A Reaper at the Gates: An Ember in the Ashes, Book 3

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
A Reaper at the Gates: An Ember in the Ashes, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Compelling, violent installment sets up an epic final book.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The mythology of the jinn, soul catchers, other legendary or supernatural abilities. Describes different fighting styles, weapons (war hammer, scythe, sword, etc.), and war strategies. It also teaches about monarchies and oligarchies and how difficult it is for class-based systems to remain unchecked when the middle and lower classes begin to rise up and question authority.

Positive Messages

Idea that individuals can make a difference in standing up to injustice. Resistance can start with just a few people committed to a cause. People should relate to one another as human and not as their social castes or backgrounds. Love is a force of courage and selflessness. It's important to trust your own instincts and abilities and not defer to someone else's will. Alliances and teamwork are important to fixing a society's many problems.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Elias, Laia, and Helene/Blood Shrike are all courageous, make difficult decisions, learn from their mistakes. They each doubt themselves but also sacrifice their safety and their personal desires to protect those they love -- as well as innocent civilians. Despite hurting each other in the past, Helene and Elias are ultimately unconditional friends, forgiving and moving past old hurts. Harper is loyal to and protective of Helene.


High body count continues: People are killed -- in battle, in executions, out of leverage/revenge. People are tortured under interrogation and left for dead. Marcus abuses his wife/Helene's sister, threatens to kill her so the Blood Shrike will remain loyal only to him. A foreign tribe massacres the people of the empire, says they'll burn all remaining men and rape the women. People possessed by ghosts act violently, kill indiscriminately -- forcing others to kill people they love. The Nightbringer can see into people's minds, control them, crush them. Several people near death only to be rescued/healed at the last minute.


Characters stare at one another longingly, share a kiss. Believing they are in a dream, they make out heavily and begin to undress, caress each other before stopping. Three characters think about how much they want another person they seemingly can't have during such chaotic times. After two books of romantic tension, a secondary couple finally has a climactic, passionate kiss.


Insults and exclamations include "bitch," "bastard," "plebeian," "burning hells," "hells," "idiots," "bleeding," "whore," "son of a whore," "filthy," "damn," "ass," and "coward."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Less drinking/toasting than in the previous installments. Characters discuss poisons, herbal medicines, pain management during labor and delivery.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Reaper at the Gates is the third installment in author Sabaa Tahir's best-selling fantasy series that started with An Ember in the Ashes and A Torch Against the Night. The action includes many more supernatural and myth-based elements, and the violence continues to be pervasive with lots of deaths, injuries, torture, battles, and mentions of mass murder, rape, and enslavement. Strong language is limited mostly to insults ("bitch," "whore," "bastard"), while the romance remains mostly longing looks and a couple of passionate make-out sessions. Tahir continues to tackle universal and relevant themes about whether it's right to follow laws that are fundamentally flawed, the importance of resistance, and knowing the full history of oppressors and the oppressed. There are strong, diverse characters, both men and women, and the strength of family, friendship, and community prove what matters most to everyone in the story.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byStudiousStudent August 24, 2018

Spectacular for Older Readers

This is a fantastic book. It was well-written and well-paced. I just wish there could have been more, honestly. There is plenty of violence throughout this book... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byAugust palmer January 30, 2021

One of the best

This book is extremely good and the one that comes after this one is even better. Two character do make out and say how they want to do it but I believe that a... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byBrigidArmbrust December 9, 2018

What's the story?

A REAPER AT THE GATES begins with the story of a jinn leader whose people have been imprisoned for millennia but once co-existed with mortals. It then fast-forwards to the events after A Torch Against the Night: Helene, the Blood Shrike, has been tasked with hunting down Elias and Laia and outsmarting the Commandant -- or risk the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus hurting or killing her sister, the Empress. Laia realizes that the Nightbringer and his supernatural powers are even more dangerous than the unstable Emperor's forces and searches across several lands for a way to defeat him. Meanwhile, Elias has given up his freedom to be the next Soul Catcher who ushers the dead to their final resting place, but the power forces him to remove himself from his humanity -- including those he loves.

Is it any good?

It starts off slower than the first two installments, but this third book broadens the story's scope, answers several key questions, humanizes unlikable characters, and brings former rivals together. There's a lot going on in this last book before the fourth and final one. It's harder to get through -- with lots of new and returning characters, backstories, and allegiances for readers to sort, classify, and keep track of at first. But at about the halfway point, the pieces come together, and the action takes off to where it's once again difficult to stop reading. The Blood Shrike in particular steals the show in this installment. She's stuck serving the Emperor now that her beloved younger sister is Empress, and that forces her to do a few seemingly unforgivable things to Laia and Elias. But as the story unfolds, it's clear that the Blood Shrike, with the help of the clever, loyal, and steadfast Harper (who unbeknownst to Elias is his half-brother), begins to realize, like Laia, that the Nightbringer is a threat not only to the Empire but to all of humanity.

Laia continues to grow as a character -- honing her leadership skills and following her instincts now that Elias isn't by her side at every moment. Shippers will delight in one romantic scene between Laia and Elias, but otherwise Tahir keeps the two apart as they separately deal with practical and supernatural challenges. It's actually the obvious feelings between Helene and Harper that are most rewarding, since they're both bound to put duty over personal desire. Surprisingly, Elias' story is probably the least interesting this time around, but his new position as Soul Catcher in training (and his difficulty fulfilling that responsibility) plays a significant role in this installment's climactic events. Give this one time to build and it will reward you with some epic battle sequences and alliances that are sure to eventually defeat the big bad villain in the final book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in A Reaper at the Gates. How does it compare to that in the previous two books? How does violence affect readers? Is it different to experience violence on the page than on the screen?

  • Who, if anyone, are the role models in this series? What character strengths do they display? How is teamwork becoming so important to the story?

  • What do you think of the new romance that grows in this book? Do you feel as invested in that love story as the book's more obvious pairing of Laia and Elias?

  • What do you think will happen now that the odds are stacked higher than ever against all the main characters? How do you foresee them defeating the book's villains?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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