“We must understand the creatures, fey or human, who populate our tales. Respect them. Love them, despite the villainous things they do. We must see them. Else how will our stories echo in the hearts of those who hear them? How will the stories survive beyond one telling?”
A Sky Beyond The Storm by Sabaa Tahir is the final book in the ‘an ember in the ashes’ quartet. It was published on December 10th, 2020 and soon after my heart was destroyed.
I had honestly been waiting for this book for the entirely of last year and whilst I had a few tiny wrinkles, I still thoroughly enjoyed it and I would say it is what I wanted from this series finale.
Here is what happened…
also just to reiterate this is a SPOILERY post. DO NOT go any further if you have not read the entire of ‘An Ember in the Ashes’ quartet.
SPOILERS ARE INCLUDEED IN THIS POST.
GO NO FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT.
!! SPOILERS !!
This post is very long. I really just did it for me as I wanted to remember my thoughts. If you read it all, well done.
The Plot & Writing
First can we just talk about this line….
“I bank the fire, leaving a few embers burning deep in the ashes.”
okay, carry on.
This series has always been extremely fast paced with a new adventure or higher stake, and this book is no different. It continually kept me intriguing and the way it kept pushing the characters to new levels all the time was really engaging to read about. It is *go, go, go* from the start. I mean this happened on page 16. PAGE 16.
“But, to me, she will always be the Commandant.”
It was already an ‘oh shit’ moment. The plot really does never let you go.
I honestly think this is one of the series strongest points. As you continue with the series the plot gets more intense and deeper. You feel for the characters more each time as with every new situation, the stakes are continually raised.
“I fear, Banu al Mauth, that the world has yet to break.”
However, my first tiny disappointment with the plot was that we didn’t get to see enough Laia and Helene together. It was one of the things I was most looking forward too and whilst there were golden moments, I wanted to see their friendship blossom and grow. (I get that if it didn’t fit in with the plot but I’m still sad). However, at the end of the book, there was the absolutely stellar moment that I loved….
“Where’s Laia? I’d rather dance with her.”
I did love the development of the plot though. The way it tackled the themes of war, the stakes the characters were put in, how the relationships developed, the way the enemies were written and the closing of the story. It was the perfect level of emotion and adventure with an emphasis on stories which made it really special.
Although I do wish we didn’t have the prophecy of ‘they will all die’ because as soon as I read that I’m like ‘oh they will all live then’ and it is only annoying because you try to make me worry but no one ever goes through with ‘the death prophecy’. It is one of my least favourite tropes, there is always a change and it turns out to be fine all the time.
As much as I did enjoy the book as a whole, my main issue was with the pacing, but I think it is a personal taste thing. I would have liked it to have slowed down at moments so we could really unpick what was going on and how the characters felt. For example, I remember one moment with Helene when she said this was horrifying and this moment was going to haunt her for her whole life, but I couldn’t feel that emotion. It was just told to me. This is why I prefer medium-paced books over fast-paced books, so I think that was one of the drawbacks of this novel for me.
I loved the characters SO much. I have really bonded with them over time so seeing their journey arc and end was very emotional.
Laia of Serra
I still consider Laia to be the main character of this series and I think she continues to be the rock and heroine of it all.
“I look up at the stars as if they will give me air. They have been the only constant in my life these past eighteen months. // Though that is not true. My own heart has been constant too. My will. That is not much. But it has gotten me this far.”
She’s been through a lot. Her losses have been constant from a world that was built to hurt her from the start. My favourite thing about Laia is how determined she is and how she constantly persists after what she has been through. She knows what is right and she always strides towards that.
“Safe?” Laia laughs and it is a terrible sound. “There is no safe place for me in this world, Elias. Not unless I create it for myself. Go then to your duty. I will go to mine.”
It is all these qualities that make her the heroine she is. I think as this book really dove into the topic of war, and even topics of revenge, it was able to highlight Laia’s kindness and strength in different ways. Through her ability to stick to her sense of what is right in a dark time, the parallels to The Nightbringer (which I will mention down below), and through her kindness for everyone.
“And as long as even one person remains, they are worth fighting for.”
I think with the development of Laia being linked to Rehmat. It opened up not only a link to the past (which I think was well explored as it always had a purpose and helped to give a message to you as a reader) but brought up emotions that Laia shared with The Nightbringer and how they both dealt with their pain. There was one conversation that stood out to me…
“I do not love my family any less than he loved his.”
This was one quote that Laia said about how that had both loss their families through actions of others, and obviously in this story The Nightbringer is the villain and Laia is the heroine. I think their different reactions showed some of the key differences between a ‘villain’ and a ‘hero’, as The Nightbringer turned into his pain and let it become a drive for more pain, hate and death whereas Laia used it to become a drive for justice and stayed true to what is good. I think the quote I shared above just shows how passing on pain will only cause more suffering to innocents and it isn’t okay to harm others because of your pain because he didn’t love his family more than Laia and it wasn’t okay for him to do what he did no matter how just he felt in the beginning.
