YA Fantasy

My Review: A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes #3): by Sabaa Tahir

Publish Date: June 12th, 2018
Number of Pages: 464 Pages
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

***Warning! This book contains spoilers to previous books in the series! Continue reading at your own risk, you’ve officially been warned!***

To see my full review of book #1 – An Ember in the Ashes – Click HERE

To see my full review of book #2 – A Torch Against the Night – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Sabaa Tahir is an evil genius!

Never before has a story that’s so devastating, so visceral, so gut-wrenching in the YA Fantasy genre than this incredible—and underrated—book series that started off with a young girl trying to rescue her brother and a young soldier who just wants his freedom. Things seemed so simple back then, even though they weren’t, but so much has happened since then to not only Laia and Elias, but EVERYONE in these books.

I will admit, I loved the first book a lot more than the second book. I liked the simplicity in the idea of just these young heroes fighting for their freedom with the rebellion against the Martial Empire with a tiny hint of magic sprinkled in, but book two made the series go in a direction I was not fully expecting, nor was I incredibly thrilled about. It brought up ideas I was indifferent about, but fell in love with more characters as depths to their motives were revealed. This book made me fall in love with the books all over again, and in my opinion, saved the series from continuing to slump!

Was it perfect? No…

Was it fun and entertaining? Yes!

Did I cry like a baby at the end and go into a crippling book-hangover for about a week after I finished this book? ….yes.

I can agree with a few people who say this book was slower in the beginning and with Elias’s chapters, as I’m also not really on board for how his storyline is developing. I honestly never pictured how it’s played out from the way he was portrayed in the first book. While thats the case right now, this book ends in a way that makes me very curious to read what happens in the next book, because lesbehonest…it feels like a HEA is almost impossible for Elias and Laia at this point, and I just want them to be happy when this is all over!

Helene continues to slay across the page and become such a strong and fierce female as more and more terrible things keep happening to her thanks to Marcus and the Commandant. Helene and the latter forge a rivalry of who can become HBIC of the Martial Rule, and that was a highlight as Marcus slowly descends further into insanity and paranoia, but what surprised me was how the author explored his character a little more than usual this time around. I mean, he’s still a sadistic nutjob who needs to cool it with the threats against Helene and her family, but it was a surprise nonetheless. I will never complain about developed villain!

The Commandant continues on with her amazingness, and I continue to love her wickedness and overall badassery!

There was a significant less amount of romance in this book—some readers may like that, but I’m the opposite—and it seems like the author gets a kick out of putting just about ANY wall between Laia and being happy with Elias, but there’s another romance that develops that I had been shipping since the last book, so I was happy to see that become canon, and hope it continues into the next and final book!

Overall, I loved this book and it honestly saved the series for me! Since I wasn’t the biggest fan of book #2, I was nervous this book wasn’t going to be nearly as good, but then I get to the climax of A Reaper at the Gates, and in reading all that happens and having all the information revealed to me, I was absolutely blown away by the occurrences and how emotionally impacted I was! The way it was all tied together: The Cook, Laia and Elias, Helene, Harper, The Commandant, The Nightbringer, and the prophecy we learn about….I definitely teared up from this one, and only one other book did this to me back in 2018, and that was Kingdom of Ash, the final book in the Throne of Glass series.

It makes me just as sad all this time later in 2020 that this series is coming to an end at the end of the year. I will be depressed about it for quite some time, just being completely honest about that, but I also enjoy the challenge of continuing on and using all that I’ve gathered from this series that I love, and using that to find yet another series I can fall in love with and shamelessly promote to anyone else who’ll listen!

What It’s About:

I will sing you such a story—a story that was long untold. The story of a name and its meaning. Of how that name matters more than any other single word in existence. But I must prepare myself, for such stories are dragons drawn from a deep well in a dark place. Does one summon a dragon? No. One may only invite it and hope it emerges.

– Sabaa Tahir, “A Reaper at the Gates”

The highly anticipated third book in Sabaa Tahir’s New York Times bestselling EMBER QUARTET.

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.

Curse this world for what it does to the mothers, for what it does to the daughters. Curse it for making us strong through loss and pain, our hearts torn from our chests again and again. Curse it for forcing us to endure.”

