I am officially deceased. Goodbye, cruel world, you who allow authors like Sabaa Tahir to freely roam upon your surface to wreak havoc on the hearts and minds of innocent readers.
In all seriousness, though, this book nearly killed me with how good it was. So let’s get into the long-awaited review already.
But before that, quick disclaimer: 🚨 This review does NOT contain spoilers for A Sky Beyond the Storm (unless it’s in a spoiler-marked section), but it WILL have spoilers for the previous three books. 🚨 I would not recommend reading this review if you haven’t picked up the series yet (which you totally should).
TITLE: A Sky Beyond the Storm (Ember Quartet #4)
AUTHOR: Sabaa Tahir
GENRE: Fantasy, romance, young adult fiction
PUBLICATION: December 2020 by Penguin
RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
OFFICIAL BLURB (spoilers for previous books!)
Prepare for the jaw-dropping finale of Sabaa Tahir’s beloved New York Times bestselling An Ember in the Ashes fantasy series, and discover: Who will survive the storm?
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. (Goodreads)
Trigger warnings: death of a loved one (parent, sibling, lover), blood & gore depiction, slavery, fire & arson, grief & loss depiction, misogyny, torture
Content warnings: New section for readers who want more information before deciding to pick up a book!
- Sexual: 4, on a scale from 1 to 5. Several fade-to-black sex scenes. Passionate kissing, thoughts of desire. Side LGBT characters.
- Violence: 4, on a scale from 1 to 5.
- Language: 3, on a scale from 1 to 5. Some world-specific swearing.
- Other things to note: This entire series takes place in a fantasy world, with strong fantastical explanations of what happens after death that I believe are not affiliated with any religion. The author, Ms. Tahir, identifies as Muslim.
A Sky Beyond the Storm is the final installment in the Ember quartet, following Elias, Laia, and Helene a few months after the events of A Reaper at the Gates. Elias, now known to the world and to himself as the Soul Catcher, has surrendered his humanity to the Waiting Place, while Laia and the Blood Shrike work together to defeat Keris Veturia and the Nightbringer’s forces. But as all three of them soon realize, the jinn’s plans for vengeance extend far beyond anything they have ever imagined. And once and for all, Elias, Laia, and Helene must defeat their inner demons to save all they know from utter destruction.
Well, I hope you enjoyed that piece of *eloquent* blurbing, because that’s the only part of this post that’s going to be anywhere close to professional. And with that, let the screaming commence.
Okay okay okay so so so. This was perfection. Literal, utter, perfect perfection. It was hair-raising, heart-pounding, heartbreaking, terrifying, breathtaking, hopeful, plus every other word that the critics have ever used to describe a finale like this one.
Elias — aka everybody’s favorite Soft Marshmallow™️, aka love of my life, aka PRECIOUS SWEETHEART — goes through SO MUCH in Sky and I will never forgive Sabaa for it. His surrender of his emotions to Mauth has made him cold and distanced from the human world (poor human world), and the suffering he goes through as he tries to silence the voices in his head is agonizing to read about. By the middle of the book, it’s clear that his struggle between emotion and duty is borne of his never-ending remorse over his past. He has to decide whether he will let his pain carry him away into oblivion, or if he will choose to focus on the love that has brightened up his life.
Next up is Laia. This beautiful, courageous, incredible young woman who has matured so much over the course of this series. As in the previous books, Laia also goes through SO MUCH in Sky and you know what? She comes out stronger for it. She comes out of it knowing that there is always a choice between hope and despair, between love and hatred. She comes out of it choosing to believe that the world is worth saving, that love is worth giving her all for. We stan Laia of Serra in this household.
And can we talk about Helene. I completely fell for Helene’s character arc in this book. She wasn’t my favorite in the other books of the series, but wow. Helene is incredible. She is hit with loss after loss after loss after loss but she keeps fighting. She’s racked by her sadness, her guilt, her anger and frustration and pain, but she keeps fighting. And I love her so much for that. She’s truly amazing and deserves the whole world handed to her on a platter if I have any say in what happens.
The other characters are all AMAZING as well. I am in awe of Sabaa’s ability to create breathtaking character arcs. Darin, Musa, Tas, Avitas, the Nightbringer, Keris, and all the rest of them. They get so so so much depth in this book and I think I should move on before this becomes a spoiler-fest okay bye.
Moving onto the relationships. Elias and Laia broke my heart in all the worst and best ways. Asdfahgsdfkj. Elias’s surrender to Mauth left the two of them on very uncertain terms at the end of Reaper and it’s so so so so painful reading about how he’s forced to forget about her. And it’s also so so so painful reading about how he tries to remember anyway despite himself. And let’s not discount Laia’s suffering either. Because the scope of the pain she goes through looking into the eyes of the boy she loves and seeing somebody else there is just unimaginable. But she never gives up on him, and it’s just insanely beautiful to see how their relationship is unbreakable even when everything is going against them.
Helene and Avitas. I swear, these two. THESE TWO. I’m not going to say much about them because you dear readers deserve to find out on your own. But all I’m going to say is that their relationship is one emotional rollercoaster and at this point it’s no use putting the seatbelts on.
And special shout-out to Helene and Laia’s newfound friendship — this is all I’ve ever wanted since the very first book. These two incredible young women work so well together and it’s amazing to see them on the same side for once 😍 And also, the family relationships in this one!! Darin and Laia, Helene and Livy and Zacharias, Elias and Shan and Avitas and Mamie Rila and Quin… they’re all amazing and aghh why does this series have to end.
