‘The stories we tell have power, of course. But the stories that go untold have just as much power, if not more.’Sabba Tahir, A Reaper at the Gates
I’m back again for another review; this time for A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir. It’s been an age since I read any books in this series, but I totally loved the last two, so I had a lot of hope going into this third story. And, of course, Tahir didn’t let me down!
Be warned: there will be SPOILERS ahead (and sorry for the lengthy post this time – there’s a lot to talk about in this one!)
The blurb reads:
Blood Shrike Helene Aquilla, is surrounded by danger – the Emperor grows increasingly unstable and the Commandant is capitalizing on his madness to bolster her own power. Helene must find a way to hold back the approaching darkness at court: every life in the Empire, including her sister’s, hangs in the balance.
Far to the east, Laia knows the fate of the world lies in stopping the Nightbringer. But while hunting for a way to bring him down, she is threatened by those she hoped would aid her, and Laia finds herself drawn into a battle she never thought she’d have to fight.
In the land between the living and the dead, Elias has given up his freedom to serve as Soul Catcher. In doing so, he has pledged himself to an ancient power that will stop at nothing to ensure his devotion… even at the cost of his humanity.
Wow. Where do I even begin with this book?! SO MUCH HAPPENED! My emotions are all over the place.
Sabaa picks up the story only a short while after that cliff-hanger ending in A Torch Against the Night which saw Elias dying, becoming a Soul Catcher, and staying tethered to the Waiting Place. Now, two months later, he is forced to make a reappearance when Laia of Serra is captured by his old friend, the Blood Shrike Helene, who hopes to use Elias to bring down his mother: the evil Commandant.
After Elias and Laia manage to escape, Helene is forced to return to the capital of Antium empty-handed. There, the mad Emperor Marcus controls Helene’s sister Livia with an iron-fist, punishing her for the Shrike’s errors.
Enraged that Helene hasn’t been able to destroy his foe, Marcus sends her to the naval city of Navium to put an end to Keris once and for all. If she fails to succeed again, Livia will pay the price.
Meanwhile, Laia is working tirelessly to stop the Nightbringer from obtaining the final piece of the Star and unleashing his jinn upon the Scholars. When she’s told that ‘the Beekeeper’ can help her in her cause, she journeys to Adisa, in the free lands of Marinn, with her brother Darin to find him.
Luckily, he finds her first, breaking her out of prison when the Marinn soldiers arrest her on arrival. He reveals himself as Musa and promises to help her in any way he can – as long as she assists in the Resistance.
However, as Laia draws closer to uncovering the dark truth, the Nightbringer is ready to stop her – most notably by burning down the Great Library of Adisa. Despite her efforts, Laia cannot save all the books, but she does manage to escape with a tome on the history of Augurs. Inside is a prophecy that points her to the owner of the last piece of the Star: the Blood Shrike, Helene!
“Everyone believes that nothing concerns them until the monsters are knocking on their doors!”Laia of Serra
In Navium, Helene faces dangers on all sides as the Karkuan warlock, Grimarr, relentlessly attacks the city. But once she learns that her sister is pregnant with the Empire’s future heir, she’s more determined than ever to end Keris Veturius.
Sadly for her (and for us readers), Keris is always one step ahead. After undermining Helene in the worst possible way and seizing control, it appears that the Shrike’s chances of success are futile.
But with the help of her friend’s, Harper and Dex, Helene is able to track down the Commandant’s father and plot a countermove that sees Grimarr forced to retreat and Keris finally imprisoned for treason.
The celebration is short-lived, however, when Helene hears that Livia has been poisoned, forcing her to rush back to Antium to cure her.
Elsewhere in the Waiting Place, Elias battles to keep his humanity. After the Nightbringer kills his friend and fellow Soul Catcher, Shaeva, Elias is left to release all the souls of the dead on his own.
Mauth, the ancient power who gives magic to the Soul Catchers, warns Elias about his ties to the human world, but Elias can’t let go of his former life – especially his love for Laia. Every time he leaves the Waiting Place to help someone he cares for, the barriers holding the ghosts at bay grow weaker and weaker, threatening to break.
Ultimately, his undoing comes when Laia needs him most.
After deciding to track down the Blood Shrike on her own, Laia is tricked by the Nightbringer and his jinn who show her the shocking truth that her mother, the Lioness, is still alive. And she is Cook!
TALK ABOUT PLOT-TWIST!!!
