid-point, and even grew to like him (but not for Laia! 😠). As you can probably tell, I’m not huge fan of Keenan as a romantic rival for Elias, but I do think that the plot implications of his relationship with Laia are very interesting, and didn’t find myself bothered all that often by Laia’s uncertainty over her feelings for them both.

New characters Shaeva and Harper also both have prominent roles in this book, and I find myself very much looking forward to seeing what Tahir decides to do with them in the next one. In particular, I hope that Harper’s part in the series is going to grow rather than diminish, and I’m pleased that it looks likely that that will be the case.

Tahir also does a great job of expanding on the world of An Ember in the Ashes in this book. We still haven’t learnt much about the world (or races) outside the Empire, but Laia and Elias both spend a significant amount of time among the Tribes, even visiting their cultural centre of Nur. And the magic and supernatural creatures of the world are also emerging more and more from the woodwork, making it clear that they will become even more prominent as the series goes on, while still not making magic the solution to every problem, something that I appreciated about the first book (… but am slightly nervous about going forward).

I can’t say that I liked A Torch against the Night quite as much as An Ember in the Ashes, but I am definitely looking forward to reading A Reaper at the Gates – though who knows when that’ll be, considering how long it took me to pick this book up. 😓

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Summer Catch-Up

Seeing such a long list of books makes me much more satisfied with my reading than I have been for my last few wrap-ups (/catch-ups), though I know it’s a slightly artificial satisfaction (but not entirely! Booktubeathon meant that I read a lot more this summer than I would ordinarily have); three months naturally results in more books read than one, after all… 😅

Also, I find myself liking this new format. It’s kind of labour-intensive (I had to completely re-code it last night, which was a chore), but I expect that it will become less so as I get more used to it. And it looks very tidy, which I appreciate. 😊

FAVOURITE OF THE SEASON*

LIBRARY SCAVENGER HUNT PICKS

29748925 Ann Leckie//Ancillary Mercy

JUNE

[REVIEW]

mary beard//women and power

JULY

[REVIEW]

robert harris//fatherland

AUGUST

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I REVIEWED

Adam Silvera//History Is All You Left Me

[REVIEW]

Catherynne M. Valente//The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

[REVIEW]

sarah prineas//ash and bramble

[REVIEW]

jack london//White Fang

[REVIEW]

Kiersten White//Bright We Burn

[REVIEW]

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//Obsidio

[SERIES REVIEW]

BOOKS I DIDN’T REVIEW (INDIVIDUALLY)

29748925Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Steve West]

The first book in a new series of the same name, which follows the orphaned Lazlo Strange, who has always been fascinated by the lost city of Weep, which was one day erased from the world, as if by magic, leaving few who even remembered that it was ever more than a myth. I liked Daughter of Smoke and Bone a lot, but this may be my favourite thing that Laini Taylor has written so far. I really loved both Lazlo and Sarai (the book’s second protagonist), and the supporting characters were all incredibly memorable, despite there being quite a few of them. The conflict at the centre of the book was fascinating, too, and the world-building amazing. I’m very much looking forward to returning to Weep, and am glad that I only have a month more to wait for Muse of Nightmares, which is unsurprisingly my most anticipated autumn release – and which I will definitely also be listening to, rather than reading in print, as Steve West’s performance of Strange the Dreamer was fantastic.5 stars

35037401Dragon Age: Knight Errant by Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir. [COMIC; Illustrators: Fernando Heinz Furukawa & Michael Atiyeh]

A brief (and self-contained) story set in the Dragon Age world, about Vaea, the elven squire to drunken knight Ser Aaron Hawthorne – and, unbeknownst to her master, a thief. I’ll admit that I’m inclined to enjoy every foray into this world, regardless of length (or even story or writing quality), but Knight Errant surpassed all my expectations. It’s very short, but did a great job of making me care about Vaea and Ser Aaron, the two main characters (who are original to this comic), and although the plot is simple, it’s also solid, and a lot of fun. Varric and Sebastian from the games also had fairly significant roles, and it was great to see them both again (as well as Charter, who made a brief appearance). 😊 In terms of timeline, this takes place after Inquisition, but is not directly connected to the events of that game.4 stars

8146139The Call of the Wild by Jack London.

