Review: A Sky Beyond the Storm (#4) by Sabaa Tahir

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The long-imprisoned jinn are on the attack, wreaking bloody havoc in villages and cities alike. But for the Nightbringer, vengeance on his human foes is just the beginning.
At his side, Commandant Keris Veturia declares herself Empress, and calls for the heads of any and all who defy her rule. At the top of the list? The Blood Shrike and her remaining family.
Laia of Serra, now allied with the Blood Shrike, struggles to recover from the loss of the two people most important to her. Determined to stop the approaching apocalypse, she throws herself into the destruction of the Nightbringer. In the process, she awakens an ancient power that could lead her to victory–or to an unimaginable doom.
And deep in the Waiting Place, the Soul Catcher seeks only to forget the life–and love–he left behind. Yet doing so means ignoring the trail of murder left by the Nightbringer and his jinn. To uphold his oath and protect the human world from the supernatural, the Soul Catcher must look beyond the borders of his own land. He must take on a mission that could save–or destroy–all that he knows. 

Good news, I managed to not skip 60 pages of this book like I did with A Reaper at the Gates. I’m glad to say that I’m fairly sure the issues I had with book 3 of this series were largely due to my problems and not problems with the book itself. I definitely managed to focus on this one more and enjoyed it a lot more because of it! After my strange experience reading A Reaper at the Gates I made sure with this one to really pay attention to the different points of view and focus on all of the information, which definitely helped.

I also definitely enjoyed this one more due to the way the characters began to intertwine once more. I struggled a little with them all having completely different narratives, being in different parts of the world and the side characters being different to. It felt jarring to change between their points of view for some of the story, but that definitely improved with this one.

You are broken. But it is broken things that are the sharpest. The deadliest.

I also liked the more character focused elements of this one, and I found it had a slightly slower pace with more scenes with just one or two characters. I definitely enjoy books that look in depth into characters and feel I have more of a connection to them, so that felt right to me. It also meant that when the characters were going through tough points in their lives, I could sympathise with them a lot more. I know a lot of people aren’t happy with how this book ended, and although I can see why, I didn’t mind the ending and felt like it closed off the story well.

The plot was good, but also felt a bit anticlimatic. I just didn’t feel as connected to the story as I wanted to be in it’s most crucial and climatic moments. I definitely enjoyed Elias’ viewpoint more than any other in this book, which was a bit of a shock to me. I have enjoyed reading about all of the characters throughout the series, but I really felt for him as a character fighting against himself and just found his subplot to be the most interesting to me.

It is broken things that are the most unexpected, and the most underestimated.

Overall I have enjoyed this series but it hasn’t blown me away as much as I expected it to. I would still recommend it and I feel like I might find more of a connection to it in the future if I decide to reread it. It has definitely been a unique fantasy story, but I did find An Ember in the Ashes to be my favourite in the end!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: A Reaper at the Gates (#3) by Sabaa Tahir

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Beyond the Empire and within it, the threat of war looms ever larger.
The Blood Shrike, Helene Aquilla, is assailed on all sides. Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable, while the Commandant capitalizes on his madness to bolster her own power. As Helene searches for a way to hold back the approaching darkness, her sister’s life and the lives of all those in the Empire hang in the balance.
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 while hunting for a way to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would aid 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 will stop at nothing to ensure Elias’s devotion – even at the cost of his humanity.

I have so many mixed feelings about this book, and it’s going to be so hard to judge because most of them are it’s not you it’s me problems. To start with, I’ve been trying to read 3 fantasy books at once, and this week I think it finally caught up with me. I very much struggled to keep up with all of the characters in this book. Secondly, I somehow managed to skip over 60 pages of this book. Because me and Alex have been buddy reading these, I somehow just skipped an entire day and went onto the next day. I was confused going forward, but I honestly felt like I was reading this in a daze anyway and just put it down to my mood. I didn’t realise this until about 80 pages from the end, when I went back to read the section I’d missed, and things did to start to make more sense. I also read this in the week when I went back to work and uni classes started up again, meaning I had a lot on and that may have contributed to me feeling a little out of it!

My major problem with this book is there are a few different points of view, and all of the characters have different roles in the story and different parts they are playing. They intertwine less in this book than in the others, and are often flitting between a completely different cast of side characters too. I mainly just found them very hard to keep track of or remember all of the names and roles they played within the story.

Curse this world for what it does to the mothers, for what it does to the daughters. 

I do love how this book gave us a good amount of time with the characters and focused on them a little more. I definitely sympathised more with Helene in this story and my favourite parts were the few scenes we got with one or two characters at a time, finally having some kind of character development that made me feel a little more emotionally invested in the story. However, I did find it strange how little Darin was mentioned and felt very pushed to the side after the events of A Torch Against the Night.