– Sabaa Tahir, “A Reaper at the Gates”

What I liked:

  1. The Well Developed Villains! A definite highlight that was really surprising was how the author really took the time to shine a spotlight on the evil characters in this addition to their series. They’re still downright despicable, but there’s some hidden depths there now that do nothing but enhance the richness of a good story. The Commandant continues to be one of the most sadistic female villains I’ve ever come come across—something I’ve been saying since the beginning of these books—but even Marcus has more going on with his character, and you finally learn about the Nightbringer’s backstory…and what his master plot is!
  2. The Stakes Have Risen Again, Indeed! The big reveal: what has The Nightbringer been planning all this time? What has all the buildup been about? Why is he there? Where did he come from? Who is he exactly? All this gets answered as the author finally exposes what his motive is.
  3. The Climax Scene! Some may argue that the book has too much filler, and that really depends on the specific reader, but I can say the epic climax of the story really makes up for the slower plot points! So much happens, so much angst and betrayal and shock; it was one of the most emotionally impacting book moments I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. It was truly amazing how all these storylines came together, how the author included the prophecy into the actions of the characters, and the shocking events behind the Cook! I literally have chills thinking back on it…
  4. The Slow-Burn Romance! Surprisingly, there wasn’t as much romance in this story, as the author has to come up with every single possible way to keep Elias and Laia away from each other…Helene and Harper have a nicely drawn out slow burn romantic sub-storyline that really develops. As someone who really shipped them since the previous book when Harper was initially introduced to us, I was happy for this to happen! I mean…Helene has a lot of heavy shit happen to her—as does everyone in this series—but she has had the most growth out of any character, so I’m more than fine for the author to throw her at least one freakin’ bone of happiness amongst all the misery!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Elias’s Story Development…I’m not gonna lie…Elias’s whole storyline is not for me. I still love him as a character, but I just can’t get behind how his development, especially in this book, has come about. It’s still somewhat interesting and tragic, especially with how his relationship with Laia is affected at the end, but I can agree with other critical readers when they say his chapters were the slower parts of the whole book. However, I am very curious to see how his storyline developments in the next and final book!
  2. Darin and Serric Steel Storyline Faces the Back Burner…I was majorly disappointed in how this whole storyline seemingly got dropped in this book. It was a huge part of Laia’s motivation as a character: to rescue her brother from Kauf prison and allow him to share how to use his valuable knowledge of the special metal to construct weapons to take on the Empire…but none of that seems to matter anymore. So, okay I guess…
  3. THIS Was Where The Book Rebranding Occurred…I mentioned this in one of my previous reviews, but this series got rebranded and A Reaper at the Gates was when that happened. Personally, I do prefer the new covers because I think they make the series stand out a little more than the older versions did, BUT don’t rebrand books while they’re still coming out! Maybe do it years later once the series is complete, or just use the design for another series, but it’s tacky to do it right smack dab in the middle of the series. People like me are incredibly passionate about their bookshelves and are OCD about having their books match: hardcover or softcover, or if the covers match. While some would be more than happy to go out and repurchase the newly designed books all over again, some people need to worry about the cost of that as well! This may seem outrageous and completely extra, but like I said: I’m extremely passionate about the books I keep on my bookshelf, and I want my collection to match.

Conclusion:

This book brings so much life into the series!

I was less than enthused about A Torch Against the Night, so this series sank from the pedestal a little bit, but this book changed that, and made me fall in love with the series all over again. One thing that’s stayed constant is the fact that I think the Commandant is easily one of the top villains I’ve ever read or watched in my life, somehow she gets worse and worse as the story goes on.

Sabaa Tahir writes her world in such a beautiful way, and does such a great job of creating complex and interesting characters, and I’d also say her writing has matured so well as the series has progressed. Its somehow gotten even more serious and gained an even darker tone.

It’s a shame that more people won’t read this series because it’s YA/Teen, but seriously, it’s such a great series despite that, and it doesn’t even read like a normal YA fantasy book; the only thing that makes it fall under the category is the fact that the main characters are teenagers.

Overall, what an amazing book, I was until 5 am to finish it, now I seriously can’t wait for the next title to release!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: A Torch Against The Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2): by Sabaa Tahir

Publish Date: August 30th, 2016
Number of Pages: 452 Pages
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***WARNING! This book review reveals spoilers from the previous book in the series, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my full review for book #1 – An Ember in the Ashes – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

I realized I was not staring into his eyes. I am staring into my future. I see it for a moment. Pain. Suffering. Horror. All that I love, all that I hold dear, awash in blood.”

