Title: A Reaper at the Gates
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #3
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: June 12th, 2018 (Razorbill)
Synopsis: Beyond the Empire and within it, the threat of war looms ever larger.
The Blood Shrike, Helene Aquilla, is assailed on all sides. Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable, while the Commandant capitalizes on his madness to bolster her own power. As Helene searches for a way to hold back the approaching darkness, her sister’s life and the lives of all those in the Empire hang in the balance.
Far to the east, Laia of Serra knows the fate of the world lies not in the machinations of the Martial court, but in stopping the Nightbringer. But while hunting for a way to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would aid her, and is drawn into a battle she never thought she’d have to fight.
And in the land between the living and the dead, Elias Veturius has given up his freedom to serve as Soul Catcher. But in doing so, he has vowed himself to an ancient power that will stop at nothing to ensure Elias’s devotion–even at the cost of his humanity.
“Hope is stronger than fear. It is stronger than hate.”
Now admittedly, with the long gap since A Torch Against the Night released in 2016, I was less than enthusiastic about this book – especially since I couldn’t recollect much of the (complicated) plot. However, it took less than ten chapters to remind me of everything I needed to know, like I read the previous book only yesterday, and then I wondered just why I waited so long to sit down with this third installment in An Ember in the Ashes series. This is getting better and better with each book!
With Darin now rescued from Kauf prison, Laia is working with the Resistance while also desperately searching for a way to thwart the Nightbringer’s plan to bring destruction upon the land. Following Keenan’s betrayal of Laia and his subsequent unmasking, the Nightbringer is one step closer rebuilding the Star – and one step closer to releasing the trapped jinn in the Forest of Dusk. Elias has taken on the mantle of the Soul Catcher, but he is yet to understand what it truly means – and what it will cost him.
Helene – that is, the Blood Shrike – seems to be the only one truly loyal to the Empire and she is caught between doing what she must to save it and following the orders of the increasingly insane Emperor Marcus to protect her sister Livia who has been forcibly married to him. And worse, war with the Karkauns seems imminent. All the while, Keris Veturia, the Commandant, is playing her own game, seemingly allied with the Nightbringer, and the Blood Shrike must uncover her plan before it’s too late.
After A Torch Against the Night, one would think that the Empire is messed up enough, but no – there is still more delightful chaos for our characters to plunge headlong into, and room enough for the stakes to rise even higher. Without a doubt Sabaa Tahir’s best work yet, it was a delight to return to the amazing Roman Empire inspired world she has created.
This time around, apart from the main plot, we get some very interesting backstory throughout and none of it should be skipped. Much of it revolves around the Forest of Dusk and the purpose of the Soul Catcher, but more important is the Nightbringer’s past and motivations along with some major reveals that I definitely did not see coming!
Laia’s growth as a character from book one is amazing. She is at the point where she can proudly step up and claim her heritage, she has overcome her vulnerabilities to become a leader now, and it is very obvious – both to the the characters in the story, and to the readers.
“Love cannot live here.”
Elias. Poor, poor Elias. Most of his arc was very upsetting, as he struggles against the demands of the Waiting Place in an effort to hold onto his humanity. He’s understandably taking it really hard, being separated from everyone he knows to learn the responsibilities of his new position from Shaeva. It is through his POV that we get to know much of the backstory as Elias’ situation goes even further downhill.
“Duty first, unto death.”
As for Helene – wow, I didn’t think I would ever like her character this much when we met her back in An Ember in the Ashes. Helene Aquilla is gone – she is well and truly the Blood Shrike now. And she is surrounded by plotting enemies as the list of those she can trust has grown thin. It’s one thing after another for her, and still she endures, rising up each time. She always puts the Empire and her people first, above all else, as she proves in this book, over and over again. The Blood Shrike’s character arc just became my uncontested favourite.
My only real complaints in this book are firstly, the slow start, which can be very off-putting when you’re returning to a series after a two year gap. And second, I had hoped to see more of Darin than we got. Also just something I noticed because it came up so often, Sabaa seems to be trying really hard to avoid her characters properly cursing? It might not be intentional, but the end result just felt very jarring. This is YA, and I’ve seen far worse language than this from characters.
Many of Elias’ early chapters initially felt like filler and his real role only came much later in the book. A Reaper at the Gates is definitely more focussed on Laia and the Blood Shrike’s stories while the pieces are moved into place for the showdown at the end, which has all the drama I’ve come to expect from this series and more! I’ve always thought this series would make for great TV. The writing is such that I can visualize as I read, and I literally need to take a breather after the action scenes, they’re that intense. Can’t you just imagine those final chapters?
Overall, not quite at five stars, but close, very close. I have extremely high expectations for the final book which releases next year. I really enjoyed this thrilling, fast-paced read with its unexpected plot twists and readers who enjoy high fantasy novels will definitely appreciate this!
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
Other reviews in this series: