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Thursday, July 5, 2018

Audio ARC Review: A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

Please Note:  I received an advance audio copy of this book from Listening Library in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis ( From Goodreads):
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.


Review:
A Reaper at the Gates, continues the series that began with the YA fantasy novel An Ember in the Ashes.  Author Sabaa Tahir immerses readers in a world of empires, wars, and star-crossed lovers, with non-stop action.  The audio book is a rich production that brings an epic quality to the novel, and comes with my highest recommendation.

What I Liked:
Setting:
The whole novel's setting is reminiscent of the Ancient Roman Empire.  I loved the society, obsessed with power plays, and military conquests.  The novel moves deeper into that structure, spending equal time with the vanquished peoples absorbed into the empire.  This created layers of social structure that brought characters with generations of background grudges to bear.

I also loved the spiritual setting of The Waiting Place, a purgatory where souls wait to "move on".  Elias, the new Soul Catcher, must learn how to help the ghosts move on.  But, in order to do so, will he have to let go of his humanity?

Characters:
The book is filled with characters who each struggle with their own cherished desires, against the larger backdrop of history. The story of Laia, and Elias, the star-crossed lovers, is especially swoon-worthy.  
                  
via GIPHY

Sabaa Tahir seems to enjoy putting obstacles in their way!  But we readers did get some intense romantic moments!

Helene, the Blood Shrike, is a military leader in way over her head. I could feel her panic as she gets out-maneuvered time and time again by the Commandant (who also happens to be Elias's mother).  She is also a leader who cares deeply for her sister (the only other surviving member of her family), and her people.  As the book progresses, Helene develops more and more compassion for others, which goes against much of her military training.

Story:
The Story is heavy on the action with several battle sequences and narrow escapes for the characters.  My one criticism for the story is that the quick pacing made it seem as though everything happened faster than it did.  Months (and possibly years?) do pass in the story, but I didn't really understand that until Helene mentioned that she finished her military training seven years prior!  

I thought the author did a very good job describing the action during battle scenes.  Often in books battle scenes are confusing and difficult to follow.  Not so with this book!  I could envision all the action in my head.  I think this is because the author takes care in these scenes to not gloss over important explanations of war tactics.  I haven't really read anything like this in other novels.

Audio Production:
With three points of view, this book utilizes the talents of three amazing voice actors:  Fiona Hardingham (as Laia), Katherine McEwan (as the Blood Shrike), and Steve West (as Elias).  There are also
two brief chapters at the beginning and at the ending featuring the deep, rich voice of Maxwell Caulfield as The Night Bringer.

I was struck, not only by the actor's performances of their primary characters, but also of the many other characters they had to portray.  Fiona Hardingham does an amazing job of voicing Cook, as a rasping old woman.  She did such a convincing job, I was actually worried for her vocal chords!  Katherine McEwan plays the conflicted Helene, but also the evil Commandant, and many of the male soldiers.  She does all these characters with conviction.  Steve West plays Elias, but also the many ghosts in The Waiting Place.  He makes for a creepy, and convincing ghost!  All three actors together really enrich the audio book experience.

Rating: 





Release Date:  June 12th, 2018

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Author:  Sabaa Tahir

Audio Book Publisher: Listening Library

Listening Length:  15 hours, 29 minutes

Book Publisher:  Razorbill

Pages:  464 Pages

Source:  Publisher

Recommendation:  A rich continuation of this action-packed fantasy series.  The audio book version has riveting performances by all the narrators.  But, definitely read the first two books before tackling this one.


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