As for plot, I mean — this is where Sabaa shines. The crazy plot twists, the unputdownable pacing, the luscious writing, not to mention the DEATHS…. it’s all perfection. Painful perfection, yes, but still perfection.
Some additional plot-related thoughts… (spoilers!)
Let’s talk about the deaths.
- Faris. AHHHH this hurt. This hurt so much. Faris was a fairly minor character but he was such a fixture in my heart for how supportive of Elias he remained throughout the series…. and the way he died?? Shouting Gens Aquilla’s mantra?? PAIN.
- Livy. This was just cruel. I was literally snorting from laughter over Livy and Helene’s banter one second, and then the next second I was frozen in shock. Because NO WAY. She DIED HOLDING HER BABY’S HAND. Oh my gosh. I felt so so much for Helene 😭
- Avitas. You didn’t. Oh my gosh, Sabaa, you didn’t. YOU DIDN’T ;ASKLDJF;AKHRG;IQH;KADFJASF HAS HELENE NOT SUFFERED ENOUGH????!?!??! I WILL NEVER BE OVER THIS
- Darin. ASDFGHJKLQWERTYUIOPZXCVBNM, HOW DARE YOU. HOW DARE YOU. I started crying in the middle of the night as I was about to fall asleep because of Darin’s death scene. Because…. why. WHY. WHYYYYYY
- Meherya. Ahh I loved the Nightbringer’s final sceneeee. It brought me to tears because his character arc is just that well done.
- Keris. WOW. We all know she deserved this, but OH my gosh, when she and Karinna crossed the river… and Keris was an innocent young girl stopping to look at a spiderweb…. I’m sorry my eyes seem to be sweating a bit
The one teeny tiny thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the resurrection trope used with Mirra. I don’t know, it just felt really convenient. I was hoping that the author would take the hard way out by — I don’t know — killing one of the main characters? It’s not like I wanted Elias or Laia or Helene to die, but asdfghjkl. You know what I mean.
BUT I don’t even really care anymore because reviving Mirra made Laia happy and freed Elias, which is all I ever wanted in the first place. So I can’t really complain 😀
Okay, let’s talk quotes.
I want sand and stories and a clear night sky. I want to stare up into pale gray eyes filled with love and that edge of wickedness I ache for. I want to know what he said to me in Sadhese, a year and a half ago, when we danced at the Moon Festival in Serra. I want Elias Veturius back.
Getting rid of that existential crisis:
“Elias Veturius yet lives. And it is imperative that he live, for the Great War approaches, and it is not the Soul Catcher who will win it, it is Elias Veturius. It is not the Soul Catcher who is an ember in the ashes, it is Elias Veturius. It is not the Soul Catcher who will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. It is Elias Veturius.”
Some girl time:
“It’s all right.” Laia sighs. “Men are a terrible waste of air.”
“Utter garbage,” I agree.
“Useless rubbish,” she adds, grinning.
Sabaa’s amazing writing at work:
Would that we all knew the cracked terrain of each other’s broken hearts. Perhaps then, we would not be so cruel to those who walk this lonely world with us.
Musa being sentimental for once:
“Love can be more powerful in a battle than planning or strategy. Love keeps us fighting. Love drives us to survive.”
If there is anything I have learned since the day that wretched Mask killed my grandparents and arrested Darin, it is that you must love while you can. For tomorrow, all that you love might be ash.
“I wish I could live a thousand lives so I could fall in love with you a thousand times,” he says.
Spoilery quotes incoming…
“You are my release,” he whispers. A breath then, a slice of time that will mark the before and the after of this moment. A heartbeat during which I do not know who will win the battle inside him or if our love is enough. Then his eyes clear, and he is Elias Veturius, warm and beautiful and mine.
Helvitas, ft. tears:
“Emifal Firdaant,” I say to him.
“You’ve said that before.” He runs his fingers through my hair. “What does it mean?”
I cannot quite look at him when I say it. “May death claim me first.”
“Ah, no, my love.” He gathers me close. “You cannot go first. I could not make sense of the world if you did.”
With that, he closes his eyes, but I cannot sleep. I stare up at the peak of the tent and listen to the rain drum down on the canvas. Emifal Firdaant, I beg the skies. Emifal Firdaant.
Helvitas, ft. WEEPING:
I reach out my hand to touch Harper’s face, but pull it back at the last moment. Not long ago, he drove the chill from my bones, from my heart. But now he will feel cold, for Death has my love and all his warmth is gone from this world.
Helene being amazing:
And instead of hating my heart, I began to marvel at its strength, at the fact that it thuds on insistently. I am here, it seems to say. For we are not done, Helene. We must live.
What a small thing it seems, to walk with the one you love. To look forward to a day with them. I marvel at the simplicity of this moment. And I thank the skies for the miracle of it.
Let’s stop before I actually violate copyright (if I haven’t already). If you need me I’ll be anxiously awaiting my hold for Book 2 to arrive so that I can experience the pain of this series all over again.
Abby the Christian Bookworm
One thing that Sabaa’s characters realize throughout this entire series is that happiness isn’t eternal, that the things you love can be here today and gone tomorrow. But to survive this world with our hearts intact, we need to remember that true happiness — joy — isn’t dependent on circumstances. As Day 20 of BibleProject’s Advent devotional says, “it is instead dependent on God and his promises for his people’s eternal future.” When we live with this mindset, every single day is a miracle.
If you’ve stuck around to the end of this post, you deserve a pat on the back. But really, though, thanks for sticking around ❤
Okay, how about you?? Are you another victim of Sabaa Tahir’s emotional destruction?? Talk to me all about it in the comments! (And don’t forget to mark spoilers with a warning!)
Thanks so much for reading!! 💕