– Sabaa Tahir, “A Torch Against The Night”

I feel like this quote perfectly sums up what reading these books reduces you to because while I am so heavily and emotionally invested in this series, I can admit that it sometimes feels like Sabaa Tahir steals a part of my soul with every new title she releases!

Yes, I back up what I say… I’m basically calling her Voldemort, and her books are Horcruxes with bits and pieces of my soul ripped out from within me.

The death’s needed for this evil spell? Her characters, or emotions like happiness, joy, and/or naive hope that may still be felt before reading this series.

After devouring the previous book, I couldn’t wait to see what happens next with Laia and Elias! So many cliffhangers, especially with the major one of them escaping through the Catacombs from the Empire after that epic showdown?! It’s stuff like that that’s probably why I have anxiety issues.

Anyways…Taking a step back and looking at all the factors that encompass this story, it’s easy to distinguish the ones that other readers may scoff at and wonder why people praise these books, like maybe it’s not the most original sounding story or there are thousands of other titles that sound just like it. I can admit, it’s not the most original story ever told; hardly anything ever is anymore, but it’s not what a book is about necessarily. What matters nowadays, at least for me, is how it’s told…there is a difference.

There’s a reason we call out clichés and tropes in books of all genre’s: they’re familiar and used over and over again and again, but if someone can make them still feel new and enjoyable, all the better! A story doesn’t have to be original, it just has to be engaging, and these books definitely fit that bill for me!

One thing that I want to point out is what I believe the author does so incredibly well is how she depicts the cold brutality of a corrupt and unjust world, and the flood of emotions that impassions us because of it all. It may be hard to read for some readers, but there’s no denying that its an accurate portrayal of whats going on in certain countries today, and what has happened in violent parts of the history of humanity.

She’s almost like Suzanne Collins in a way; Sabaa Tahir shows the harsh reality of a tyrannical, militaristic rule in a way for younger readers to be able to catch their first major glimpse of it and possibly understand it a little better; exposing them to a harsh reality of how dark and sadistic the real world/humanity can truly be. While doing that, she also allowing them to experience a raw story that is heavy, addicting, fast paced, absolutely chilling, well plotted, but also just plain magnificent and memorable!

What It’s About:

Quite literally, we’re brought back to where the previous title left off as Laia and Elias have officially joined forces and are attempting to flee the Empire while running towards a secret exit down in the Catacombs. They become fugitives and are being hunted by newly crowned emperor Marcus and Elia’s mother, The Commandant (I literally get chills just thinking about her every time!)

Laia is still determined to rescue her brother, Darin, by venturing up towards the dangerous Kauf Prison where he’s being held because he may hold the key for their people’s salvation. Elias wants to help her; doing so may mean sacrificing his own freedom (and totally not over the fact that he may have developed feelings for her).

Things of course never go according to plan, and otherworldly forces are gaining power and influence to work against them and plot to bring an eternal darkness onto their world. Laia and Elias must outsmart them all: including Helene—Elias’s best friend—and newly appointed Blood Shrike. She is tortured with the task of hunting them both down and bringing their heads back to the new bloodthirsty emperor or risk losing everything and everyone she holds dear…

What I Liked:

