“We are Martials, child. We are the fist. Our enemies are the wood. And we shall break them.”

I have a confession to make: my memory is about as horrible as the movie Sharknado, which was so bad it was good, if you get what I mean. I would probably forget what I ate for breakfast if it weren't for the fact that I eat the same thing every morning (spoiler: it's a plain bowl of cereal). In any case, because of my tendency to forget things, reading a newer series can sometimes present a problem – after finishing the first book, I have to wait for the release of the second and the third and so on. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The thing that is bad, however, is that I forget everything that happened in the other books by the time I get the newest installment in my hands. This is what happened to me with A Reaper at the Gates.

If I had taken the time to reread the first two books in this series, I probably would have enjoyed this book a lot more. But my TBR list is already a mile long, and who wants to waste precious reading time on a book you've already read? So, I jumped into A Reaper at the Gates cold turkey, not remembering a thing about what was going on in the story. This left me floundering around for the first half of the book, trying to recall certain characters or long-forgotten plot points. Eventually, I fell into the rhythm of Tahir's world and was able to more fully enjoy it. I had a hard time rating this book for that reason – the beginning was a low 3, but parts towards the end were in the high 4 range, so I just settled on somewhere in the middle.

A Reaper in the Gates is the third heart-racing, action-packed installment of Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes series which follows the unfortunate lives of Laia, Elias, and Helene (AKA - The Blood Shrike). If I'm completely honest, The Blood Shrike is the best part of this entire series. She is worth five stars in and of herself. Her chapters were definitely my favorite – I didn't care as much about the viewpoints of Laia and Elias, or about their star-crossed romance. The political intrigue surrounding the Shrike and the evil Commandant is as deliciously juicy as a fresh watermelon and eclipsed everything else. The complex military machinations had my mind whirling, trying to guess what would happen next, and it reminded me a bit of The Queen's Thief series in that way.

"You used to know me, I think. But you don't know me anymore. I don't know me anymore."

Now don't get me wrong, the Blood Shrike is not an untainted hero – she has the blood of thousands on her hands. She experiences heartbreak, death, and has to make hard choices that eventually break her, then remake her. Ultimately, that's the question A Reaper in the Gates presents: how far are the main characters willing to go to get what they want? To find the answer, Tahir expertly twists us down a dark and bloody road full of high-stakes choices and terrible consequences.

"To lead, you have to do ugly things."

This book is a preamble to the darkness that will no doubt be unleashed in the fourth and final book. It was slow going to get into it – either because I couldn't recall what was going on or because the action was growing gradually – but once I did, I was held spellbound by the action, the suspense, and the expertly-crafted world-building that unfolded beneath my fingertips. Tahir has created a grisly and unforgiving universe filled with likable, but extremely flawed, characters who are, every one of them, unrelenting fighters.

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