3 out of 5 stars
After a fantastically strong start in An Ember in the Ashes and an equally sequel, A Torch Against the Night, my hopes for A Reaper at the Gates were sky high. We didn’t quite get there.
Reaper picks up mid-action, with our heroine Laia scrambling to find allies and defeat the Nightbringer jinn before he has the powerful Martial caste carrying out his whims in a full-scale war. Former warrior Elias remains trapped by his fate as Soul Catcher, desperate to wield magic but unwilling to pay its price: his humanity. Helene, frenemy to all, wages her own battle against the Nightbringer from inside the system, trying to hold together the world she’s always known.
Here’s something I rarely say: This book has too much magic. It’s strayed from the very cool and unique Roman Empire-esque military society of the first two books and wandered waaaaaaay into ghosts. Yes, ghosts. Elias, whose fate as Soul Catcher was never exciting, is dragged (with us in tow) through about a thousand pages of The Waiting Place. His enemies are many: the jinn, the ghosts, even Ma’atha, God of Death, who Elias now serves but whose magic will take away what Elias used to be. And they talk so much. Is this what hell is like? Endless pages of whining on in slow, overwrought explanation of things you were already trying to get away from? Poor Elias. Snore.
Laia’s arc has also become a bit stale here. She still scrappy and fierce, but deliberately small-minded. Her character doesn’t want to be a leader – so, of course, she is. Unless you’re new around here. But Laia is taking her sweet-ass time coming to realize what we’ve all known since page 25 of the first book.
Helene is the only character I really care about. She is and is not the enemy of Laia and Elias’ cause; they’re cars on different roads heading to the same place. As Blood Shrike, leader of the military and second to the Emperor, she maintains a balance between power and sabotage. (Never mind that they’re all still basically children, leading a world of adults. Unless you’re still new around here.)
This book had way too much Waiting Place in it. It’s an in-between realm, where still-alive Elias helps ghosts pass from this word to the next. He hates the job and he sucks at is, or he sucks at the job because he hates it, so things go awry – repeatedly. It’s sucks for everyone: Elias, the ghosts, us.
I thought this series was a trilogy, and this the last book. So I expected more progress on the story, after so much was in the first two books. Instead this one felt expository; a review of the principles of Tahir’s world. Then we’ll get to the good stuff, in book four.