Ever since I devoured An Ember in the Ashes over three years ago, this series has had me addicted like heroin. I’ve now read the previous three books all twice. And as the big conclusion, I waited for this book for literally years.
Laia of Serra has at this point been through more trauma than Harry Potter ever survived. She picked herself back up after her grandparents were murdered and her brother taken to prison, survived as a spy in the brutal, unforgiving Blackcliff, survived a betrayal from The Resistance, saved her love Elias Veturius from a huge public execution, she travelled across the world, she broke her brother out of prison, she travelled the world with dangerously faulty and draining invisibility powers, she’s saved Scholar slaves from The Martials, she’s shown herself to her perceived enemy to help The Blood Shrike (Helene)’s sister give birth, and all of that, plus the extra horrors she, Elias and Helene (or The Soul Catcher and The Blood Shrike as they now call themselves through and through) have suffered will have been for nothing if their mortal enemies, the seemingly indestructible thousand-year-old demon The Nightbringer, and the irredeemable vicious Commandant, get the upper hand even one more time.
If what’s left of the army that defies Keris Veturia is to win, Laia must find out the Nightbringer’s weakness, something someone somewhere knows. Elias, er, The Soul Catcher, meanwhile, is under amnesia from all he and Laia have gone through, and The Blood Shrike must protect the only family she has left and try to stay ahead of her foes. So that the sky beyond the storm can finally show itself.
Like Victoria Aveyard’s War Storm, which was coincidentally also the fourth and final book to her fantasy series, A Sky Beyond The Storm brings the tragedy, terror, anger, and hope beyond the bloodshed it promised, but also pales in comparison to the others because of being too cluttered.
Here’s my biggest complaints about this book, which stem from the ‘cluttered’ idea: One, it doesn’t do a good job of transitioning us back into this world. There was over a two-and-a-half year publication difference between this and A Reaper At The Gates. I started reading this book, and 70 pages in, I realized I was a bit lost. I forgot about some of the side characters, what the significance of, say, an armlet was, and the writing didn’t have the welcoming feel that made me pick right back up and devour the last three. I actually put this book down and reread Reaper at the Gates to properly remember.
Two, the best thing about the last three books, especially the first, my personal favourite, was the effectiveness of Keris Veturia as the big antagonist. Yet this book, and there was a hint of this in the last book too, ends up painting The Nightbringer as the almighty bad guy. There’s talk of all the deadly magic he’s unleashed and how he’ll open up a doorway to hell, but let’s be serious. Keris always has been the true antagonist, the true demon of Tahir’s world. The Nightbringer is all talk and no show and The Commandant is reverse. Tahir seemed to be trying to sell the importance of being scared of The Nightbringer on me, and it was undermining the highly anticipated final chapter of her series. We see The Nightbringer’s a troubled being, but with feelings. Keris is the one behind the tortures, murders, and massacres, and she’s put to the side? The jinn are powerfully deadly, but I always found it weird whenever their magic superseded the brutality of pure swordfight.
This all sounds extremely harsh, especially for a positive review. In fact, is it even positive anymore? Is a positive grade salvageable after all that? Well, after getting through the third book again, and I picked this back up, I devoured the first 200 pages in one sitting. Even when I disliked the times the Nightbringer came into conversations, the moments between the characters, loves, friends or family, that were precious for how little I felt they’d have left, were compensatable. Something is always happening. There’s loads of travel, politics, searching with only the tiniest of clues, and the development of Elias trying to relearn himself truly does feel like a triumph of the heart against the most powerful of curses. This book is all about pure love, of how Helene battles constantly between being happy with Avitas Harper, the man who loves her and she loves back, and being the one who prevails in combat because nothing distracts her. How Laia battles with the possibility of Elias just not being the one who danced with him at the Serra Moon Festival. How everyone who’s survived on the battlefield so far has lost almost everyone, if not everyone, who they’ve ever loved, and how with Keris’ army having so many more fighters, maybe loss is inevitable.
These books have always been full of bloodshed. After three books, you just can’t imagine many warriors left, and those who are maybe too distraught with all they’ve survived to keep forging on. If this book pulls punches, then I am Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s still full of fury, at not just the actions of the antagonists and their despicable triumphs but at the general hatred of war that brings stories like this to life all over our world. And the big final battle was quite epic, as well as an act of peace that made me think a little as to if I would’ve done the same thing. It made me ask myself if forgiveness or hatred was more powerful within me when it came to the antagonists of this world and my world. This whole journey has felt like a version of the second world war, only with so much of a bigger outreach of the Nazi army and the protagonists being a crouched group of rebels within the belly of the beast of Germany everywhere.
I liked the series better when it was more straightforward in the first two, but I’m going to miss these people. I’m also, however, going to keep this series close to me for a long time and I haven’t the faintest clue how Sabaa Tahir can top the cruelty and beauty of all this in her next already-announced book.