Again, Laia is just so good and determined. She is like the hero role model.
So, for her ending, I really wanted it to be happy, she deserved to be happy. So, when Darin died, I felt so sad for Laia as it felt like such a loss after everything she had already gone through. It was so sad, whilst I didn’t feel too strongly attached to Darin as I felt like we could have gotten to know him more nor that the death was done in a devastating manner, but I still felt soo sad about it, just for Laia’s loss.
As we move onto the end of the book, I was sooOOOoo glad to see Laia get some semblance of a happy ending with Elias and her new life of peace. It hard to believe we were able to get here after the events we have endured with Laia. The only when I can describe my feelings with seeing this for Laia is PERFECT BLISS.
“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.”
Of course, Laia also became a Kehanni. It was simply perfect for the end of a series. It was powerful, beautiful and in a way nostalgic. It was such a special touch that felt like a nod to you as a reader in some way which I LOVED, LOVED, *LOVED*.
“I draw the story from deep within my soul, pouring my love into it, and my forgiveness, my anger and my empathy, my joy and my sadness.”
Elias (The Soul Catcher)
When we left Elias at the end of ‘A Reaper at the Gates’ he was Elias no more, but The Soul Catcher and he was going to forget everyone from his life. I knew this going in but still when I read this line….
“Those people– who are they?”
.. my emotions were DESTROYED. And just all the anguish when we were with The Soul Catcher. The pain, the loneliness. I thought I was ready for the hit of emotions but apparently not.
“Doing so takes all of my focus, leaving nothing for my demons.”
But then, the hope, the glimmer. YES.
“Elias Veturis 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.”
THIS SENTENCE WAS EVERYTHING !!! I had to read it again. I got up out of bed. I loOOooove this line because YES, Elias Venturis.
This is not to say it was a straightforward journey from there. Oh no. Elias had an internal battle as he got a few memories back, but he was still the Banu-Al Mauth and he had his duty which he put above everything else. He really only gets involved because of the impact on the waiting place.
I love how we got to see this *angst* with Laia. We got to see an almost back and forth with a lot of emotion, as all the feelings were in the open, but they still couldn’t be together. It made for so many small, tender moments and I really liked how Laia was incredibly open and how she was a constant reminder of who Elias was. It just felt so special.
Throughout the novel we continue to build towards the end and Elias was a big part in this because of his role, his skill and his power. I liked how the plot made sure they had to work together. Plus, it was able to emphasise how Elias still cared for Laia at moments and yessss.
Finally, when we got to the end and he got to be himself. YES, we love to see it (thank you Laia’s mum, I was not expecting that). But yessssssss. I am so glad Elias came back to us and Laia, it had to happen. I was worried for a moment, but it was fine. Honestly when it said…
CHAPTER SEVENTY: ELIAS
…I was sooOOooo happy. I was waiting for this moment. Elias and Laia finally together.
“If anyone can love her enough for everyone she’s lost, it’s you.”
Helene (The Blood Shrike)
Helene is probably my favourite character of this series. I think being in the centre of court politics made her really interesting and she is constantly put in situations which push on her emotions whether fighting someone she loves or having to help people she hates.
I, also, absolutely love Helene because she is constantly like ‘I don’t do emotions’ then proceeds to feel every emotion possible but continues to ignore it. I think it feels vulnerable and powerful, and touches on how those are linked.
*’Harper coming* Helene: “I look around the room for an escape.” (yes, this is how to handle your crush worrying about you, very good)
“My heart twinges a little at that, fool that it is.”
But we love it when sisterly love tells you that this isn’t the way to handle emotions, even if we don’t always listen at first.
“One day, sister,” Livia says, “you’ll have to reckon with all the things you try to hide from yourself. And the longer you wait, the more it will hurt.” (well said Livia)
also, side note: Livia !! That was soooo sad and it actually did surprise me (although it probably shouldn’t have knowing this series). ouchhh.
And this nicely leads me on to HARPER. OUCCCHHHHHHHH !! poor Helene, honestly, f*** me.
“You got there first, my love,” I whisper. “I envy you so. For how will I endure without you?” // I hear no answer to my question.”
It was so tragic !!! This was when the tears started and didn’t stop until the end.
I think Helene had a lot of growth in terms of what the empire is and what it should be as well as growth in facing her emotions. I felt like the book really delivered on seeing through that final growth and I loved seeing it.
So, Helene then became Empress (until her nephew comes of age). I think this definitely highlighted the choice of the people, what leadership meant and taking the empire into a new and just era which is what we really wanted after so much pain.
“This is not what they want. I know it. For it is not simple or neat or clean. It does sweep the sins of the Empire under the rug, or allow those who have always had everything to return to that life. But it is what they will get, if I am empress. And they deserve to know.”
I think this quote really demonstrated the power of remembering and making good changes to society. It was really important and definitely relevant to our reality too.
Like with Elias, when her chapter heading said Helene at seventy-one, I was so happy. We love to see it.
