The third book in the An Ember in the Ashes series, A Reaper at the Gates brings Sabaa Tahir’s dangerous world to a crescendo as her characters are faced with hard to swallow decisions. [major spoilers within!]
Sabaa Tahir’s highly anticipated third book, A Reaper at the Gates, had big boots to fill after the impactful second book, A Torch Against the Night, which it managed to surpass. With two years between the second and third books’ releases, it’s no wonder that library hold lists were bursting with people requesting it.
Well worth the wait after the whirlwind at the end of the second book, A Reaper at the Gates tone and pace match that of its predecessors. With multiple points of views and storylines going at once while the characters are all scattered, one recurring theme that stood out most was that of the power of love and the sacrifices that are made surrounding it.
Going in depth while looking at this theme means that there are major spoilers for A Reaper at the Gates along with the first two books of the series below. If you haven’t had the chance to read it and don’t want to know what happens, I suggest a trip to the local bookstore, library, audible, or perhaps your favorite e-reader supplier first.
From Nightbringer to Helene, almost everyone had decisions to make that had major consequences for their actions. Helene Aquilla, now known as the Blood Shrike, having already watched her family die, has to choose between a battle being fought and being there for the birth of her nephew.
Her sole remaining family member, Livia, has been forced to marry Emperor Marcus and Helene believes that Livia’s only chance for survival is for her son to be born to be the next emperor. The plan, to keep Livia safe, crumbles as she gives birth during the battle for Antium.
Because she chose to stay with her sister, she wasn’t there to fight, leaving Keris Veturia the opening she needed. Antium fell, the Emperor is dead, the treasury is gone along with the Paters. Her nephew, the new Emperor, lives, along with her sister, but around her everything else has been destroyed.
Not only that, but at the end of the book Helene chooses being the Blood Shrike above all else, closing herself off from Harper after sharing a kiss. As much as she wanted to give in and allow herself intimacy, she put her duty first. She is no longer Helene Aquilla, girl who desperately wants someone to love her, but the Blood Shrike. Nothing matters except keeping her nephew safe.
After three books, we finally learn what, exactly, is going on with the Nightbringer and his tendency to backstab those around him. In his journey to gather all of the pieces of the star, he has used both Laia and Keris for his own gains, most notably when he tricked Laia into thinking he was Keenan, a rebel, in order to get her piece of the star.
Revealed in this book is the fact that he is Keris’ master, that he is in control. Throughout the book Nightbringer thwarts Keris’ plans by helping Laia, who begrudgingly accepts his help, falling for his trap once again when she puts her faith in him.
Mentioning the theme of love and sacrifice, we learn that Nightbringer would do anything to free his own kind, even after a thousand years. His unyielding love is magnified in his fervor for revenge on the Scholars and Augrs, lying in wait for the perfect opportunity to strike back and bring back his people.
After being able to ruminate in the aftermath of A Reaper at the Gates, the Nightbringer’s reveal at the end of the book brought about an immense feeling of empathy in regards to the lengths that he went for his people, his children. His overall arc throughout the series leading into the fourth book is the most interesting aspect because his reveal changed how I viewed every single one of his decisions.
Laia’s mother, Mirra, is revealed to not only be alive, but none other than Cook. While in the waiting place searching for Elias, Laia comes in contact with the jinn, who give her visions of her mother’s misdeeds and darker past.
Throughout the series thus far, we’ve heard differing views on Mirra of Serra, the Lioness, from those who saw her as a good leader and those who saw her as an unrelenting force. As the leader of the resistance, the Lioness’ decisions had a wider ripple effect across the series than we initially thought.
In Laia’s vision from the jinn, she learned how cold and calculating her mother had been. Laia watched in horror as the jinn revealed that it was her own mother who killed not only her older sister, Lis, but her father as well. While she did it as an act of mercy, in a way, to save them from being tortured while being capture, she also killed them because they weren’t strong enough to survive the brutality to come.
By killing her husband and child, Mirra sacrificed her love, her humanity, for the resistance. Currently, as Cook, Mirra continues to keep Laia at a distance because she believes that she is no longer Mirra, because Mirra died on the same day that she killed her family.
During A Torch Against the Night, Elias Veturius dies but becomes a Soul Catcher. He has a mentor, Sheava, who had barely begun to teach him how to hone his powers enough to help ghosts cross over when she died, leaving him to fend for himself.
Despite his attempts at helping Laia throughout ARatG, each time he left the Waiting Place the ghosts became more and more unruly and restless until finally they broke out into the real world leaving Elias with no choice but to give in and truly become the Banu Al-Mauth.
He is able to spend time with Laia, though in a dreamlike state, telling her “If I seem different, remember that I love you. No matter what happens to me.” Elias knew that in order to stop the ghosts from taking over and possessing everyone that he’d have to do the one thing he didn’t want to: say goodbye to Laia.
The price Elias pays to let the Banu Al-Mauth take control over him, to strip him of his humanity and love, is a high one. Him sacrificing everything he was, could be, is devastating to read especially when Banu Al-Mauth comes face to face with Laia and he feels nothing except a lingering remembrance of feeling.
Without an explanation, Laia is left alone and heartbroken among the death and destruction not only the ghosts had wrought, but the Karkauns who had decimated Antium. Not only had she been double-crossed once more by the Nightbringer, but she’d left her brother Darin behind and Elias has returned to the Waiting Place, a shell of who he once was.
A Reaper at the Gates ends much like most penultimate chapters in any media series: that all hope is lost, and there is seemingly no escape from that fate. Nightbringer making sure that the saviors that the Augr Cain had chosen were beaten, broken, and isolated insured his people’s ascension into the world of the living once more to be the beginning of the end.
As of right now, the fourth installment of the An Ember in the Ashes series is untitled, but set to come out sometime in 2019. Until then we have plenty of time to ruminate over everything that happened thus far and wondering how Elias, Helene, and Laia can change the tide now that Nightbringer has freed his people and how anyone will survive the coming war.