A Reaper At The Gates by Sabaa Tahir Book Review

I now look towards Sabaa Tahir’s series if I need inspiring on how to make the characters in my books frightened and truly “scarred”.

A Reaper at the Gates is the third installment in the Ember in the Ashes series. And at the end of the last book, Laia of Serra was finally able to rescue her poor brother Darin from the nightmares of Kauf Prison, as well as a few hundred of their Scholar slaves. The look of whimsy and happy sadness Darin gives her at the end left me wanting to hug my own sister, which is quite amazing if you knew our kind of relationship (we don’t hate each other, we just get on each other’s nerves sometimes) and now the story’s continuing, where they’re now going to try to make Serric steel with Darin as the main mechanic, but things are going slow after his several months of brutalities. Elias Veturius had to turn over a new leaf in order to free Darin. He is now the new Soul Bringer of the world where the dead go to move on, and where the jinn, old souls trapped since the beginning of history, are seeing a crack in their cage and smelling freedom. Meanwhile, Helene has only one member of her family left alive, and she stumbles upon a secret that if revealed could kill her. She now has to travel to the city of Navium and try to make sure Marcus and The Commandant do not win the support of any leaders and obtain their armies. But there’s always something, just a little something, amiss in this world, especially with those two wretched worms.

How’s a good way to describe Sabaa Tahir’s series with one trait? The main antagonist is The Commandant, Keris Veturia, and I have read a lot of books with despicable people in them, but if she managed to appear in front of me, I’d do one of two things: Either run for my life as fast as humanly possible, or grab a knife and try to stab her as fast and painful as I could, even if an entire crowd was watching me. I’m generally a timid person, but the Commandant is more menacing than Levana of The Lunar Chronicles, Bellatrix and Umbridge from Harry Potter, and Hatch from Michael Vey. Maybe even Warden Norton from Shawshank. She makes me furious to the point where I have to remind myself this is fiction, or else I won’t be able to stay still. Truly effective villains can turn a peace lover into a death penalty advocate (temporarily at least).

But I can say all those things for all the books so far. Even if the Commandant were as horrible as ever, that doesn’t a whole book make. Tahir manages to keep up her talent of balancing (what used to be two and is now three) very different points of view and very different situations in one story without ever driving our patience (well, most of the time). When a cliffhanger for the next chapter with someone’s point of view comes up, another chapter arrives, but almost always there’s something we’re really anticipating already going on, so we don’t mind the pauses. That was really magical about the other entries. I’ll admit, Elias’ point of view is a little too fantasy-heavy this time, and during the first half, a few things are a little unclear to me. That caused an occasional drag. I was also worried the add-on of villains and citizenship lessons about this would that were given would be a little too convoluted since we never met them before now, and having to learn all this new info would undermine the thrills, the fury, and the fear in this wretched world. Thankfully, the Karkauns utilize the spotlight they are given here, because boy, their strength is frightening. Tahir creates a war fantasy with the feel of death and smashing heads so close by, you could swear this was what being a soldier in one of the World Wars was like.

I had at first a mixed reaction to Darin not immediately being able to make Serric steel, primarily because of the months he spent in confinement clouding some of his memory. It got to the point where I just wanted to yell at him but he really is just another ant, another human, and the book series allows us to also use our imagination at what transgressed while we were in Laia’s perspective…Ooogh. It’s not pretty imagining the abuse Darin was put through in that prison.

By the time I was halfway finished the book, each perspective had me up for some long hours in the night, not just from reading but from imagining what could be on the next page. The last one-hundred pages made me speechless. They’re just perfect literature!

I really need to finish this other book I got from my library before I get A Sky Beyond The Storm for Christmas. How stupid am I that I’ve procrastinated for this long?!

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