Another aspect I did enjoy was the atmosphere, especially when it comes to Elias’s chapters and his new role as this story developed. I like this world a lot and I’m glad we got to see more of it. Although I could take slightly more description, it did feel well written for the most part and I enjoyed picturing the surroundings.

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.

Honestly, it’s very hard to tell whether the problems I had with this book were with the book itself or with the weird way I ended up reading it, which is why I haven’t rated it any lower than this. I just definitely felt a little disappointed when I compare it to the two previous books, and I hope I feel better about the last one (and manage to actually read it in a linear fashion)!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: A Torch Against the Night (#2) by Sabaa Tahir

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Elias and Laia are running for their lives. After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire.
Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars’ survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.
But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias. The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene—Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.
Bound to Marcus’s will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own—one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape…and kill them both. 

We pick this book up directly where An Ember in the Ashes leaves off, and are immediately thrown into the action. Again, Alex and I buddy read this book and will be continuing to buddy read the rest of the series, and we both really liked how the story continued seamlessly on. Although I’m not sure how that would feel if I had left any time between reading each book!

This book brings a new point of view in addition to those we are already familiar with of Laia and Elias. I really enjoyed the addition of Helene’s point of view, especially as she has an interesting relationship and dynamic with the other characters. I’m looking forward to seeing her grow as a character in the next few books, as she feels naive to the actions of the Empire and is only just opening her eyes to the impacts of the actions of those around her. I also appreciated having her view of the world from a different side of Elias or Laia, as she shows what is happening in Blackcliff Academy.

Your emotions make you human. Even the unpleasant ones have a purpose. 

I was a little worried this book may have second book syndrome, which I often find in the second book in a series that feels like a bridge to the next. However, I feel like Helene’s point of view was a brilliant way to keep A Torch Against the Night fresh. I also felt like the plot continued to be interesting and the pace was kept consistent throughout this book. The end of this book especially had so many twists and turns and part of it really made me gasp!

I loved the cast of characters so much, and there was some aspects of this book that made both me and Alex emotional. There are some new characters introduced in this book and I really loved Tas, a friend of Elias as the book goes on. The friendship between Elias and Tas, Laia and Izzi and many of the others really warmed my heart.

I also really enjoyed how this book in particular gave us a look at the wider world outside of Blackcliff Academy, and I can picture the world really well. I’m enjoying the world building and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the surroundings in the last two books in the series.

Don’t lock them away. If you ignore them, they just get louder and angrier.

Overall, this was an excellent sequel which I really enjoyed and I’m still loving the writing, which is emotional but really easy to read and compelling! I couldn’t put this book down and I always wanted to find out what would happen next.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: An Ember in the Ashes (#1) by Sabaa Tahir

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Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy. 
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

I’ve been hearing so much about this series recently and after finding out how much my lovely friend Charlotte enjoyed it, I knew I wanted to read this series. I’ve been buddy-reading this series with Alex and I’m so glad we’re reading it together! This felt like YA fantasy with a slight twist, and I really enjoyed it. I also loved the two points of view, which I was hesitant about going into the story as I sometimes find multiple POV mean you want to skip one and go to the next. However, I enjoyed these two equally and for different reasons, and felt like they worked well together.

These two points of view include Laia, who ends up as a slave for the somewhat evil commandant of the Blackcliff Academy, who she is also spying on. The commandant also happens to be the mother of our second character, Elias, who is a soldier at the academy. Both of these characters are questioning authority for different reasons, and are brought together by the decisions they make along the way.

You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius.

This story is definitely a more of a character and plot driven story than a location heavy one, which let me down slightly. I personally love setting heavy stories and a lot of world building, and I did struggle to vividly picture the world throughout the story. Some scenes were better than others, and I’m hoping as the series goes on we learn more about the world and surroundings. I also really liked the characters and felt a lot of sympathy for them – both me and Alex were getting emotional towards the end! I found myself thinking about these characters even when I wasn’t reading (or had picked up something else when I finished my pages for the day), which proves how much I was drawn to their stories.

The plot definitely drove the story which was perfect for reading it over a 4 day readathon. The writing was so easy to read and I didn’t want to put the book down, which bodes well for the rest of the series! But despite it being super compelling, Sabaa Tahir didn’t steer away from difficult topics. The beautiful writing occasionally gave way to brutality and violence, which neither me or Alex quite expected so much of. This is definitely not one for the fainthearted, and has a lot of mentions/scenes of killing, rape and torture.

You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.

I’m holding out my 5 stars for now as I feel like this has got more to give and I’m really looking forward to seeing where this series goes. However, this was a really enjoyable, fast-paced fantasy read with likable characters and an unpredictable plot that made me want to keep on reading!

CW: sexual assault, torture, violence, death, imprisonment

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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