A Reaper at the Gates, by Sabaa Tahir
The theme for the third installment in this riveting series is sacrifice, and more specifically sacrifice of one's humanity in order to protect loved ones. It is a paradox that is dealt with carefully here, although not with a satisfying conclusion. This book is just setting up what is bound to be a legendary ending.
I have loved An Ember in the Ashes series since it began and am attached to all of the characters. And it can be so hard to read because they suffer so very much, especially in this book! Each of the three main characters - Laia, Elias and Helena - are fighting their separate battles, and each loses something of themselves as they try to hold on to the small gains that they make. For a book that is so much about the tangled plot taking place over three separate cities, the story is really all about the characters. Although it was somewhat unsatisfactory since they are separated throughout the book, and basically every one of their interactions is kind of awful. Because everything goes from bad to worse in this book. Could they possibly be brought any lower?
Elias must accept his fate as the Soul Catcher, and in doing so foregoes all attachments to the outside world, including his love for Laia and any hope of a future, with her or at all.
Helena is learning more of her inner strength, which comes from a place of love. And yet she cannot let herself love, not in a way that she feels is selfish. She devotes all of her energy to keeping the last of her family alive, and in doing so might just save the Empire - but at what cost to the people of the Empire? And how much do I love her new slow-burn romance she's developing, but please please please let Helena finally allow herself some happiness, please? Could that be the ending of the series?
Laia regains a piece of her past and has her heart shattered all over again. This one hit me hard, and on top of it all she's lost her great love and is trying to overcome the betrayal she feels from men in general. At the end, though, you see there might just be a glimmer of something? Hope, maybe? I'm not holding my breath, though, because Tahir likes to play with my feelings too much.
The villains really make this book though. The Nightbringer is absolutely fascinating. More empathetic in this book? Maybe not exactly, but certainly in understanding his story, we understand his rage.
Keris is horrifying ... but so enticing. As a reader, I must know more! Her story is as yet untold, and you know there's going to be some terrible twists in there because Tahir likes to give us terrible twists.
Cook's story is meant to break your heart. She might not be a sympathetic character, but you can't help but cry for her and why she suffers.
And all throughout the book, there is a feeling of crushing hopelessness. As each endeavour fails, as each person is not able to come through, you sense that there is no way these brave little people can turn back the tide of evil. The ember is swiftly dying. And yet, there must be hope. They have to keep on going. Sign me up for the finale of this series, because I simply cannot go on until I know what happens to the entire world! And maybe I'm a little bit also on the side of the jinns?