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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi - Review



Official Author Website
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OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: With a DNA profile that lights up like a satellite photograph of earth, Saara El-Arifi's heritage is intrinsically linked to the themes she explores in her writing.


She was raised in the Middle East until her formative years, when her family swapped the Abu Dhabi desert for the English Peak District hills. This change of climate had a significant impact on her growth—not physically, she’s nearly 6ft—and she learned what it was to be Black in a white world.

Saara knew she was a storyteller from the moment she told her first lie. Though her stories have developed beyond the trite ramblings of a child, she still appreciates the thrill of a well-told tale.

THE FINAL STRIFE is Saara El-Arifi's debut novel, the first part of a trilogy inspired by Ghanaian folklore and Arabian myths.

FORMAT/INFO: The Final Strife was published by Del Rey Books on June 21st, 2022. It is 608 pages long, split over forty-five chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue. It is told in third person from the POVs of Sylah, Anoor, and Hassa. It is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.




OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Sylah’s life has been nothing but a crushing disappointment. One of the few survivors of a failed revolution, Sylah sees no point in trying to fight back against the brutal caste system that divides the city, with magical red-bloods ruling over the “lesser” blue- and clear-bloods. But when Sylah is thrown together with Anoor, the abused daughter of one of the kingdom’s powerful rulers, the two hatch a plan to win the upcoming trials that will select the next group of rulers, allowing Anoor to change the city from within. But their plans don’t account for even bigger forces moving behind the scenes, ones that will potentially shatter the kingdom in a way that Sylah and Anoor could never have dreamed of.

The Final Strife is a rich, dark tale of revolution full of broken characters who are endlessly fascinating to watch. Sylah is the heart of the story, and she is as flawed as they come. Self-destructive and disillusioned, she’s rushing towards an early grave when we first meet her, and it takes quite a bit to give her anything resembling hope again. Anoor, on the other hand, is kind-hearted but incredibly privileged. While she knows a good portion of the city is oppressed, her sheltered upbringing has left her blind to the harsh realities of how that oppression actually manifests. She can be thoughtless to the point of frustration, but it’s her journey to understanding just how broken the system is that makes her character worth following.

There is a third POV character, Hassa, that I wish we’d seen more of this book, but I get the sense that her role will continue to grow in the series. The member of the lowest caste of the city, she moves through the empire with near invisibility due to her servant status, giving her access to places and things Sylah and Anoor could never get to themselves. She only has a handful of chapters compared to the other two leads, but her role is still crucial, and I hope it continues to develop in the sequel.

As for the world itself, it is brutal and full of mystery. Those on the more squeamish side may find themselves skipping over a section or two; this is the kind of world where an entire caste of people are ritually mutilated at a young age to punish them for actions their ancestors took centuries prior. While not overwhelming, these are core parts of the book and might be better avoided if that’s a turn off for you. Even nature itself seems to have a ruthless agenda with its nightly tide wind, a deadly storm that blows sand so harshly it will kill a person left unprotected in the streets.

This is also a world where the upper caste of red bloods stringently govern history and how it is told, destroying any evidence to the contrary. What really happened in centuries past is a central conceit of The Final Strife, an intriguing thread that is deftly woven through the storylines of survival and revolution. Understanding the history of the empire is crucial in shaping the direction of the fight against it, and sets up storylines I cannot wait to see played out in the sequel.

CONCLUSION: The Final Strife is the kind of book that latches on to you and doesn’t let go. I sped through the 600 pages in just four days, picking it up at every opportunity to find out what happened next. In between the trials and the intrigue (and the romance), it’s a thought-provoking look at how empires maintain their grip on a people, how they lure them into complacency and control what few thoughts they have at overthrowing their rulers. The Final Strife is easily one of the best new books of 2022, and one I whole-heartedly recommend to fantasy fans.

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