Author: Rena Barron
Release date: 16th February 2021 (US), 18th February 2021 (UK)
Publisher: HarperTeen (US), HarperVoyager (UK)
Genre: Fantasy, Thriller
Before, Arrah was shamed by having no magic at all. Now, with demons on warpath, she is the only one in the world who has it.
After so many years yearning for the gift of magic, Arrah has the one thing she’s always wanted – but it came at too steep a price. Now the last surviving witchdoctor, she’s been left to pick up the shattered pieces of a family that betrayed her, a kingdom plunged into chaos, and a love that can never be.
While Arrah returns to the tribal lands to search for survivors of the demons’ attack, her beloved Rudjek hunts down the remnants of the demon army – and uncovers a plot that would destroy what’s left of their world.
The Demon King wants Arrah, and if she and Rudjek can’t unravel his schemes, he will destroy everything, and everyone, standing in his way.
If anyone has stuck long enough with me here, I think y’all would know that Kingdom of Souls was the very first review I had posted in The Books are Rising. Of course, given how much I loved the book, I just had to get to the second: Reaper of Souls!
Since I posted my review of Kingdom of Souls, I’ve had my speculations, theories, and a generous helping of teasers courtesy of the author Rena Barron herself 😉 Safe to say, I had extremely high expectations of Reaper of Souls and it did not disappoint me one bit.
Reaper of Souls sees our return to the lush, vibrant, and dangerous world that Rena Barron has masterfully constructed in her debut Kingdom of Souls. After years of yearning for magic, Arrah finally attains the one thing she’s wanted – but she too discovers that it came at too steep a price. Still reeling from the devastating events in Kingdom of Souls, Arrah is left to shoulder the weight of a legacy, shattered relationships, a kingdom plunged into chaos, and a love so ill-fated.
True to the reputation Kingdom of Souls has built, this book continues the trend of driving head-on to messed-up situations – yet Barron manages to juggle all the hideous circumstances placed on her cast with the depth and nuance they deserve. The battle lines are clearly drawn, but the reckoning of the ugly truth behind the Kingdom’s history leaves no one unscathed and forces many to reckon with the weight of their decisions on their conscience.
As Reaper reveals, no one is completely good or bad in this story. Not the Orisha, not the royalty, and not even our heroes. Everyone has their own secrets, and it’s only a matter of time when they come to light. This book flips back and forth between Arrah and the Unnamed Orisha’s stories, expanding the scope of the world as Barron dives deeper to the Kingdom’s history, the demons’ origins, and the utter havoc that still haunts the Orisha to the present day. I thought the climactic reveal in Kingdom would be the most shocking reveal in the series, but Reaper does not hesitate to strip down the grandeur from history and expose the ugliest, messiest bare bones lying beneath it. Not even this, though, can be trusted as Barron shows that there are always another perspective of things — some of which would later serve as a complete game-changer in the narrative.
Barron’s lush and atmospheric writing makes for a truly immersive adventure where magic permeates all things. The vibrant traditions and rituals of Arrah’s ancestral magic come to life a captivating mirage; while the dark magic and its dangers are truly felt as a sense of creeping, chilling horror where the worst can happen at any moment (which as Reaper demonstrates, it often does).
Barron’s cast is no slouch either. Each and every relationship, actions, and choices made by every character take on a new, deeper meaning with each page. Barron made the right choice in having her narration flipping back and forth throughout the Kingdom’s history, as each turn of events at one point come to provide context and/or affect another. Even the bittersweet romance—and the messy dynamics surrounding Arrah, the Unnamed Orisha, Daho the Demon King, and Rudjek—blossoms into a tangled web of complex, yet deeply meaningful relationship between all four parties involved. Reading Reaper of Souls was akin to watching a meticulously-arranged domino pieces fall down — a thrilling rush of excitement as the characters grow, interact, and drive their relationships in new ways while finding their way through the chaos.
Arrah’s dark characterization, in particular, continues to impress me in this book. She finds herself struggling to juggle handling the war she had found herself embroiled into, the legacy of those who paid the price for her survival, and the destructive revelation of her true identity. Barron has made it clear in her first book that Arrah is a flawed heroine (with a lot of baggage heaped on her) who will make some dark choices in times of desperation, and Reaper sees this arc spiral further down a darker path as Arrah is thrown to even more desperate times where she does indeed have to make some harder calls.
Reaper of Souls is a profound book exploring passion, hard decisions, and heavy consequences that come with every single choice transcending ancestral lines. It is a much more intimate, emotional, and character-driven compared to its predecessor that tells its dark plot exceptionally well with generous helpings of insane plot twists and high-octane suspense on top. This roaring, explosive sequel to Kingdom of Souls is impossible to put down, and promises an explosive finale to the trilogy I sure wouldn’t want to miss.
I’ve dubbed Rena Barron’s debut as an ambitious tour de force to be reckoned with. With Reaper of Souls, I’ve seen that I was right to keep my eyes on Barron as her gritty, ambitious storytelling lunges at me with its venomous grip and boundless imagination yet again. Reaper of Souls, showing me new sides to her writing to love, is a vast improvement to its predecessor which was a pretty darn strong book already. There’s no denying it: this trilogy may shape up to become one of my favourites if the final book even has a fraction of power Reaper of Souls has (I totally trust her to bring her A-game closing out the trilogy 😉🔥🐍), and I will definitely keep an eye on Barron when she ventures to writing more crossover YA or outright Adult SFF books.
I’m definitely glad this book has the honour as the final book review I will be posting this year. Next time, I will be posting a year-end post in which I recall my favourite reads (you best believe this book will be mentioned) and pull out a list of my anticipated releases for 2021!
Reaper of Souls is available for pre-order, scheduled to release on 16 February 2021 (US) and 18 February 2021 (UK).
My many thanks to HarperVoyager UK and the author for the Advance Reader’s Copy of Reaper of Souls in exchange for an honest review!