After the epic cliffhanger in A Torch Against The Night, my expectations for A Reaper At The Gates by Sabaa Tahir were pretty high. Fast-paced, and with a much better world-building and character development, this third book was definitely unforgettable. Here’s my quick review below.
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.
Ratings: 4 Out Of 5
Trigger Warnings: death, explicit murder, explicit violence, genocide (mentioned & explicit), torture, death of children, refugee crisis, mild sexual scenes (fade to black)
The review below contains spoliers from the previous two books, so I highly recommend you read those first. Check out my review of An Ember In The Ashes and also my review of A Torch Against The Night if you are still deciding whether this series is the right pick for you.
~ Previous Books In The Ember Quartet Series ~
A Reaper At The Gates picks up right after the events of its prequel. Laia and Elias are finally back together, but Elias is now a Soul Catcher in training, which makes it challenging for him and Laia to work as a team against the Martial Empire and the Nightbringer himself. On the other hand, Helene, after losing everyone in her family except for her sister, is on a dangerous downward spiral.
I won’t lie. A Reaper At The Gates was a tough book to get into. All of our beloved main characters have been bent and broken, and this third book is essentially their journey alone to forge their own destinies without one another. In the previous books, it was the interactions between Laia, Elias and Helene that drew me in, and the way their fates were intertwined was the greatest driving force for the plot of the series.
But in this book, with Laia on her own mission to save the Scholar refugees, Helene determined to secure the empire against Scholar rebels and Keris’s coupe, and Elias’s new responsibilities to guard the human world against the supernatural, we see our beloved heroes discover their own place in the grand schemes of destiny.
And Sabaa Tahir did an absolutely wonderful job of telling their stories.
I loved watching Laia grow into a more confident, braver, and stronger woman. Before, rescuing her brother was her only mission, but in A Reaper At The Gates we see her willingly step into a much bigger and more important role: to save her people, to put an end to the sufferings of the Scholar refugees. It was heartbreaking to see her love and despair for her people because it was painfully relatable too.
As Sabaa Tahir herself is a Muslim author, I couldn’t help but recognize the parallels of the Scholar refugee crisis with the Palestinian and Syrian refugee crisis. Laia’s pain and fury at the treatment of her people is something any Muslim reader can also relate to.
On the exact opposite spectrum, we have Helene, who in this series accurately represents white privilege. Helene is completely unfazed by the treatment of Scholars in her empire, and her only focus is securing the prosperity of her people even at the cost of the freedom and blood of others. There’s no easy way to say this, up until the very end of A Reaper At The Gates, Helene is truly, revoltingly racist, and she refuses to acknowledge it even when her own friends suggest that she is crossing a line.
As a person of color, reading from Helene’s perspective was painful for this reason. However, I had full faith in Sabaa Tahir as a writer, and I knew that this was only a build-up for incredible character growth.
And boy, was I right.
Because at the end of A Reaper At The Gates, Sabaa Tahir literally flips the table on Helene. I cannot say anything more than that without giving away spoilers, but Helene had the most unforgettable and profound growth of all three characters in this series and I absolutely loved reading about her journey.
My only issue with this book is with Elias, or rather his transformation. Although Tahir tried to delve deeper into the magic, lore, and supernatural in this book, I personally felt that it was not well-written. The magic system made little sense to me, and I think I would have preferred it far better if it was left vaguer–I loved the unknowable mystery of the magic system in this series in the previous books more than the clumsy explanation given in this one.
That being said, every time we got to read from the Nightbringer’s perspective, I had chills. Sabaa Tahir knows how to write her villains, and the Nightbringer is one of the most compelling ones, along with Keris.
I also loved the inclusion of new characters. Musa the beekeeper, in particular, stole my heart. I loved the character growth of both Harper and Marcus, and while I appreciated that Dex and Farrar had more page time in this novel, I am not sure how I feel about the abrupt mention of Dex’s sexuality, because it had been completely absent from the previous books. It felt rather forced as if it was being included simply for the sake of adding a bit more diversity, especially since Dex ultimately remains a side character.
The cliffhanger ending of this incredible third installment of the Ember Quartet is only the beginning of the end, as cliche as that sounds. Because ultimately, when you look at the overall story and the character development, it is very obvious that A Reaper At The Gates is a dark and gritty filler novel that sets up the stage for the final showdown.
And without a doubt, the finale of this series is going to be EPIC. And I absolutely cannot wait for it!
Have you read this book? Share your thoughts in the comments below!