66 pages 2 hours read

Sabaa Tahir

A Reaper at the Gates

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2018

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


A Reaper at the Gates is the third book in Sabaa Tahir’s bestselling YA fantasy series, An Ember in the Ashes series. The book continues from where A Torch Against the Night concluded, following Laia, Elias, and Helene as they each embark on their individual journeys to gain freedom for themselves and their people. Published in 2018, A Reaper at the Gates, like its predecessors, is told from multiple points of view. Mostly, the book follows Laia, Elias, and Helene. However, several chapters follow the series’ antagonist, the Nightbringer. The book treats themes of The Danger of Revenge as Motivation, The Corrupting Nature of Power, and The Duality of Oppression and Resistance.

This study guide refers to the 2018 hardback cover edition of the book published by Razorbill.

Content Warning: This book contains scenes of domestic violence, mentions of sexual assault, physical and emotional torture, murder, and the brutality of war.

Plot Summary

The novel is broken into five parts with a framing structure that begins and ends with the Nightbringer’s perspective. At the start, the Nightbringer, who is King of the jinn, teaches his gathered efrits, wraiths, and ghuls how to create chaos throughout the empire.

Laia and Darin, along with Tribe Nur, raid the Martial wagons imprisoning Tribe Saif. Meanwhile, Laia’s love interest, Elias, is held in the Waiting Place, the forest of lost souls, by Shaeva, who aims to become the new Soul Catcher. After freeing the captives, Laia is taken by Helene, the Emperor’s Blood Shrike, who uses Laia as a bait to capture Elias. Helene is coerced into this role by Emperor Marcus, who tortures Helene’s pregnant sister, Empress Livia. To thwart the growing influence of Commandant Keris, who falsely claimed to kill Elias, Helene must prove Elias is alive.

Elias rescues Laia and tells Helene to find his grandfather, Quin, for guidance on defeating Keris. Elias is injured while fighting Shaeva, who then takes Elias away to the Waiting Place. Laia retreats to Tribe Nur and Darin while Helene returns to Antium, where Marcus is furious with her for not capturing Elias. He urges Helene to defeat Keris before she gains more power.

Helene then journeys to Navium, only to find the Nightbringer. He thwarts Helene’s attempt to command the Martial fleet by conjuring a storm. Blamed for the catastrophe, Helene goes to see Quin, who tells Helene about Keris’s power-hungry past.

On her way back to the barracks, Helene is ambushed. Captains Harper and Dex save her, and the Nightbringer teaches Helene how to heal herself. Helene finally captures Keris and acquires the Karkaun fleet only to find that Livia has been poisoned. She and Harper ride to Antium, where Helene heals Livia and her unborn child. However, Keris escapes, and the Karkaun army advances toward Antium. Helene convinces Marcus to send Livia away to safety, and Helene takes charge of the city’s defense. The conflict escalates as the Karkauns employ dark magic, sacrificing women and children and using their souls to strengthen their forces. Keris returns, having captured Livia, and Livia goes into labor amidst the chaos.

Laia’s story unfolds alongside Helene’s. Laia, Darin and Afya, the chieftain of Tribe Nur, navigate the growing tensions between the Martial army and the Tribes. Afya asks Darin make Serric steel for the Tribes, but Darin privately worries that he has forgotten the process due to past trauma. Laia and Darin meet Elias at the Waiting Place, where Shaeva foretells another prophecy. However, the Nightbringer arrives and kills Shaeva, making Elias the new Soul Catcher. Laia reluctantly acknowledges she must defeat the Nightbringer though they were former lovers. She and Darin, who are Scholars, travel to Adisa to seek their people’s knowledge in this quest.

In Adisa, they find Mariner soldiers questioning Scholar refugees about Laia and Darin’s whereabouts. They turn themselves in but are rescued by Musa, the Beekeeper, who offers them information on the Nightbringer in exchange for help reviving the Scholars’ Resistance. Laia and Darin reluctantly agree. Laia plans to learn how to defeat the Nightbringer from Tribe Sulud in exchange for Darin’s Serric blades.

However, that night the tribe is attacked. A Kehanni (storyteller) survives long enough to tell Laia to go to the Great Library in Adisa. Arriving to a raging fire, Laia navigates the burning library to find information on the Nightbringer. Darin saves her, and a Jaduna (a magic-wielder from the West) gives Laia a book of prophesies. Laia realizes Helene has the last piece of the Star, the powerful magical weapon used to imprison the jinn.

While Laia ponders how to get the star piece from Helene, Helene convinces Darin to stay in Adisa and make Serric weapons for the Mariners. As the climax approaches, Helene escapes with Livia but returns to defend Antium. There, she faces Keris and the Karkauns attacking the capital. Afterward, she collapses.

Laia takes the opportunity to steal Helene’s ring, believing it to contain a piece of the star. Outside the barracks, Laia tries to destroy the ring, but the Nightbringer appears and informs her that the rings is not the star. Meanwhile, Cook sacrifices herself by detonating explosives outside the Embassy, killing many Karauns and allowing the Scholars to escape.

Elias, who has become a Soul Catcher, fails to protect the Tribes from the jinn’s ghost army. Using his newfound magic, he spends weeks hunting ghosts on his way back to Antium. After reaching the city, Elias decimates the Karkaun army by releasing the ghosts that strengthen them.

Helene exhausts the Martial forces fighting Keris, who retreats with her remaining army to Pilgrim’s Gap. Helene seeks the Nightbringer’s help to protect the evacuees at Pilgrim’s Gap, which he does in exchange for her mask. Exhausted and relived the evacuees are safe, Helene collapses.

Helene wakes to find Livia and her baby safe. She and Livia, who is now Empress regent, decide to work together to free their people from the Karkauns, the Nightbringer, and Keris.

In the Waiting Place, Elias helps Marcus’s ghost pass on. Laia realizes that she and the changed Elias no longer be together, and says goodbye. The novel concludes with the Nightbringer, who has had the star all along, freeing the jinn, finally accomplishing his goal.