In keeping with the title, the third installment of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes quartet is the most grim yet. However, I feel that the slow buildup to the excellent plot twist wasn’t quite justified. It took me several weeks to finish the book, so by then the grand revelation at the end didn’t feel earthshaking. Even the apocalyptic theme felt forced. In order to make an apocalyptic book intense, there must be enough successes for your readers to hope–to sit on the edge of their seats, waiting–for victory, and then it is stolen. But Reaper was filled with failure after failure, so that the final loss didn’t feel as terrible as it could have.
The plot twist, while not worth 300 pages of buildup, was good. I must say I hadn’t seen it coming–the few hints were well hidden in chapters of semi-boring action.
As with the plot, my biggest issue in this book was the fall of Antium, rise of the Nightbringer, and the characters’ arcs feeling contrived. The Nightbringer’s reasons for destroying the world don’t seem to hold up, since the idea of him “not forgetting” his people’s fall is a stretch to comprehend. When mortals are hurt, the first thing they want to do is forget about it.
However, it’s fun to watch Keris Veturia, while a formidable enemy, completely and thoroughly servile to his devices without knowing it. As a trickster, the Nightbringer’s character works very well–though he doesn’t seem like much of a world-destroyer.
Another contrived thing was Helene and Avitas’s relationship. Their working partnership was defined, but the scene at the end where they kiss feels extremely out of nowhere with no emotional intimacy to precede it. How could Helene, too, have gone from thinking she could not live without him to pushing him away in minutes? It doesn’t make sense. It felt awkward, like the author drove into a parking space and immediately backed out.
Another disappointment regarding the Nightbringer is the lack of definition around the Jinn. There are no firm physical descriptions for us to associate the jinn with, except an old black stone city that Elias roamed in. The Nightbringer assumes Keenan’s form, and in his true form is a typical hole of darkness (?)–unremarkable. Unlike Tolkein’s fleshed out creatures, there’s nothing clear about the jinn (or any of Tahir’s magical creatures).
However, the one golden part of the book for me is Elias’s battle with Mauth. Mauth is an interesting figure–almost Godlike, yet with a stone cold, near cruelty that makes him undefinable. It is Elias’s words to the immortal, when he gives up his humanity to become the “Chosen of Death,” that struck me.
“Why me?” I ask. “Why do we have to become less human instead of you becoming more so?”
That, I remember, is the wonder of the Gospel. In every religion, in every myth since the Epic of Gilgamesh, people must lose themselves, transcend their humanity, to become Divine. Just like Mauth explains, immortal beings can’t die. That means men must try to emulate the superior (immortality) instead of bringing immortals to the inferior (death).
Jesus is the only being who becomes human rather than requiring humans to become immortal. THEREFORE, Jesus is the prime example of Human–the Second Adam– and as we become like Jesus, we become more human. We become who we truly are. EVERYONE believes that “for God to like me, I have to give up who I am.” “To be in a relationship with God, I have to get rid of my identity.” “To love God, I have to lose myself.” And there is sacrifice in the Christian life. However, in Jesus, we become more of who we are instead of less. In Jesus, we gain identity instead of giving up identity. Unlike the “Oneness” between Elias and Mauth, Jesus and the Father have identity that is affirmed and personal, though they are also One. The Christian life does come with giving up a sin nature, but this is not the same as our identity–it’s rather something that warps and enslaves our identity. Everything about uniting to Jesus gives us unique freedom as humans.
These were just a few of my thoughts on this book; I’ve enjoyed the series and look forward to Sky Beyond the Storm. Despite some plot issues, it’s a masterfully written, enjoyable series that has re-ignited my love for fantasy and writing. Much appreciation to you, Sabaa Tahir!
Until next time,