Book Review: Reaper at the Gates

Title: Reaper at the Gates
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 458
Publisher: Razorbill
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available Now

Summary: 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.

Review: I’m going to be upfront – this book is not an easy read. I know Sabaa Tahir warned us, but reading the actual novel with our favorite characters just hurting all over the place was not fun. All three main characters faced very tough challenges and while I was reading I was wondering how Helene, Laia, and Elias were going to overcome it all. I obviously won’t give away spoilers but I will say I was left with a strong sense of unease when I finished the book. I felt like I needed to read or watch something warm and happy to lift my spirits. I have no idea how Tahir will solve the ending at this point, but it is that very reason why I’ll pre-order the last book so I can have it in my hands the day it’s published.

That dark, ominous feeling aside, one aspect of the Ember series that I’ve loved is seeing this larger world, and the mythology, of the world that Tahir has created. In Reaper, we learn more about the religious beliefs of the Tribes people, specifically how they deal with their dead through Elias’s journey. I found their belief towards death to be beautiful and touching, which is why when Elias somewhat fails at his job and hurts the Tribes I was heartbroken so much for them (and Elias too because he deeply feels how much he hurt his people). In fact, I feel like I learned more of Elias’s heart in this book as he struggles with being the Soul Catcher and the need for him to give up his humanity that his new “job” requires of him. I really felt like I learned who Elias is in his soul and…damn, can’t give away spoilers. Moving on, we also spend time in a Mariner city with Laia and learn the difference between how Scholars there live versus the Scholars who live in the Martial lands, though there is growing tension as Adisa, the Marinn city Laia visits, struggles with an influx of Scholar refugees. We meet a new characters Musa who really challenges Laia about her role in stopping the Nightbringer, but also helping her people. I like that he is the type of friend who sees Laia potential and pushes her to become the leader that she is meant to be. It was wonderful seeing her grow from being solely about fighting for her family to fighting for her people. Tahir also bookends the novel with a chapter from the Nightbringer’s perspective. We learn more about who he is, how deeply he loves his people, and his drive for vengeance. I’m not saying it’s right, but we come to understand him and his motivations a lot more. I’m not too sure how I feel about his character but I do know he does seem less “mustache-twirly” in Reaper than he did in the other two novels.

I can say this about Reaper at the Gates – there was information dropped in the last chapter that made me stand up for Tahir’s spectacular story construction with a connection to all the three story lines that I didn’t see coming. I love being surprised like that because it means the writing is fresh and original and perfectly unpredictable. So logically, I understand the ending that Tahir wrote from Reaper because it will move the story forward in an unique way, it’s just my heart is not happy about it, but I can’t wait for the final book because of it.