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.
I honestly don’t even know where to start with this review – I loved the fist two books, but I did not enjoy this book. I know that I am in the minority with this opinion, but this book had several problems and overall seemed to suffer from the dreaded middle book slump that we often see in series.
The pacing of the book was slow until the last 100 pages (it is 480 pages total, which is frankly 380 pages too long). I kept putting it down out of sheer frustration. Honestly, the only thing that kept me going was the fact that this was a buddy read and I had a schedule to keep to whilst reading it.
The last 100 pages read at a similar pace as the first two; it was filled with non-stop, neck breaking action. But the road we took as readers to get to the last 100 pages, and the road our characters took to get there, was filled with non-stop frustration! For the entire book, it felt as if our characters were moving back and forth across the author’s game board, with no clear direction and no volition:
- No volition or power: Elias, Helene, and Laia lack volition throughout the entire book. They move back and forth across the world, reacting to things after they have happened without having any clear direction or plan.
- Elias shirks his responsibilities in The Waiting Place, running in and out of The Waiting Place as he does everything except what he is supposed to do – help the spirits move on.
- Helene moves around the country, reacting to one military crisis after another, rather than having a clear plan and executing it.
- Laia has no idea what the Nightbringer is up to, so she bounces around the country, dragging her brother after her, without any clear plans except that she knows she must stop the Nightbringer but she’s not sure how to do it.
It was utterly frustrating to bounce from one point of view to another as we watched our characters get thrown from one mess to another, with only the ability to react. This was a complete reversal from the first two books. The first two books were full of choices: our characters were put in positions where they had the freedom to choose what path they took. Here, it felt as though our characters lacked volition for the entire book; they were simply existing in the world while the action unfolded around them and oftentimes off-camera.
- Weak Secondary Characters: The secondary characters were weak and often ignored.
- We get to see more of Laia’s brother, Darin, but he is always on the sidelines and in the background. He feels so underdeveloped and underused as a character.
- Tahir introduces us to several new characters in this book as well, but again we get just a glimpse of their backgrounds and motivations. It feels as though Tahir introduces us to a cast of characters that will be vital in the last book, but she doesn’t want us to know why or how just yet.
- Weak Villains: For the majority of the book, we (the readers) as well as our three main characters (Elias, Helene, and Laia) are unclear of the motivations of the villains, the Commandant and the Nightbringer. We don’t know what they’re up to or what they’re planning – we just know that they’re the bad guys and we’re not supposed to trust them. As a result, the two villains felt flat for the entire book. By the time I got to the end of the book and got a clearer picture of the Nightbringer as a character (his background and his motivation) I just didn’t care. In fact, I was rooting for him to succeed by the end of the book because I was so frustrated with our three main characters.
Overall, my experience reading this third installment of the quartet series was full of frustration. I still love this world and will absolutely read the fourth book, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with this installment.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Honestly, I was disappointed by this book. I went into it with high hopes since I’ve enjoyed the other books in this series and generally like Tahir’s writing style, but I struggled through this one. The plot is hesitant at best, and the constant perspective shifts were difficult to navigate. In the previous books it seemed to flow more naturally, but in this one it feels like all of the characters are just milling around for the vast majority of the story. The novel lives in that gray area of middle-book-land: just enough to tide us over until the final installment, but not enough action to further the plot.
Perhaps my biggest complaint is that the characters (mostly Elias and Laia) lack agency. They do not have a clear mission or a set of steps they’re trying to take to achieve a goal; for the most part they are just reacting to situations other, somewhat secondary, characters have created. We as readers, along with the protagonists, are kept in the dark throughout the story which is extremely frustrating. Perhaps that is the intent and we are meant to feel what Laia and Helene are struggling with, but that does not make it an enjoyable experience.
That being said, Tahir continues to excel in writing action sequences and there are a handful of twists that elevate the story. We also get more of the history and mythology of the world, which I really enjoyed.
I have no idea how the next book is going to wrap everything up because it’s all a bit of a mess. I’m still unclear on what the ultimate goal is for our protagonists (how is that possible after three books?) since everything was left unresolved and they did nothing but fail throughout most of this book. I’m going to read the final installment, but right now I’m not happy about it.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Title: A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes #3)
Publisher: Razorbill (June 12th, 2018)
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Fiction, Dystopian
Read… very slowly while… trying not to get too mad at Elias Venturius’ stupidity and horrible decision making skills.
Purchase your copy here.
Author: Sabaa Tahir