Finally, her emotional growth… I LOVED IT. IT MAKES ME SO HAPPY! She saw the strength in emotions finally.
“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.” (this quote was everything !!)
“That despite all I have survived, or perhaps because of it, there is still joy in my heart.”
So, what did with think to Helene and Musa?? Honestly looking back, I could see how things were being put into place for them. I think because it seemed so sudden after we’ve spent most of the series with Helene and Harper for the ‘endgame’ (potentially?) to be different in our head in just the space of the last pages. It took a little adjusting, I’m not going to lie. I don’t hate it, I liked Musa a lot, he had a lot of good quotes and I know the book only hinted at it really, but I could see it working, even if I found it a slightly unnecessary add- on.
“Suffering is the cup from which they both drink. It is the language they both speak. And it is the weapon they both wield.”
I personally find the enemies/villains of the ember quartet to be a really strong point for this series. I actually think a perspective from The Commandant’s POV through the whole series would have brought it to new heights. I really love how Sabaa Tahir writes villains because she is able to make them human and explore their humanity, but not use that to take away from their ‘evilness’. In a way, it kind of adds to it.
“Her skill is otherworldly and yet grounded in savagery that is deeply, uniquely human.”
Like I’ve mentioned before I liked the way Laia and The Nightbringer were linked together. The way there were both affected by war and how they each wore their pain. His past was heart-breaking, and it highlighted what could potentially make a villain, but also showcased that he isn’t right in his actions because of it. I, also, like that because of his magical ability, it made for ‘a big bad villain’ so it felt like an epic final fight. It brought the book to intense levels. I did really like the way he was written in this book, more so than the previous ones. His emotions and plans felt more intense and volatile whilst also being more human which added a lot to the story.
“Can you compare the rage of a storm to the rage of man?”
The Commandant has obviously always been a key character in the series, but I felt like she didn’t have a big role in this book which I guess makes sense with the journey of this book. However, I would have liked her to have more of a role. She kind of just popped in, murdered someone and left.
I feel like her and Elias had sure an interesting relationship and it could have been explored a lot more. It touched on it two times and in both times, it was used to add a humanity to her. It was an interesting layer as she didn’t want to kill him (which was new). But she still did kill a lot of big characters *oww* and she was still VERY cruel (again I think this is shows how Sabaa Tahir is so great at writing villains).
“There is no weakness is having remembered your child… the weakness lies is denying it.”
I think Helene had to be the one to kill The Commandant because they mirrored each other quite a lot so I think it was not only important for Helene’s character, but it also couldn’t have really been Elias or Laia (she had bigger fights literally).
We then get to further see The Commandant in the afterlife as she needs help being passed on. I think this was done to show a commentary on her going back to the time when she was most innocent and it being when she was really, really young. It kind of touched on how the world doesn’t protect or shield children and how it lead to her becoming who she was. It, again, highlighted the ‘villain vs hero’ aspect as the difference is what they do with the pain.
As I have mentioned, the theme of war is predominant in this book as it is kind of like the final battle. I love how it was able to make it a fast-paced fantasy but also a have a lot of emotional depth.
I think through Laia, we were able to look a lot at death and what it can mean to take a life. It can be quite conflicting as she is fighting for her life and for the world really, so she needs to do things, but it touches on the emotional toll and to remember the value of life. I think this discussion was SO great to see in a fantasy book and I loved the comments throughout.
“Life is sacred…. it is forgetting this fact that leads to war in the first place.”
“This is the nature of war. But you do not have to forget your enemy. Nor should you ignore the toll her slaying has taken on you.”
“But you’ll remain human. Is that not worth a bit of madness?”
It also touched on personal responsibility and how we all play a part in society and you shouldn’t dismiss the importance of your own role. I think it goes to show how society can allow injustices to continue simply through inaction by highlighted how it is important to follow what it right.
“Do you know how many were used to kill innocents? But it wasn’t until it affected my family that I finally did something. That fact will haunt me until I die.”
Alongside the brutality and despair of war, there was of course HOPE and I really liked how this point was written. It reminded you to keep fighting and why you should keep fighting. As I’ve mentioned all our characters are incredibly determined and even motivated by hope and love, so seeing a light shone on the goodness that they fight for was really important. This theme really needs to go alongside war, and I thought it was delivered really well in this book.
“It is a small victory. But even those are hard to come by these days.”
“Love can be more powerful in a battle than planning or strategy. Love keeps us fighting. Love drives us to survive.”
“Life is too short not to hope.”
“And while family can cause pain and make mistakes, it is never a burden. Never.”
Overall, it was an amazing finale, and I can’t believe this series has ended. I was wrapped up in the characters and plot. I really think Sabaa Tahir went the right way with the ending, with the right amount of action and relationship moments. It was a well suited, emotional end. I think one of the best decisions was making Laia a Kehanni-in-training as it highlighted the power, strength and beauty of stories which seems so symbolic and amazing as we draw this series to a close. I LOVED that touch and I just felt SO connected to what was said about stories in that moment. A perfect way to say goodbye to this series.