The tale of a domestic dog called Buck, who’s stolen from his owners in California and taken all the way to the Yukon, where he lives a much less comfortable life as a sled-dog, but is drawn to the wild places that exist just beyond the borders of his new life. This was a really interesting read! I picked it up a few days before Booktubeathon, because I was hoping to read White Fang for one of the challenges, and mistakenly thought that the two were directly connected, but I actually ended up liking this one a bit more, as the pacing was much more consistent, and the story a little gratuitously violent… Buck’s life in the North is a harsh one, but London doesn’t dwell on the brutality of it quite so much as in White Fang. Still, for such a short book, it packs a huge emotional punch.4 stars

Sabaa Tahir//An Ember in the AshesAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Aysha Kala & Jack Farrar]

An excellent, Roman Empire-inspired fantasy following two leads: Laia, a teenage girl who becomes a slave in order to spy for the Scholar resistance, and Elias, a Martial soldier who wants only to be free of the Empire. I first read (and reviewed) this book a couple of years ago, and my feelings on it haven’t changed in the slightest. 💕 The audiobook was a new experience for me, but also a good one; both narrators did an excellent job, though I feel like the communication between them might not have been particularly great, as there were several words that they each pronounced differently. It wasn’t usually too jarring, and the most significant pronunciation disagreement was corrected after a few chapters, but it’s something that really should have been addressed by an editor or director (or whoever is in charge of voice work) before recording… especially when it’s the name of one of the main characters!5 stars

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff//ObsidioObsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff.

The final book in The Illuminae Files, which introduces two new protagonists: Asha, Kady’s cousin who was left behind on Kerenza IV when the majority of the population fled, and her ex-boyfriend-from-before-Kerenza, Rhys, who is now a technician for the invading BeiTech forces. As the conclusion to the trilogy, the plot of this book was much less self-contained than the other two, and it wrapped up the plot really nicely, and made for an incredibly powerful ending – though at the expense of some development for Asha and Rhys, who had to share their screen time with the series’ previous four protagonists (or five if you include AIDAN). However, I do think that they were both very well-fleshed out characters regardless, and the Kerenza-based perspective that they both provided to the story was essential. The pacing of the story was fast and tense, and only became more so as the stakes got higher and higher towards the end… and although I didn’t like this book quite as much as Illuminae, it was a near thing. A truly great ending to this fantastic series!5 stars

Jane Austen//Pride and PrejudicePride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Lindsay Duncan]

The classic tale of Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy, who meet at a ball and absolutely do not hit it off. 😉 This is one of my favourite books, and always a joy to re-read, but I decided to buy the audiobook to listen to with some friends on our recent pilgrimage-of-sorts to Pemberley! (Or rather, Lyme Park, which played the part of Pemberley’s exterior in the 1995 BBC adaptation, i.e. the best adaptation.) There are several different audio versions of this book, so much deliberation went into the choice of this one in particular, and I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed! Lindsay Duncan’s performance was incredible, and I especially liked her take on Mrs. Bennet. 🎶5+ stars

*Not including re-reads.

2016 in Review: Favourites

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you all enjoyed your eggnog / champagne / whatever it is that people drink at New Year. 😉 Here at the Jar of Books, I will still be talking about 2016 for a few more days, as it’s time to share with you my favourite books of the year! 😀 So, here they are (in order of reading, not preference):

Alison Goodman//The Dark Days ClubI read a lot of good books this year, but the first one that really impressed me was The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, which I picked up on a whim back in April, knowing almost nothing about it (except that it was by the same person who write Eon, a book I had heard about but not read), but thinking it sounded like fun. It was so much more than fun, though, with exactly the right balance of action and mystery and romance for my mood at the time. The sequel will be coming out in a few weeks, and I plan to read it as soon as it’s in my hands; hopefully it’s just as good as this one! 🙂 [I have a review up of this book, if you’re interested.]

