Book Review: The Final Strife (The Final Strife Trilogy #1), by Saara El-Arifi

Rating: 5 out of 5.

5 Stars!

Synopsis: Sylah, Anoor and Hassa. Red is the blood of the Elite, Blue the blood of the poor workers, Translucent the blood of the enslaved.

CW/TW: Blood/Gore/Violence/Slavery/Mutilation/Oppression/Ableism/Drug Use/Drug Addiction/Withdrawal Symptoms/Fatphobia/Death/ others may be present.

Rep: Sapphic mc’s (labels unspecified but one is either bi/pan)/Transgender pov character/queer side characters/non-binary (Musawa) side-characters.

The Final Strife, by Saara El-Arifi is a compelling fantasy that explores a cruel Empire built on blood magic, fear and slavery.

The Final Strife is a beautifully written epic fantasy the is vivid, compelling and rich. The book is relatively slow paced, but it compliments the story and the prose through which it is conveyed. Saara El-Arifi‘s prose is brilliant, perfectly crafted to create the exact atmospheres she wishes to portray. The multiple POV works wonderfully with her gorgeous prose and complex story, giving us insight into Sylah, Anoor, and Hassa, as well as other characters who we meet along the way.

Moreover, I loved the inclusion of the Griot’s stories that we encounter throughout the book and the Empire’s songs that are weaved into the story. Th inclusion of both of these aspects fleshed out the world and rooted it in something real and believable.

I loved all the POV’s that we get to read. I loved the characters whose eyes we see through and whose thoughts we hear. And, I loved how each POV worked to compliment each other and slowly put the pieces of the story together.

Not only did I love the prose, but I also adored the story! I’ll keep this section brief because there is a lot more to the story than it seems. But, I really enjoyed the primary storyline that is being developed through the book. We follow our characters as they challenge and try to end the cruel Empire that is run by the Red Blooded Embers. Embers are the only people who can ‘Bloodwerk’ (perform blood magic), as a result they rule the Empire and oppress the Dusters (Blue Bloods), and Ghostings (Translucent Blood). The Embers force the Duster into specific fields of work, branding them with the Guild they are assigned too, and are made to liv in poverty. The Ghostings are mutilated, tongues cut out and hands severed, part of a punishment placed on them for a past crime, they are then enslaved to the Embers.

Sylah lives with the Dusters. She was Chosen, suppose to compete in the Atkibar trials and become a weapon to end the Empire. But we follow Sylah as her chosen path changes into something else, something much more difficult to navigate. I really loved Sylah’s chapters. Her characters is stubborn, full of guilt and hatred, and deadly – but she is also kind. I loved Sylah’s journey over the course of the book, her development and personal challenges aided the plot and added depth to both the character and the story. Her dynamic with the characters around her (particularly Anoor and Hassa) was excellently written, believable and enjoyable to read about. The bonds and love that transcends the colour of their blood, the tension and angst, the friendship and desperation – all of it was so well done. Sylah’s story is one of rebellion, of a weapon forged and is fantastic to watch play out.

Anoor is was raised in luxury, naïve to the world beyond the Ember’s Quarters. But, when she meets Sylah everything changes. I loved Anoor and her journey. She develops a lot over the course of the book, struggling and understanding her privilege, fighting to do what’s right – and I loved watching this grow. Anoor is soft and inquisitive but has a fire in her that grows brighter as the book goes on. Her determination is honed and sharpened as she takes on a difficult challenge. Anoor’s dynamic with Sylah and the characters around her are equally interesting and well written and I loved watching these relationships grow and evolve over the course of the book – especially her and Sylah’s frenemies to lovers dynamic. Anoor’s story is one of determination, of fear honed into motivation and focus.

Hassa is a Ghosting, a slave, a trader invisible to those in the Empire. Hssa’s journey is another excellent element of the plot – her forced silence creates a façade of subservience but Hassa is determined, clever and caring. I really loved Hassa’s character and journey – the pressures on her, the clever mind she has. Hassa’s relationships are brilliant, her and Sylah as friends is a core bond, but also with other characters we meet. Hassa story is one of silent determination, of secrets and hope.

While the plot primarily follows Sylah, Anoor, and Hassa, there is so much to the story. With the Tidewinds claiming lives more brutally and quickly than before, and a sleeping sickness killing the Ghostings, The Ember’s don’t appear to be the only threat in the Empire. And the discovery of a map leads to questions that appear to have no answers.

Saara El-Arifi creates a clever plot and story with elements that come together to create something twisted and complex. Many of the twists and turns truly took me by surprise, El-Arifi truly knows how to cleverly weave small elements together to create a shocking image that slowly begins to click together as you read.

There is so much more I could say about the story, about the Rebellion, the blood magic and the Atkibar trials but I don’t want to spoil this for anyone tempted to pick this book up!

As for the characters we have an inclusive cast of excellent characters that are flawed and realistic. Sylah and Anoor are sapphic characters, there is a primary transgender character, and many of the minor characters are queer. The Ghostings are all mut due to their mutilation at the hands of the Embers, but have their own complex and clever way of communicating with eachother through sign-language that uses the limbs rather than the hands. Moreover, the cast is African and Arab and some side-characters are non-binary (they/them).

Honestly, I loved all three of the central women in the novel, I loved other charcater’s we meet, and thought the cruel characters were written well. Each character has a unique and distinct voice, motivations, beliefs and goals which supports the plot, the reveals and the secrets excellently. All the characters are well developed throughout the story and the relationships between them all develop in interesting ways.

Overall, The Final Strife, by Saara El-Arifi is an excellent and complex epic fantasy that is intense, compelling and vivid.

*I received an eARC via #Netgalley #HarperCollinsUK in exchange for an honest review – thank you!!*


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