A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir | wonderful but lacking that special something

OVERALL: ★★★★/5

(Goodreads summary here.)

Okay, so this is probably going to be an unpopular opinion, but I was a little disappointed by this book. I know that my 4-star rating probably doesn’t seem like it shows that, but I wanted so much more from this book that I just didn’t feel like I got in the end.

When I read An Ember in the Ashes last summer, I picked up A Torch Against the Night as soon as I had finished Ember. I was so invested, and I absolutely adored both books. Laia, Elias, and Helene were such stunning characters with amazing arcs; it was everything I love about YA fantasy. The world was spectacularly built, and, even though you had questions about it, it was because the characters were still learning as well, which is the kind of element I love. I’m 110% down for learning alongside the characters about the secrets of the world.

Unfortunately, Reaper just didn’t do it for me. I wanted so badly to fall in love with it, but instead I just enjoyed it. I know it sounds odd, but I hope you understand the difference. There were parts that I really did love, but so much of it just fell short of what I was expecting. I went in thinking it was going to break my heart, since the first two books basically did and since that’s what everyone’s reviews were saying. But it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it is heartbreaking, but it didn’t break my heart. I think I just lost a lot of my investment in the characters, which really sucks. I think I probably should have reread Ember and Torch before I read this one, but I honestly can’t really be bothered to reread the first books in a series before I start the next one (I can’t really reread, period). It kind of sucks to lose passion for the characters, but I also kind of enjoy being reminded of what happened in the first books as I read a sequel. Maybe I would’ve remembered what it is I loved about the first books if I had done a reread, but I didn’t and there’s nothing I can do to change that now.

Another important thing to note: I took a break from this book about halfway through. As I mentioned in my review for it, I picked up The Upside of Unrequited because I didn’t have Reaper with me and ended up reading Upside more diligently than Reaper. That may have also hurt my reading experience with Reaper, but it also shows that I really wasn’t digging it. If I had been really into it, I wouldn’t have opted to read Upside over it as often as I did. However, when I did start reading Reaper again, I think I missed the world and its characters and blew through it, so maybe the break is really what I needed. Who can say?

Now on to the nitty gritty. I still love the characters. Of the three, Helene, without a doubt, reigns supreme in my heart. Her unfaltering loyalty, her commitment to her people, and her recognition of her flaws really resonate with me in ways that I don’t see very often. She’s not perfect, but she knows it and just tries to do her best, which is all you can ask of anyone. It makes her so much more real than a lot of other YA characters, ones from this series included.

On a different note, as much as I think Laia is brilliant, she had her moments where she got on my nerves. She’s a fiercely independent character who seems like she relies too much on others to get what she needs. I know that’s a bit contradictory to one of the main themes of the book, that sometimes the people around you are what helps you succeed, but sometimes Laia just seemed to wander into situations where she had to be saved, rather than saving herself. Which is fine, except that I wanted to see her take more control in her story. By the end, that’s exactly what she does, which I totally appreciate, A+ character development, but it just made getting there so much more frustrating for me.

And Elias. My sweet, sweet boy, what are you doing? He is as infuriating as he is lovable in this one. I know that’s kind of how he is, but his internal struggle throughout Reaper drove me crazy. I feel like he lost some of the selflessness developed in the first two books and began to focus too much on his own wants. Which is fine, I can totally get behind selfish characters and ones that learn that their desires matter too, but I feel like that’s not really what happened here. It was too big of a shift in character for me to really like it. Yes, Elias makes sacrifices just like Laia and Helene, but I would’ve liked to see him be more willing to make those sacrifices the way the other two are. I understand that they can’t all be the same, and that cookie-cutter “I’m willing to sacrifice everything for the greater good” characters can be a bit overused and boring, but I still think Elias began with that willingness, had it become a central aspect to his character, and then suddenly lost it, which I didn’t really like.

Plot-wise, I sometimes felt as though the action dragged a bit, which really sucked because the first two are incredibly fast-paced. Mostly, that’s the result of the nature of this narrative, as it does have more politics and internal strife, rather than external conflict. As much as I love all those aspects, they didn’t seem to flow as smoothly as they could have. It was almost like Tahir was so determined to deliver an action-packed book that she felt she had to interweave the two into the same scenes, when I think it may have been more beneficial to keep them more separate. Also, because the three main characters don’t interact as directly with one another, it slows the book down. The three stories are more distinct, which is fine, since I do want to know what is happening with all three, but it often means that the story lags a bit.

Tahir, as always, does a phenomenal job in not pulling any metaphorical punches. This book gets dark. She really delves into the realities of war, discrimination, and hatred. For that reason, given the current state of affairs, it really is powerful. She’s honest with you, which we all need, no matter how painful it is to see or read it. Sure, she does it in the first two books, but not to the same level she does here, and it makes the book even better.


For as much as I seem to criticize Reaper, I do really think it’s a fantastic novel. It was great to be back with characters I still adore in a world that’s cleverly and intriguingly built. But I still felt like something was missing. Some parts of the story felt a little forced to me, which is always irritating, but I do believe that Tahir knows what she is doing and sets herself up for a thrilling finale.

Have you read all the three books in the Ember quartet? Which one is your favorite? Are there any other sequels that you just didn’t feel like they loved up to the first book/s?

Keep reading,

Francesca M. Healy (1)


2 thoughts on “A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir | wonderful but lacking that special something

  1. Great review. I personally felt Laia had reliance issues even in the first book, so I’m not too surprised you felt that way here. (I haven’t read the second or third books though, so I wouldn’t know haha.) 😛

    Liked by 1 person

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