Sabaa Tahir//An Ember in the AshesFantasy seems to have been the vast majority of everything I read in 2016, but this next book was really different from any fantasy I’d ever read before: I was originally drawn to An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir because of its quasi-Roman setting (Classics being my main academic interest), but the tense, complex story, and the wonderful characters blew me away. This is another book I reviewed, since I read it during Booktubeathon this summer, and it’s also another book with a sequel that I’m greatly anticipating; it’s been released already, but I’m waiting for it to be a little more affordable… ^^’

Leigh Bardugo//Six of CrowsNext up is Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, which was my absolute favourite book of the year, and the only one on this list that made it onto my all-time favourites list (though the others were all close calls). I was intrigued by this book when I first heard about it, but not hugely excited, since I was a little disappointed by Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy (which Six of Crows is a spin-off of), but it surpassed all my wildest dreams, and ended up being close to perfection in book-form. ❤ I read the sequel a couple of months ago, but while it was still really good, it wasn’t quite able to live up to its predecessor in my eyes.

Andrzej Sapkowski//Baptism of FireLast but by no means least is Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski (and if anyone knows how to pronounce that name, please tell me!), the fifth book in the Witcher series, which I started reading in October after getting hooked on the video games based on the books. The series started off strong, and only seemed to get better and more fascinating as it went on, culminating in the awesomeness that was Baptism of Fire; not the last book in the series, but the latest one that I’ve been able to get hold of. If this upwards trend continues, then I can’t even imagine how great the series finale will be, but it’s definitely something to look forward to in the coming year. XD

July Wrap-Up

July is over, and I’ve read a truly surprising amount! I think I can safely say that I’m now out of my minor reading slump (hopefully for good!). In all, I managed to read 9 novels, and two short stories last month, and although there were a couple of duds in the mix, most of them were really enjoyable! 😀 Here’s what I thought of them:

Melissa Marr//Ink ExchangeInk Exchange by Melissa Marr. The follow up to Wicked Lovely, which I enjoyed but didn’t think was particularly wonderful. In fact, I mainly read that book because I thought this one sounded interesting when I stumbled across a second-hand copy at work. 😉 Luckily, my book-sense has yet to lead me astray; Ink Exchange was a big improvement on its predecessor. The story follows Aislinn’s friend Leslie, who is struggling to deal with her often-absent father and her abusive brother, and – the cherry on top – catches the eye of Irial, King of the Dark Court of Faerie. Naturally, the plot of this book was a lot darker and more serious, but I also felt that the main characters were much more relatable and enjoyable to read than Aislinn & Keenan were. The love triangle in this book, too, was a lot more palatable than the one in Wicked Lovely, since (despite the less-than-altruistic reasons for Irial’s interest in Leslie) there seemed to be a lot more genuine affection between the three of them; right up to the end, I had no idea who Leslie would decide to be with (if anyone).4 starsPatrick Rothfuss//Slow Regard of Silent ThingsThe Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss. A novella set in the Kingkiller Chronicle universe, which follows Auri about her strange, everyday life. This story seems to have sparked a lot of controversy with Rothfuss’ fans – they either love it or hate it – but I’m happy to report that I really enjoyed it! Not much happens in the story, there’s no dialogue whatsoever, and Auri is the only character who appears, but I loved the atmosphere that Rothfuss was able to create, and the insight into Auri’s mind (and I suspect that she is much cleverer than she appears to be), and how the inanimate objects around Auri really seemed like living, feeling things.4 starsKitty Aldridge//A Trick I Learned from Dead MenA Trick I Learned from Dead Men by Kitty Aldridge. A short-ish novel that follows a young man who’s training as an undertaker while supporting his deaf brother and depressed stepfather. This was my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for July, so I have a mini-review of it up already. 🙂2 starsSimone Elkeles//Perfect ChemistryPerfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles. A romance between a teenager called Brittany who – due to some problems at home – feels the need to always be seen as perfect, and Alex, a classmate of hers from a dangerous part of town, who joined a gang in order to get protection for his family. I downloaded this mostly on a whim, and regretted it a bit afterwards, since I’ve heard very mixed things about the series, but I actually really enjoyed it. Sure, it’s incredibly cheesy in places, and there were bits of Alex and Brittany’s dialogue that came across as laughably unrealistic, and there was a 23-years-later epilogue that really annoyed me (as unnecessary last-minute flash-forwards always do)… but it was also a lot of fun to read, and pretty well-written. I don’t know if I’m likely to pick up the rest of the series, but I don’t regret reading this one, at least.3 stars

Before I could finish anything else, Booktubeathon came along! I managed to read a grand total of five books over the course of the readathon (which is pretty good, if I do say so myself, especially considering how busy I was that week), all of which I’ve written mini-reviews for – you can read them by clicking on the covers:

