If you read my previous reviews of the other three Ember books, you'll know I wasn't terribly impressed with any of them. Don't get me wrong, they were enjoyable enough and Helene in particular redeemed the other rather infuriating characters in these books enough that I kept coming back. Sky was no different in that regard.
This final installment in the series brings events to a head, with Keris and the Nightbringer wreaking havoc across the empire while Laia and her allies struggle to keep up. The jinn, along with the Nightbringer's magic and the sheer numbers of Keris' army make victory all but an impossibility for Laia, Helene, and the handful of secondary characters. As the story marches toward its conclusion, Laia quickly realizes that it's not just the submission of mankind that the Nightbringer desires, but something far worse. (I won't spoil it for you.)
On the positive side of things, Tahir's prose doesn't overstay its welcome and she conveys her characters' emotions with skill, even if her dialogue is somewhat stilted. Compared to one or two of the others in this series, the plot of Sky marches on at a satisfyingly brisk pace. However this one, as with the others, fell short for me for a number of reasons. An overuse of prophecy and a generous dose of deus ex machina (among other issues) left me feeling unsatisfied with the way Tahir wrapped this series up.
The world we are meant to care so much about feels thin and shallow, with little time spent shaping the nuances that breathe life into villages, cities, and cultures. The Mariners feel indistinguishable from the Martials. The Tribespeople, likely the most distinct of cultures in the books, are given little page time outside of strategy meetings. And the Scholars, who are supposed to be at the heart of this story, seem to have disappeared into the background altogether. Surely all of these peoples are thoroughly fleshed out in the author's mind, but that substance fails to make it to the final publication.
Laia is immensely more tolerable in this final installment than she has been previously, but she is still my least favorite character. Honestly, my main problem with her in this book was her approach to trying to bring Elias back from the emotionless shell of the Soul Catcher. Rather than talking about her feelings, or their past together, or literally anything else, she immediately resorts to seduction. Now, I have zero problem with smut in fiction, and the way this book approaches the oft-taboo subject of desire is one of the things I most appreciated in it, but when the two main characters are meant to be a love-match, resorting immediately to sexual baiting just cheapens their bond. Yes, they are physically drawn to each other. There is no shame in that. But this is a battle for Elias' soul between Laia and Mauth. I would have thought she'd dig a little deeper for her weapons.
My last big complaint relates to style. I don't mind the rotation of POV, even through a somewhat disorienting four characters. What annoys me is every single chapter ending in a cliffhanger. This leaves the reader waiting several more chapters for the POV to rotate back to find out what happened - except that, by then, your interest has been led elsewhere and you no longer really care what happened to the character in question. This leaves me feeling unattached to the characters, the dangers, and the story itself.
Helene is the reason I finished this series, and I leave it behind me now feeling that she was the true hero all along. Her struggle, her devastation, and her titanic endurance rang more authentic than anything else in these books. Her relationship with Harper captured me far more effectively than anything between Laia and Elias, and I can't say anything more on that without spoiling Sky so I'll just leave it at that.
This may feel like a scathing review, but I don't mean it to be. I enjoyed this series the same way I enjoy many TV shows: entertaining enough to watch, but won't leave me questioning life's mysteries or feeling moved in any way. Though I'm not likely to read any more of Tahir's work in the future, I was glad to walk in the background with Helene Aquilla for however short a time.