  1. More Voices Are Heard! As a fantasy series develops, more and more characters step up and become more prominent in the overall story, some usually more interesting than others. It works incredibly well for this series, and is an occasion where you actually love to hear everyone’s side of the story, and not dread certain people’s chapters while impatiently dying to get back to others. Everyone has an interesting arc within the story that creates a rich and wonderful reading experience!
  2. Helene’s Development! In the previous book, Helene honestly didn’t do much for me…she was elitist, spoiled and prejudiced towards the scholars of this world (aka lower-class and/or slaves), and only really served as an ally/potential love interest for Elias and competitor against Laia, so she could’ve been just reduced that basic bitch… All that changes in this book, thank god! She’s so much more substantial and really goes through a lot of heavy shit while making extremely hard decisions, and becomes more fleshed out and relatable. She gains a voice while she struggles with the inner battle over what is right and wrong; she really became one of the best characters in this whole series!
  3. The Plot Thickens! The author adds so much more themes and aspects to her debut series to keep it addicting and page-turning: so much more character development, political intrigue, mythological and magic components: and it just continues to drive home the higher level this series is at compared to most other YA Fantasy titles out there on the market.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Not As Fast Paced For Me…While I absolutely loved the previous book, I only liked this sequel. For me, it just felt like it had more slower paced moments than the previous book, and the series overall went in a different direction than what I had personally envisioned for it. The story does gain more momentum and the stakes do get higher, but after the initial set up in the beginning, I just didn’t connect as much for quite a bit of it.
  2. Too Much Paranormal Addition…Now hear me out, I do like that there’s more magic and paranormal occurrences taking shape within the story: the fact of having The Nightbringer as the villain with the mystery and lore surrounding him made that route inevitable, but for me personally, I just felt like maybe this book had too much added all at once to the point of it feeling excessive or too much too soon. The author decided to go in a direction where it becomes a much bigger influence on the overall plot, and it’s a direction I wasn’t the most fond of…I rather enjoyed the simplicity of the magic from the previous book and how little we saw! For me, the tiny moments where it makes an appearance made it feel more impactful and meaningful. It’s not necessarily a bad direction, just kind of an unfavorable one, but I continue to love the series, please note that!

Conclusion:

A good addition to an addicting series; it wasn’t my favorite compared to the previous book but fun nonetheless. More and More magic/otherworldliness add mystique and adventure, and the plot of course takes a turn for the worst and tears your heart out, stomping it on the ground into a pulp…but you’ll love it! I recommend this series to anyone who like epic, fantasy-genre adventures with different points of views. This series truly can stand apart from the many, many…many titles that also fit that bill.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fancasts/Dreamcasts

My Fancast/Dreamcast: An Ember In The Ashes Series by Sabaa Tahir

Image courtesy of Sabaa Tahir’s Instagram profile

In Sabaa Tahir’s debut YA Fantasy series, Laia is a young girl living in poverty under the Martial Rule of the Empire in a world reminiscent of Ancient Rome, and must become a spy for a covert rebellion group her parents were a part of in order to get answers and secrets from the most dangerous and cruel general in Serra, but discovers more than she could’ve ever imagined….

Elias, the son of the very same general and star pupil at military training camp, secretly wants a life of freedom and to run away from the scrutiny and expectations that have weighed him down for as long as he remembers, but unexpected events leads to a tournament where he must compete against his fellow classmates in order for a new emperor to be crowned puts everything on pause…

Meanwhile, dark forces are at work, and a malicious shadow known as the Nightbringer is developing a sinister plot that could mean the end of life as we know it…

Check out my review of book #1: An Ember in the Ashes – Click HERE

Check out my review of book #2: A Torch Against the Night Click HERE

Check out my review of book #3: A Reaper at the Gates – Click HERE

Check out my review of book #4: A Sky Beyond the Storm – Click HERE

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Here’s my official Fancast/Dreamcast:

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Laia of Serra: Sophia Ali, or Shiva Negar

Sophia Ali, image courtesy of the actress’s IMDB profile
Shiva Negar, image courtesy of gemmamagazine.com

This one was a little harder to do because there aren’t a whole lot of well known, Middle-Eastern/Pakistani/Muslim actresses out there that I felt would be fitting of the role. However I did remember these two women; Sophia has been on the more recent seasons of Grey’s Anatomy playing a young intern, and Shiva was in American Assassin.

Elias Veturius: Eliran Biton, or Jorge Del Rio

Eliran Bitan, image courtesy of the model’s Instagram profile
Jorge Del Rio, credit to owner

Elias was incredibly hard to cast! A lot of other fancasts that I’ve looked at have made him caucasian, but I remember reading somewhere that Sabaa Tahir said he wasn’t. Toni Mahfud has been a popular choice to fancast him since, but for me, something about him just didn’t fit the bill. I found this guy on Instagram, found out he’s of Israeli descent, and so I thought he looked much more like what I imagined Elias to appear as. Jorge is another choice based off his hypnotic eyes, but he may not fit the ethnic background that Elias may fall under.

Helene Aguilla: Claire Holt

Image courtesy of glamaholic.com

I’ve loved her ever since her days as Original Vampire Rebekah Mikaelson in the CW’s The Vampire Diaries. Like Rebekah, Helene doesn’t seem like much more than an a spoiled, elitist brat, but develops into a strong, brave & admirable young woman, so I believe that Claire would successfully showcase that if they cast her into the role.