Junot Díaz//The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Franny Billingsley//The Folk Keeper Sabaa Tahir//An Ember in the Ashes Brandon Sanderson//Perfect State Bram Stoker//Dracula

Neil Gaiman//NeverwhereNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman. A fantastic novel about a man who, after finding an injured young woman on the side of the road and deciding to help her, gets dragged into the mysterious world of London Below, where people end up when they fall through the cracks of society. In an effort to reclaim his life, he ends up going on an adventure with Door (the aforementioned young woman), who’s trying to solve the mystery of her family’s murder. I loved absolutely everything about this book: The memorable characters, the beautiful writing, the whole world of London Below (which was incredibly bizarre, but also managed to make an odd sort of sense). The way that the story progressed was quite similar to Stardust, and I therefore found the ending a little predictable, but I was so enchanted that I didn’t even mind.5 stars

Abbi Glines//Until Friday NightUntil Friday Night by Abbi Glines. The first book in The Field Party series, which is a romance between a football player called West, who’s struggling to deal with his father’s cancer, and a girl called Maggie, who hasn’t spoken since her mother died. I’ve written a full review of this book, where you can read all my (numerous) thoughts about the story and characters, etc. – you can find it here.2 stars

#BookTubeAThon 2016: Update 3 & Mini-Review

Sabaa Tahir//An Ember in the AshesJUST FINISHED: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir.

Laia is a Scholar, a race of people subjugated by the Martial Empire, so her life’s never been easy, but she’s been lucky so far; she has her friends and family, and is learning a trade, so she’ll be able to support herself when she leaves home. But this all changes when her brother is accused of conspiring with the Scholar Resistance. He’s taken prisoner, their grandparents are slaughtered, and Laia finds herself on the run.

Elias is training to become a Mask, one of the Empire’s elite soldiers, and the heir to one of its oldest, most powerful houses, but he despises the violence and oppression that he sees – and is forced to take part in – every day. With his graduation approaching fast, he’s planning on deserting, until an opportunity presents itself for true freedom, without betraying his friends and family, but which may cost him his life.

I was super-excited for this book before it came out (a fantasy setting based on ancient Rome? Yes, please!), but my enthusiasm waned slightly as I waited for the chance to read it (hardbacks are expensive, and even if I’d bought it, my bookshelves are pretty much full :/ ). But I’m so glad that I finally did; I loved this book! The writing was engaging; the plot intriguing, with plenty of unexpected twists and turns (I had real difficulty tearing myself away from this book, even when I had important things to do, i.e. packing). For me, though, the main appeal was the characters:

Laia and Elias were really great leads, both incredibly likeable and relatable, even though they were ostensibly on opposing sides, and at odds for much of the story. Their character growth, too, was incredible; it was wonderful to see how much they both (but especially Laia) changed as the story went on. I also really enjoyed their relationship, which was fraught with tension and misunderstandings, but in a way that always really built up anticipation for their next encounter. And as for the romance, my shipper’s heart has been completely brought to life! 😉 I’m definitely rooting for Laia and Elias, so Elias’ will-they-won’t-they relationship with Helene made me quite anxious at times. I wasn’t so convinced by Laia and Keenan, as they had so few shared scenes (and I had a lot of difficulty trusting Keenan, right from the beginning), but I’m looking forward to seeing how their relationship progresses – and keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll take a few more platonic turns. 😛
5 starsCURRENT READATHON STATUS: Didn’t get as much reading done on the train as I’d hoped to, but I’m also making decent progress on Dracula… (It’s much longer than I thought it was.)

Books Completed: 3
Pages Read: 947
Challenges Completed: 2

#BookTubeAThon TBR!

It’s Booktubeathon time, people! (Almost.) Are you excited? I’m excited, as you can probably tell from all my rambling. XD And imminent readathons mean it’s time for TBRs!

As always, I’ve tried to line up my TBR to meet the Booktubeathon challenges, but this year I’ve had to add a few restrictions, too, for practical reasons: Since I have a job now, I’ll be working on most weekdays, so I’ve tried to pick a few shorter books, and I’ll also be going on holiday towards the end of the readathon, and am not planning on taking any physical books with me, so most of the books I’ve chosen are also ones that I have on my kindle… Lastly, I’ve been pretty indecisive lately about what I want to read, so I may well change my mind about some of the books on this list – but here is my tentative TBR:

Junot Díaz//The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao1) Read a book with yellow on the cover.

