Mini Review: A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

Released on June 12, 2018, A Reaper at the Gates is the third installment in Sabaa Tahir’s New York Times Bestselling Ember Quartet. Described as “thrilling and hard to put down”, A Reaper at the Gates promises to ensnare readers in the highest-stakes book in the quartet yet.

Beyond the Martial Empire and within it, the threat of war looms ever larger. Helene Aquilla, the Blood Shrike, is desperate to protect her sister’s life and the lives of everyone in the Empire. But she knows that danger lurks on all sides: Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable and violent, while Keris Veturia, the ruthless Commandant, capitalizes 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 the fate of the world lies not in the machinations of the Martial court, but in stopping the Nightbringer. But in the hunt to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would help 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 demands his complete surrender–even if that means abandoning the woman he loves.

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I have never been the biggest fan of this series, but I keep coming back to it because Tahir’s quality of writing is always impressive, even if the story itself is always somewhat lacking. A Reaper at the Gates is no exception – between the sluggish plot, the sidelining of Elias, and the overall sense that this book was just filler between books 2 and 4 in the quartet, A Reaper at the Gates was more than a little bit of a disappointment.

Elias’ story arc was a huge source of dissatisfaction for me in this one. He underwent little to no character development in this one – perhaps even regressing a towards his previous Mask self instead – which was disappointing to say the least. And like many readers, I was saddened by the path he chooses to take, which by the end of the book seemed meaningless and unimportant, sidelining him from the center of the action.

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Furthermore, Tahir can’t seem to maintain a straight timeline in A Reaper at the Gates, resulting in more than a little confusion for the reader, who is constantly forced to decipher when things are actually happening – since nothing happens in a logical, chronological order. This problem is especially evident in Elias’s chapters – for example, a certain plot element takes place in little more than a day, but it’s spread over several split chapters while the plots of the other POVs in between spread over weeks. This is a problem I’ve encountered in other novels with split POV’s before, but never in Tahir’s writing, which was a serious negative for me, and shone as a definite weakness of this story.

Finally, a short comment on the pace of the plot – it was slow. Between the constant travel to different locations across the Empire, and a plethora of lengthy, dull conversations between characters, everything about this story seemed to just be dragging itself forward, reinforcing the notion that this story was little more than filler to set up the fourth book.

Overall, A Reaper in the Gate by Sabaa Tahir just fell really flat. The story it was trying to tell did not come across as purposeful or organized, the characters followed predictable and generally disappointing arcs that saw character regression, rather than progression, and the plot itself was so slow it could almost be described as painful (2/5).

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