‘A Reaper at the Gates’ by Sabaa Tahir


Helene Aquilla, the Blood Shrike, is desperate to protect her sister’s life and the lives of everyone in the Empire. Yet danger lurks on all sides. Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable and violent, while Keris Veturia, the ruthless Commandant, capitalises on the emperor’s volatility to grow her own power – regardless of the carnage she leaves in her path.
Far to the east, Laia of Serra knows that the fate of the world lies not in the machinations of the Martial court, but in stopping the Nightbringer. During the hunt to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would help her, and she 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. However, in doing so, he has vowed himself to an ancient power that demands his complete surrender – even if that means abandoning the woman he loves. 

About the book

‘The Ember Quartet’ is an excellent series in terms of characters. Sabaa Tahir meticulously works on her characters’ individual arcs. The difference between Helene, Elias, and especially Laia from the beginning of the series to where they are now is astounding. The best character work is so subtle that readers don’t even notice it’s happening and that is what Sabaa Tahir does every, single time. With that being said, the climax that ‘A Torch Against the Night’ ended on, and the anticipation for what she would do with that character, was completely killed when that character barely appeared in ‘A Reaper at the Gates’. There is much-wasted potential and anticipation for something that never happened. A new character who is really interesting was introduced in this book, and not enough was really done with him either. On top of that, many readers disliked Elias’ story arc and where it’s headed. However, many still love Laia and Helene’s storylines, especially the role Laia has stepped into and the politically heavy nature of Helene’s story arc.
The main plot of ‘A Reaper at the Gates’ picks up where things left off with the second book, and the author introduces a Nightbringer’s point of view (POV) chapter to get things started. After that, we move on with our three POVs, except for the very last chapter where the Nightbringer returns to end things in style. There is even more death and destruction in this book, but it is not as pointless as it was in the second one. The plot lines of the three POVs are equally eventful.
That being said, the plot overall is really well constructed. The second half especially is explosive and gripping. Sabaa Tahir nails her endings every single time. There are a lot of things happening with the plot. Even though readers may feel a bit lost at times, they never feel bored, and in a Young Adult fantasy novel that has nearly 500 pages, that’s so important.
The pacing of the story is also reduced to a much better level with this one. Tahir takes her time building up to the big ending, leaving no stone unturned. There is no lack of twists throughout the book. She’s also given more weight to world-building compared to the first two books, which is always nice.
‘A Reaper at the Gates’ truly brings this series home. For a penultimate book, it did everything right, by preparing an excellent atmosphere and leaving enough room for unpredictable, mysterious possibilities for the final book.
One of the best things about this book is how much Sabaa Tahir has increased the scope of her world. We’re taken to so many new places which are simply amazing. There is a lot of expansion on politics with the Mariners and the Warlocks. Whilst the first and second books were quite contained, in this book, we follow the characters across the span of the Empire. In ‘A Reaper at the Gates’, the world-building is expanded and more mythology and information around the mythology have been added as the Jinn begin to stir.
This book proves there’s still a story to be told and new hearts to break and as always, there’s a powerful cliffhanger that keeps readers waiting to see what will come next.

Memorable quotes

“Curse this world for what it does to the mothers, for what it does to the daughters. Curse it for making us strong through loss and pain, our hearts torn from our chests again and again. Curse it for forcing us to endure”
“Hope is stronger than fear. It is stronger than hate”
“You are my temple. You are my priest. You are my prayer. You are my release”
“Love. I sigh. Love is joy coupled with misery; elation bound to despair. It is a fire that beckons me gently and then burns when I get too close. I hate love. I yearn for it. And it drives me mad”
“I wonder if my entire life will be a series of moments in which I realise I’m an idiot long after I can actually do anything about it. Will I ever feel like I know what I’m doing?”
“Strange, how silence can speak as loudly as a scream”
“The stories we tell have power, of course. But the stories that go untold have just as much power”
“Skies save me from the men in my life and all the things they think they know” 

“I have survived this feeling before, and I will survive it again. In this fiery hellscape of a world, this mess of blood and madness, justice exists only for those who take it. I’ll be damned if I’m not one of them”
“There is a price for greed and violence. We do not always know who will pay for it. But for good or ill, it will be paid”
“Because I know this feeling sweeping through me all too well, the feeling that all my effort, all I have worked for, means nothing. That everything and everyone is a lie. That all is cruel and unforgiving and that there is no justice”