Cain: Paul Bettany

Image courtesy of starwars.com

Paul has basically been my go-to guy for casting in strange, otherworldly male roles. He’s a terrific actor, has a unique look to him, and has a soft, yet powerful presence like his role as Vision in Marvel’s Avengers movies, so I believe he’d be absolutely wonderful as the mysterious Augur, Cain.

Marcus Ferrar: Willy Monfret

Image courtesy of thatsmags.com

I also would’ve cast Jesse Williams possibly, but I always cast him into roles and he seemed a little too old to play Marcus, but this model (who is seen in several Nicki Minaj music videos) would also serve to play the egocentric, crazed, power-hungry antagonist, Marcus.

Darin (Laia’s Brother): Deniz Akdeniz

Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

I’ve seen this guy play Aladdin on ABC’s Once Upon A Time, he’s also been on Jane the Virgin, and Agents of the S.H.I.E.L.D. He’s got a look that reminds me of Darrin, and seems good at playing the older brother of our Heroine, Laia.

Avitas Harper: Sean Sarantos

Image courtesy of samuelmecham.com

Avitas Harper was also a hard one to cast; not too much is given to us as to what he looked like. Sean is known more in the fitness world than Hollywood, but this half korean/ half greek model has a perfect look I had in mind for Avitas Harper, since the character is of Eastern Asian descent, according to the author!

Afya Ara-Nur: Priyaka Chopra Jonas

Image courtesy of sawfirst.com

For some reason, I originally cast Angela Bassett as the role…I think I was riding a high from her iconic-ness from American Horror Story, but after looking into it and realizing that she didn’t look anything like the role, and was way too old to play this Tribal-woman! I thought Priya would be able to harness the power that Afya possesses as being the leader of the tribe that takes in Elias and Laia in the second title, A Torch Against the Night.

Keris Veturius (The Commandant): Cate Blanchett

Image courtesy of GQ Magazine

I mean…do I really have to explain myself with this one?

Keenan: Ken Bek

Image courtesy of the model’s Instagram profile

There aren’t a whole lot of ginger men in Hollywood, at least younger ones. Most people would probably cast Eddie Redmayne or Sam Claflin, but neither felt right for this role. He’s not an actor, but this male model has a bit of danger in his eyes, a bit of swagger that I imagine Keenan had as he prowled the streets of Serra in search of causing a little chaos as he helps the rebellion cause.

Izzi: Scarlett Leithold

Image courtesy of fashionmodeldirectory.com

This model has what I imagine the similar features as our kitchen maid, Izzi. There’s no eyepatch, but she has young features, is absolutely gorgeous but not too prominent about it, and has a little more on an innocent vibe than other young blonde actresses that I could find.

Cook: Bahar Soomekh

Image courtesy of the actress’s IMDB profile

So the cook is such an interesting character…I really can’t say why, but this actress who I know from movies like Crash and Mission: Impossible 3 kind of, sort of fits my bill for what the Cook could possibly look like, especially as we get to know her character more and more.

Spiro Teluman: Nuufloeau Joel Seanoa

Image courtesy of ibtimes.co.uk

This guy is actually a WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) Superstar with his ring name being “Samoa Joe.” He fits the bill for what I imagined Spiro Teluman to look like; a big, brutish man who secretly makes weapons to aid the rebellion.

Zacharias Ferrar: Kendrick Sampson

Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

Another go-to of mine when it comes to POC male characters with lighter eyes, but I thought he’d still be able to pull off the quieter, more softer brother to Marcus.

Shaeva: Sabaa Tahir

Image courtesy of the author’s Twitter account

Why not have the author of the dang series make an appearance if they ever make it a cinematic adaptation? I think if she ever wanted to go into acting, why not have her play the role of the Soul Catcher we meet in the second title?

Musa of Adisa: Sam Asghari

Image courtesy of spockandshristine.com

I could be WAY off base with this one, but based off my impression of Musa (aka “The Beekeeper), he’s this model-esque hunk of dream boat, and the man who’s dating Britney Spears seemed to physically fit what I imagined the smug, charismatic prince consort who has the magical ability to control lesser fey creatures.

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Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell