The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi
Released: 23rd June 2022
I pre-ordered the Waterstones Exclusive Hardback, at £16.99, which came with red sprayed edges and an extra short story. This is Saara El-Arifi’s debut novel and is the first in a new fantasy series.
The Final Strife is set in the land of the Empire, where society is split based on the colour of its civilians’ blood. Red is for the Embers, the upper classes, blue is for the Dusters, the workers and the servants, and clear is for the Ghostings, the mutilated slaves regarded by both as a lesser people. The Empire is ruled by four Embers, the Wardens of Strength, Knowledge, Truth and Duty.
The main protagonist is Sylah, one of the Stolen, an Ember child taken at birth by a group of Duster rebels known as the Sandstorm. Her childhood is spent training to eventually compete in the Aktibar, a set of trials to find the next rulers of the Empire. Sylah’s life and plans change however, when her adopted family and the other Stolen children are all brutally murdered. The story follows her struggles with the grief and guilt as well as her journey to try to redeem herself as a weapon for the Sandstorm.
Alongside Sylah, we also visit the viewpoints of Anoor, a Duster that was left in place of the Warden of Strength’s stolen child, and Hassa, a Ghosting who is a lot more than she seems. Each of the three strive to make changes to the Empire and the lives of its people.
The story begins with Sylah’s viewpoint and at the start, she is mostly a self-pitying drug addict on the path to her own self-destruction. However, she is also fiery and stubborn, which makes it clear she hasn’t lost all her fight just yet. To be honest, I didn’t find her very likeable to start with but her interactions with both Hassa and eventually Anoor build her character and I became more fond of her as the story progressed.
The additional viewpoints of Hassa and Anoor helped give a fuller view of the Empire, it’s segregated society and its politics. Both characters are engaging, with their own secrets and burdens to bear and to me, were instantly likeable, unlike Sylah.
There were a couple of times the multiple viewpoints took place in the same body of text. My preference is that they occur after a paragraph break or at the start of a new chapter as this avoids any confusion. Although this was not a frequent occurrence and thankfully, didn’t detract too much from the writing.
For the most part, the pacing of the story worked well but I did find the beginning a little slow. One issue for me that I feel affected the flow was a spat of repeated ideas or phrases, that seemed unnecessary. Thankfully, they disappeared completely in the second half, which I flew through compared to first.
The world building, I felt was done incredibly well and was developed through the story rather than passages of backstory. There were also inclusions of quotes from texts from the world at the start of each chapter, which gave snippets of information and short tales from Griots, the storytellers, about the Empire’s history. I think both of these aspects were clever ways to give the reader insight into the world of the Empire.
Though the story is a Fantasy, there isn’t an awful lot of magic apart from bloodwerk, runes of power drawn in the wielder’s own blood. Though the magic system comes more into focus in the latter parts of the book, I wouldn’t say it is a driving force of the story. This to me is not an issue but there might be some who expect more magic and magical creatures from a fantasy setting.
In my opinion, though the story was left open for a sequel to follow, there was enough tied off for it to still feel like a satisfying ending. The three main characters, Sylah, Anoor and Hassa, each achieved some of their goals but there is still much they need to do to aid their people and change their worlds. I was very much left wanting more and I look forward to the series continuing.
Overall, I really enjoyed ‘The Final Strife’ by Saara El-Arifi and it is an impressive debut novel. The main characters were each very different, providing alternative views of the world and each were engaging, making me long to know more about them and follow their story. The world building was well done and I felt fully immersed in the story throughout. There were a couple of issues I mentioned, but they were, to me, minor and of very little detriment to the book.
Extra Note: The short story included was a great addition and I was glad I purchased the Waterstones Exclusive edition as I felt it added to my overall experience of ‘The Final Strife’.
Caution: This book does contain violence and death as well as other issues that may be distressing to some so please check Content Warnings before reading.