Book Review: REAPER OF SOULS by Rena Barron

Title in white on a gold snake on black
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 3 stars
Series: yes - second book of trilogy



Book cover for REAPER OF SOULS: title in gold below a Black girl with a gold snake around her neck on a black background


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.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Before reading REAPER OF SOULS, I re-read KINGDOM OF SOULS, and noticed a few elements that I did not enjoy, and so made the book a bit of a fight to get through. The main two complaints I had were:

  • A lot of important events happen off page and are told to Arrah in a couple of sentences, and then ignored – like the destruction on the city and kingdom with the Princes
  • The “twists” were not twists, but rather new information dumped on the reader widely swinging the plot in a different direct.

I noticed both of these happening in REAPER.

The first, the events happening off page, was to a lesser extent in this book. Rudjeck’s father has seized the kingdom off page and now Rudjeck is Crown Prince (we don’t even get the chapter where he discovers this, even though it sounds like it’s happening at the time of Arrah’s first chapter). It felt like it was held back to have a “shock moment” from Arrah, though that was fast and lacked the weight of Rudjeck coming to terms with his father’s actions and the consequences of his own life. He seems remarkably fine in his own chapters about this.

There was another major event in Rudjeck’s storyline – a big battle that changed everything – that he missed because he was unconscious. But then the battle seemed to have no consequences and they got the allies anyway.

(I was also a bit disappointed that the opening act seemed to be setting up a political intrigue line between Rudjeck’s father and a member of the previous royal family but that it was all then ignored from the next act onwards with quests, but that is indicative of my reading tastes rather than the book itself.)

When it comes to twists, for one to feel satisfying, I believe three elements are needed:

  • The twist needs to flip the previous story on its head, or at least make you seriously doubt a lot of what’s come before/given it a very different meaning
  • The twist needs to subvert a set of expectations that have been set up in the narrative
  • The twist needs to be based on a set of clues that have been subtly included so that you cannot notice them but in retrospect. This is so the twist feels earnt and fits within the story.

In KINGDOM and REAPER, the “twists” rarely failed to meet any of those criteria for me, instead feeling like completely new ideas coming out of the blue. It made them less than satisfying, and often either confusing or (if the clues had not been subtle) very obvious.

In REAPER, there were two particular “brands” of “twist” I noticed a fair bit. There had been a few of them in KINGDOM, but there were a lot in REAPER: the “cop-out death” and the “they were someone else all along” (to the point that one person’s identity switched three times in the course of the book). I don’t think it would have bothered me if there hadn’t been so many, such that I trusted no death or mysterious character appearance.

Unlike in KINGDOM OF SOULS, Arrah is not the sole narrator. She is still the primary narrator, but Rudjeck also has chapters, and the “talks” from the orisha are instead replaced by sections from Dimma’s past that functions as backstory for Dimma and Daho.

I’ll be honest, I am not a fan of the Dimma/Daho backstory. The motivation of a conflict, in a nutshell, is that a goddess fell in love with mortal and didn’t want to lose him, so made him immortal – sparking a war with her godly brethren. That premise is not one I like much, because a man’s primary motivation for evil being a woman he loves dying never sits well with me. Plus, the end of KINGDOM reads as if Arrah knows she is Dimma, but apparently she doesn’t in this book/is in denial?

This is quite a long list of “things I did not like”, but my review is 3 stars (which, for me is a “OKish” rating, but not a “standard read” like some people). This is because a) I can see why some people would like this as the issues I had were very much “things I personally don’t like” and b) the pacing was not bad. Even though a lot of the plot frustrated me, it was still very readable (not a slog to fight through), which is pretty impressive.

I’m not sure if I’ll complete this trilogy or not, because I’m not sure I want to re-read these first two books and then read another book that potentially (which, given the experience of these two, is highly likely) contains all these same plot ideas that frustrate me.

Read my reviews of other books by Rena Barron:

Young Adult:

Kingdom of Souls (this series):

Middle Grade:

Maya and the Rising Dark:

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