4 big takeaways from Sabaa Tahir’s A Reaper at the Gates

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Cover to A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir. Image via Razorbill

A Reaper at the Gates, the third installment in Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes series, continues the dramatic story of a young girl’s battle against a brutal empire.

A Reaper at the Gates is the third installment in Sabaa Tahir’s popular Ember in the Ashes series. These novels follow Laia, a young girl with strange magical abilities working to overthrow the brutal Martial Empire. There’s a lot more to the story than this, including the fact that she’s in love with a boy from that same Empire who also happens to now be a spirit-wrangling consort of death. If that weren’t enough she’s also hunted by both his former best friend, now the Emperor’s most powerful military leader. And there’s also an evil spirit bent on destroying the world.


Basically, if you haven’t read these books before, just bookmark this review and go start at the beginning. At this point, it’s too much to explain.

However, if you’re already a fan of the Ember series, continue right on. Because there’s a lot in this sequel to like. Here are my four biggest takeaways from A Reaper at the Gates.

This is very much a novel in the middle of things

The Ember in the Ashes series is set to be a quartet. So it’s not entirely surprising that A Reaper at the Gates ends with several cliffhangers. It’s full of lots of action, several big twists, a couple of deaths and an overall feeling of encroaching doom. However, that doesn’t mean that it feels entirely satisfying.

And let’s be honest: It can’t.

There’s another book coming, so most of the big character plot lines can’t be resolved. There are no answers to the ongoing relationship questions. Elias’ situation isn’t rectified. There are a ton of side quests, battles and  mini-adventures that feel as though they drag on too long. You’ll get extremely, extremely tired of people using “skies” as a pseudo-expletive. And most of the main characters only spend a few moments with one another.

As the novel concludes, things are so exciting — and the twists come so fast and furious — that it’s easy to forget we were treading quite a bit of water on the way to this ending. Here’s hoping the series’ final novel ties up some of the many loose ends still out there. Chief among them: Will the Nightbringer become something more than a narrative plot device? The novel’s final chapter makes it seem distinctly possible.

Helene emerges as the story’s strongest character

Helene only became a POV character in previous novel A Torch Against the Night, but she has rapidly evolved to become the Ember series’ most interesting voice. That trend continues in Reaper, as Helene struggles with her loyalty to her duty, her love for her people, and her hatred of the vicious Emperor she serves. She gets angry,  makes stupid decisions, fails and triumphs. In short: Helene is amazing.

Her evolving relationships with her fellow Black Guard members and her growing connection with Laia are fascinating. Her determination to protect her family, as well as her insistence that the Empire is still something worth fighting for, are noble. And Helen gets several of the most emotionally affecting scenes in the whole novel, including one self-sacrificing and utterly cinematic face off. Considering that her character ultimately started as an unrequited love interest for Elias, it’s truly remarkable how far she’s come. At this point, if there’s a hero of this story, it’s as likely to be Helene as anyone else.