I'm debating what would be a worse torture. Sitting around waiting until the next book releases or burning my eyes out (fitting, right?). It's a toss-up. This has become a habit. Reading a book as soon as it releases then living the slow destruction of my mental state waiting for the next book.
It's a cruel, cruel world.
Picking up after An Ember in the Ashes, the next installment in the series follows Elias and Laia as they remain on the run from the Empire intent on destroying them both. And who better to find the elusive pair than Elias's best friend Helene?
There's a lot of action this time around, separated by sections that dragged in comparison, making the pacing a little uneven. Everything I ever wanted from the last book was fulfilled, from the world-building and supernatural elements (like the ending reveal, like okay now, you just want us to starve until the next book, right?). And Helene. I wanted her to have a bigger role because she's probably my favorite character of the series and she gets her own PoV chapters!
Yes, I am very happy about this.
Helene was such a strong supporting character in AEITA and holds more secrets than I'm sure we know. I loved watching her change over the course of Torch as her orders force her to do the exact thing she wanted to avoid: killing her best friend. It was heart-breaking to watch her transformation but I have a feeling that she's gonna rock this whole world.
Elias and Laia are also playing a crucial part once more, on the run together while Elias fights off death with each step and Laia royally screws up each step. I still don't like her. Didn't like her in the first book and that hasn't changed. She was better this time around, though, and despite all of her mistakes she continued to press onward on the mission to save her brother. Elias, on the other hand, is one of my favorite heroes in YA fantasy. He goes into full boss mode and makes the tough choices to save others, even Helene who is under orders to ensure his demise.
Also, I will always ship Elias/Helene and y'all can't tell me otherwise. I believe in them despite Elias and his big "I will protect you all" decision.
The story itself went in a million different directions but yet all one. A lot happened between Helene, Elias, and Laia as each had their own journey to make this time. Laia's mission to free Darin still plays center stage but there's more on the actual Empire, the world where all this occurs, as they travel to places like Elias's tribe and the prison where Darin is. Plus, old players from AEITA are back and nastier than ever.
One thing I love about these books are the villains. Give me someone who thinks they're doing the right thing. Give me someone who is brutal and vicious but can be just as logical and calculated. Give me someone with so many layers I have to peel them apart to get anywhere. Give me Keris. Give me Marcus. And give me the Nightbringer. These three are in my book of favorite villains. Keris is beyond merciless, a murderer through and through. Marcus sees his actions as a way to unite the Empire despite his inexperience. And the Nightbrighter has a whole new history to be revealed.
I'm not sure I can wait for the next book.