This will probably be the first book I pick up for the readathon, and if all goes to plan, it will also be the only physical book on my TBR: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, a birthday present from my sister that I’m super-excited for. 😀

2) Read a book only after sunset.

To be honest, I have no idea what I’ll be reading for this challenge, and it will probably just end up being whatever I happen to be reading when I’m on the overnight train to Skye. Thematically, it would be quite nice to combine this with challenges 5 & 6, but you’ll have to read on to see why… 😉

Sabaa Tahir//An Ember in the Ashes3) Read a book you discovered through booktube.

This challenge is the one I’m most looking forward to, as I’m finally going the be able to read An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir! I’ve been wanting to read this book for such a long time, but it was just too expensive – until a few days ago, when the price suddenly dropped to 99p in the Kindle Summer Sale ❗

Brandon Sanderson//Perfect State4) Read a book by a favourite author.

Again, there were a couple of things that I thought about picking for this challenge, but at long last, I managed to settle on Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson, which is a short story that doesn’t seem to be tied in with any of his other series… Of his other books, I’ve only read the Mistborn trilogy so far, but I adored them, so I’m hoping that this one will be really great, too.

Bram Stoker//Dracula5) Read a book that’s older than you & 6) Read and watch a book-to-movie adaptation.

I thought I’d combine these two challenges with a classic, since I’ve been meaning to read more of them this year, and there are a lot of adaptations to choose from, so I decided to go trawling through the unread classics on my kindle and my shiny new Netflix account to see if I could find a match. There were three, but I’m currently leaning towards Dracula by Bram Stoker, as it’s quite a bit shorter than the other two…

Abbi Glines//Until Friday Night7) Read seven books.

Genevieve Cogman//The Masked CitySo, as it stands, I have a total of four books that I’m planning to read, but if I want to complete all the challenges, I’m going to need to pick out three more! 😀 What those three end up being will probably largely depend on my mood at the time, but there are a couple that are looking quite likely. Namely: Until Friday Night by Abbi Glines, which I just downloaded a couple of days ago, The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman, the sequel to The Invisible Library, which I read a few months ago, and was really pleasantly surprised by… What I’ll pick for the last book, I haven’t the foggiest. ^^’

Upcoming Releases: Summer 2015

These are the new releases I’m most looking forward to this summer, & will cover June, July and August 2015.

[NB: All dates are taken from Amazon UK unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 6/05/2015.]

Garth Nix//To Hold the BridgeTo Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix (4th June)

A short story collection in which the titular work is a novella set in the Old Kingdom universe, which is one of my favourite series of all time. The story is about Morghan, an aspiring cadet in the Greenwash Bridge Company. The other stories in the collection appear to be from various different genres, and I’m really interested to see what spin Garth Nix will put on them.

Sabaa Tahir//An Ember in the AshesAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (4th June)

There’s been so much hype for this book, and I believe that it’s already out in quite a lot of places, which I’m obviously super-jealous about, since I’m going to have to wait until June. :/ This is a fantasy book based on ancient Rome, and it’s currently a standalone, though I’ve heard that the story really begs for a sequel…

Meg Cabot//Royal WeddingRoyal Wedding by Meg Cabot (2nd July)

The long-awaited sequel to the Princess Diaries series, in which Mia is all grown up and getting married! I’ve been wanting a book like this since I finished Ten Out of Ten, and I’m so excited that it’s finally going to be a thing! 😀

Rick Riordan//Percy Jackson & the Greek HeroesPercy Jackson and the Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan (6th August)

A re-telling of some of the heroic Greek myths from the point of view of Percy Jackson, à la Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods, which I loved. I don’t know which stories will be included in this, but I’m pretty excited for them regardless.

Patrick Ness//The Rest of Us Just Live HereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (27th August)

A save-the-world-type story, told from the perspective of the hero’s best friends, who really just wants to finish school without the world ending (or any other such things). This book sounds like so much fun, and since it’s by Patrick Ness (who wrote the Chaos Walking series as well as The Crane Wife, which I loved), I can already tell it’s going to be really well-written.