Laia is tortured by the visions, almost till the point of death, until Elias rushes to her side and whisks her to safety. But his aid comes at a price when the ghosts eventually break free of the Waiting Place, spilling into the Empire.
With no other way to stop the vengeful spirits, Elias is forced to give up his humanity and finally allow Mauth’s magic to fill him.
‘Curse this world for what it does to the mothers, for what it does to the daughters. Curse it for making us strong through pain and loss, our hearts torn from our hearts again and again. Curse it for forcing us to endure.’Helene the Blood Shrike
The book’s plot culminates when all three main characters head to Antium for a final battle.
After saving her sister, Helene learns that the Karkuan army is coming to attack the city. The Commandant, having escaped prison and weaseled her way back into court, stays eerily quiet. But Helene knows she’s just waiting for the right time to pounce.
That time comes during the heart of the fighting when Livia goes into early labour. Helene rushes to her sister’s side, allowing Keris the chance to help the Karkuans breach the city – her wicked plan all along.
As Livia begins to struggle, it’s Laia who jumps in to save the baby, having slipped into Antium with Cook’s help. She delivers the child safely, then swiftly disappears with the Blood Shrike’s rings which she believes are the final piece of the Star.
Alas, the Nightbringer proves her wrong by turning the rings to dust.
Distraught, Laia turns to Elias, who arrived in the city to expel the attacking ghosts. But without his humanity, Elias merely brushes off Laia’s pleas. In a last attempt to help her people, Laia leads the scholars to a secret escape tunnel.
Livia and the baby also escape through the tunnels, but Helene returns to fight for the city. She discovers Emperor Marcus pinned by blades after the Commandant slaughtered his men. He warns Helene that Keris has set up a new capital and named herself Empress, and then he begs the Shrike to end his suffering, which she does.
It’s the only scene where I felt any pity for Marcus at all and I praise Sabaa Tahir for it’s power.
In the last chapters, Helene is left facing the Karkuans alone, with all her men dead around her. Desperate to let her sister flee, she ultimately calls upon the Nightbringer for help. He agrees to assist if she gives him her Mask – the final piece of the Star.
Helene tears the Mask from her face to do so, but when the Nightbringer vanishes, leaving her to die, Cook sacrifices herself instead to allow Laia and Helene to escape. After thinking her mother was dead for years, it was a tragic moment for Laia to lose her all over again.
Why do you do this to us Sabaa?!
At least there was some slither of hope in the ending as Laia and Helene joined forces in the fight against the Nightbringer and the evil Commandant. The move sets the stage for the final book – and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!
The characters went through so much in this story; more so than in any of the other books, and there were plenty of reveals and twists to keep them on their toes.
I was slightly worried when Laia met Musa that his character would become another love interest (like Keenan) to distract her from Elias. But Musa was his own wonderful person with a twisty back-story. It fit perfectly to his personality.
I fully fell in love with Helene in this book. In the past two books I felt like she was just there; another stumbling block between the romance. But in Reaper, she became her own, strong-willed force-of-nature, and I was soooo invested in her story.
I also adored the relationship that blossomed between Helene and Harper, even if they didn’t end up together in the end – damn you Sabaa!! Still, there’s definitely potential for a happy ending somewhere down the line for the pair if Ms Tahir will allow it.
Compared to the women, I rarely cared for Elias in this book. His perspective wasn’t nearly as exciting as Helene’s or Laia’s, and his chapters felt like fillers almost right until the end. He did, however, learn the true story of the Nightbringer (that he and the jinn were once loving Soul Catchers until the Scholars killed his kind), which completely changed my perspective on the hateful villain.
The writing, as always, was beautiful, fast-paced and fierce. Tahir pours her heart and soul into these books, and you can really tell. I’ve seen some people comment on the change in her style, and although the prose in book three may not be as sweeping and lyrical as the first book, I think the essence still burns true.
My only small issue was the timeline. A whole lot of drama happens in Reaper, but months and months seem to fly by in what seems like a few short weeks. For instance, one moment Livia was pregnant, and the next she was giving birth! I understand that for the sake of the plot the story had to be propelled further in places, however sometimes it felt a tad too rushed.
Still, I absolutely loved the action!
Overall, A Reaper at the Gates is a brilliant addition to the Ember Quartet; a whirlwind of twists, jinn and bloodshed. I’ll be counting down the days till Tahir releases the final book!