Reaper at the Gates: Relevant and Read-worthy

If you’re not into Young Adult books (you’re missing out), but okay, I get it. However, this is a series you should seriously consider taking the time to read. Written by Sabaa Tahir, A Reaper at the Gates is the third book out of a quartet, preceded by An Ember in the Ashes and A Torch Against the Night. A brief summary of the series: It follows three main characters: Laia, a Scholar; Elias, a mask (elite and ruthless warrior trained by the empire) turned Soul Catcher (mystical ghost stuff?); and Helene, a mask turned Blood Shrike (right hand of the emperor). In the Empire, the Martials are the ruling class, led by the emperor who has an army of “auxes” and the Masks who wear silver masks and train for twenty years to be elite and ruthless servants of the empire. The Martials rule over the Scholars, who are native to the land, and enslave many of them. Laia is a scholar who infiltrates Blackcliff, the military academy where the Masks are trained, as part of a resistance effort against the Martials. Elias deserts, while Helene continues to serve the empire out of her sense of duty and love for the people, though she also struggles with the actions of the Empire. There’s a lot that happens in these books, but that’s the gist of it. Here’s the B&N synopsis of ARATG:
“Beyond the Martial Empire and within it, the threat of war looms ever larger.
Helene Aquilla, the Blood Shrike, is desperate to protect her sister’s life and the lives of everyone in the Empire. But she knows that danger lurks on all sides: Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable and violent, while Keris Veturia, the ruthless Commandant, capitalizes on the Emperor’s volatility to grow her own power–regardless of the carnage she leaves in her path.
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 in the hunt to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would help 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 demands his complete surrender–even if that means abandoning the woman he loves.”
*potential minor spoilers ahead* Laia’s story and the story of the Scholars is why I say this book is worth the read. The Scholars, since their fallout with the jinn a looong time ago (magic stuff) and eventual downfall to the Martials, have been downtrodden and enslaved. In the Empire, they are second-class. In Marinn, they are living in refugee camps outside of the city. Everywhere they go, they are looked down upon as lesser. Throughout all of the books, Laia struggles to watch her people treated this way. She hurts because they are treated as so much less than they are, and in ARATG they are being specifically targeted and killed – one difficult topic Tahir tackles is genocide – as Keris systematically attempts to wipe out the Scholars. One paragraph from Laia’s POV as she witnesses the refugee camps outside Marinn stood out to me:
“Why is it always us? All of these people – so many children – hunted and abused and tormented. Families stolen, lives shattered. They come all this way to be rejected yet again, sent outside the city walls to sleep in flimsy tents, to fight over paltry scraps of food, to starve and freeze and suffer more. And we are expected to be thankful. To be happy. So many are – I know it. Happy to be safe. To be alive. But it’s not enough – not to me.”
This is a much needed read – especially when the SCOTUS just upheld the travel ban, or should I say Muslim ban? There are many things in ARATG that makes it a great read, but if you’re not into YA, the story Sabaa Tahir shares of discrimination against the Scholars is why you should read it anyway. Tahir tackles genocide, discrimination against POC, and the refugee crisis. The series received new cover designs that now feature Elias, Helene, and Laia – which Tahir was super supportive of because she wanted Laia to be on the cover as a WOC. In addition, Tahir has a page on her blog called “what you can do to fight hate” dedicated to people wanting to take action. Tahir is writing relevant stories about the current U.S policies and attitudes towards refugees and POC.
Aside from that, I really loved ARATG because of Helene’s character arc. I hadn’t liked her as much in the previous two books, but she gets a lot more chapters dedicated to her this time around – and they were great. Even though Keris and Marcus continue to throw trial after trial at her, she just keeps getting back up and every single time she is fiercer because of it. Helene goes through so much in this book, and my favorite quote was from her:
“Curse this world for what it does to the mothers, for what it does to the daughters. Curse it for making us strong through loss and pain, our hearts torn from our chests again and again. Curse it for forcing us to endure.”
Helene faces so many terrible things, what happens to her family and sister, and the burden of leadership – but she really does endure and comes back stronger each time. Also she is so freaking badass and chooses a hammer as her war weapon. I mean, come on what’s more badass than a war hammer?
I also loved the relationship that formed between Laia and Helene – granted it was a bit shaky most of the book but by the end it showed a lot of promise. I feel like we don’t get enough strong friendships between girls in adventure and fantasy YA novels, so I really appreciated this.
I struggled to get into Elias’s POV and I didn’t like his arc as much in this one as I did in the previous two books, and his chapters were the low points of the book for me. I felt like his chapters were rather slow and I spent the whole time wanting to get back to the action.
To conclude, I liked this series a lot already, but this book was definitely the best one yet and once again, you should read this series!

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