Book Review: A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

30809786Beyond the Empire and within it, the threat of war looms ever larger.

The Blood Shrike, Helene Aquilla, is assailed on all sides. Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable, while the Commandant capitalizes on his madness to bolster her own power. As Helene searches for a way to hold back the approaching darkness, her sister’s life and the lives of all those in the Empire hang in the balance.

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 while hunting for a way to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would aid 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 will stop at nothing to ensure Elias’s devotion–even at the cost of his humanity.

So I’m not sure if this is the book or if this is me. Full disclosure: I’m in the middle of exams right now and haven’t been able to devote all my attention to what I’ve been reading. But even with that, the first 3/4 of this book just… didn’t really grab me. But the ending was a bonkers, action-packed ride and I’m certainly excited for what’s going to happen next.

Anyone who’s been on Goodreads for a while has probably heard the phrase second-book slump, and, even though this is obviously the third book, I feel that’s the most accurate way to describe how I feel about it. Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of good stuff going on in this book — the most obvious being the characterization and development of our three POV characters — but the plot felt more than a little muddled.

The plot felt very wander-y, with lots of going from one place to another, with not enough tension or forward momentum to really hook me into it until the third act. Unlike the first two books, which had clear plots and goals for the characters (escape Blackcliff! free Laia’s brother from Kauf!) this one, um, didn’t. It felt a lot like just shuffling the characters around to their starting points for the big finale that’s coming.

However, I will take this moment here to just talk about the third act because that was balls-to-the-wall insanity and I couldn’t flip fast enough. There was just! so! much! happening! and everything hurt and blew up and was amazing and painful.

The strongest part of this book, though, is the characters. They are the beating heart and soul of this series and I JUST FEEL FOR THEM. Way back in the first book, Laia frequently frustrated me and I thought she was a little wimpy and weak, but she has grown so much and she’s blossoming into this awesome badass leader person who I love so much and, if I dare say so myself, she’s stronger for having come from so far.

There isn’t much I can say about Elias without spoiling stuff, but I’ll say this much: while I’m not sure how I feel about where is character is going (and I really hope there’s going to be some twist and deep angst about what he’s doing in Book 4), it was so damn entertaining to read about. And it hurt so much. My precious soft ex-assassin baby.

But Helene is probably my favourite. Inside, she is a Big Soft Puppy, but on the outside, she is my Violent Queen. I just want her to be happy and retire to a nice comfy farm in the countryside with Avitas Harper and be happy She deserves so much more than what this cruel, terrible world is giving to her. I can’t wait to see what happens with her in the next book. If Sabaa Tahir hurts her, Sabaa Tahir is gettin’ hurt

Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about A Reaper at the Gates. If this was just a review of the plot, it would be two stars, maybe two and a half for that ending. If this was just a review of the characters, it would be four stars, because they’re all precious and wonderful and it hurts so bad but so good. But it’s kind of a mix of both, a weird-in-between book that I’m sure just kind of needs to be there so everyone’s in the right places for the final showdown. It could have been a lot worse as far as those kinds of books go, but it also could have been a lot better.

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