Saturday, January 2, 2021

Book Review: A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir

Title: A Sky Beyond the Storm (An Ember in the Ashes #4)
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Publication Date: December 1, 2020
Publisher: Razorbill
Pages: 516
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Reviews for book 1, book 2, & book 3
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Picking up just a few months after A Reaper at the Gates left off...

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.

Warning: This review will be long and full of unpopular opinions with (hidden) spoilers. In 2018, A Reaper at the Gates was one of my most anticipated releases after I loved the first two books in the series. I ended up being disappointed by what seemed to me to be mostly filler, so I wasn't nearly as excited about A Sky Beyond the Storm. Still, I was eager to see how the series would wrap up and hoped this book would redeem the series for me. 

A Sky Beyond the Storm picks up a few months after the ending of the previous installment and some things have changed. Namely, Laia and Helene are now BFFs, which seemed completely out of nowhere. Granted, it has been a very long wait since the last book and I could have forgotten some things, but I feel that I would have remembered this particular development after they spent the majority of the series as enemies. It isn't that I hated their relationship, it's just that it felt a bit shoehorned into the story. 

Another big change in Sky is that Keris has moved to be much more of a background villain to the wishy-washy Nightbringer. While the Commandant was a force to be reckoned with for the first three books, securing a spot as one of my top most hated villains of all time, in this book she's barely present. Instead, we have the Nightbringer, also known as Meherya (Beloved), who is now constantly back and forth between whether he loves Laia or wants to kill her depending on what's needed for the plot. Frankly, I didn't care about his tragic backstory and he seemed like he had no idea what he wanted to do, which was another departure from earlier character development. 

Between the Nightbringer and Keris, I found myself extremely irritated by the attempts of the author to redeem them. Not every villain needs or deserves sympathy or redemption and I was not here for it. Both villains were utterly useless by the end, both being taken out by ridiculous means. I could not get over the Nightbringer being talked out of his grand, diabolical plan by a pep talk from Laia. Keris getting what I saw as a happy ending, apparently not remembering her crimes in the afterlife, was the ultimate betrayal of everything the characters had been through.

Elias remains the Soul Catcher in A Sky Beyond the Storm, although he spends none of the book in his assumed role. Instead, the entire book is focused on the will he/won't he remember his past and his love for Laia, while Laia spends half the book brooding and trying to seduce Elias. I've been on the Laia and Elias train since book one, but this just didn't work for me. I think I would have preferred it if Elias had not become the Soul Catcher at all, since it seemed to only be there as a foil to their romance. 

Deux ex machina saves the day as Laia's mom is back from the dead to save the day by taking Elias's spot as Soul Catcher for... reasons? This was another plot development that made absolutely no sense and seemed extremely shoehorned in. I'm truly not shore what the entire Soul Catcher plot point was for other than to get in the way of Elias and Laia's relationshop and give Elias a power up.

Let's talk a little more about what I didn't like before we get into the positives (there are some). Every character in this series seemed to have random superpowers that developed at random times to move the plot forward, but disappeared when they were truly needed. Laia has invisibility powers until she doesn't, Helene has healing powers until she doesn't. I don't even know about Elias. There is also another main character introduced in book four who has not even been hinted at for the other three and is not explained well. 

Can we TALK about the Djinn queen who's been living in Laia's head for apparently the entire story, but only pops up here when she's needed to defeat the Nightbringer? How convenient that she has been giving Laia superpowers for the last two books. I hate how little is explained about her and why and how she's inside Laia's head. How. Convenient. I hate it.

Okay, so I said there were some positives - let's get into it. In a bizarre turn of events, the only character I truly loved in this book was Helene. I despised her in Ember and Torch and she started to grow on me in Reaper. Here she was the only one who seemed like a real person without some kind of insane deus ex machina on her side. I've seen people lamenting Helene's fortunes and exclaiming that she deserved better, but her story was the only one that was believable. 

I will say that I liked where the story concluded, I just felt that A LOT could have been left out of the last two books and they could have been condensed into one. Entire plot lines could have been left out and so much unnecessary drama could have been avoided. So much walking and traveling where nothing important happened could have been left out. The entire new character could have been left out. I am SO disappointed. 

If you loved A Reaper at the Gates, you'll probably love this one too. But if you found Reaper to be lacking after an amazing first two books, you probably won't like this one either.