***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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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…
- 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:
- 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!
- 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…
- 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.
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