The Final Strife
by Saara El-Arifi
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Pub Date 23 Jun 2022 | Archive Date Not set
HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction, HarperVoyager
'Epic in scope, its worldbuilding as intricate as filigree. The Final Strife sings of rebellion, love, and the courage it takes to stand up to tyranny, following three women whose journeys will keep you gripped to the last' —Samantha Shannon, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Priory of the Orange Tree
The Empire rules by blood
Red is the blood of the elite, of magic, of control.
Blue is the blood of the poor, of workers, of the resistance.
Clear is the blood of the servants, of the crushed, of the invisible.
The Aktibar – a set of trials held every ten years to find the next Ember rulers of the Empire – is about to begin.
All can join but not just anyone can win; it requires great skill and ingenuity to become the future wardens of Strength, Knowledge, Truth and Duty.
Sylah was destined to win the trials and be crowned Warden of Strength. Stolen by blue-blooded rebels she was raised with a Duster’s heart; forged as a weapon to bring down from within the red-blooded Embers’ regime of cruelty. But when her adopted family were brutally murdered those dreams of a better future turned to dust.
However, the flame of hope may yet be rekindled because Sylah wasn’t made to sparkle, she was born to burn.
And it’s up to her whether she rules the empire or destroys it.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 182 members
Saara El-Arifi's epic SFF debut The Final Strife is an incredibly brutal tale of an empire built on blood through torn skin. It is also a tale of addiction, identity crisis, and grief; but most of all reforging oneself—dust through flame into glass. It unveils the beginning of an ambitious and complex story full of twisted truths, conflicting loyalties, and the all too human heart amidst flaming, blood-stained sands.
In short, I adored it, my hype was definitely not in vain.
This was everything I want in a fantasy novel:
1) well-crafted world building that factors in real-world horrors of oppression and class division in a way that is brutal and honest, but still an immersive fantasy setting
2) multi dimensional characters that truly develop as people as the story goes on, Sylah's battle with addiction, and Anoor's struggle to prove herself are just the main points of the personal journeys both characters go on.
3) a unique magic system that feeds into and informs the world of the novel
4) a peek into all levels of the established society, from the wealthy elite, to the impoverished workers, to the criminal underbelly
Pepper in a sapphic enemies-to-lovers arc and a magical competition and you've got all the ingredients for me to give this book a 5 star rating. My only complaint is that I now have a very long wait for the next book in the trilogy.
(Many thanks to Netgalley and HarperFiction for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.)
Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollinsUK for this eARC of 'The Final Strife' by debut author Saara El-Arifi. My review is purely my own opinion.
I loved this book. Did it take me ages to get to read this book? Of course. But it's such a good read, I'm glad I took my time with it. El-Arifi is such a good writer and the black main character is so strong, powerful and well developed. I just adored this book in total.
I'm usually more of a YA reader, but I'm so glad I broke out of my comfort zone for this book. The world of The Final Strife is brutal and unforgiving, but it is also rich, vivid, and beautifully imagined––not to mention expertly woven into the narrative.
Sylah and Anoor are two characters I would go to war for, and their dynamic is wonderfully crafted throughout the novel.
The book also does a great job of exploring difficult themes without ever becoming too dark or grim or a chore to read.
100/10 would recommend. I'm looking forward to the next instalment already.
The Final Strife is such an exciting start to a trilogy. The setup and setting have many classic elements of YA dystopia (not in a bad way) - categories of people, individuals selected to rise through the ranks - but explored and subverted through the lens of modern epic fantasy. The characters feel appropriately complex, and the relationships (including romantic) convinced me easily. This is a book where I enjoyed having seen twists coming, because it felt like pieces falling into place, with each revelation meaning something in the bigger picture. The world did require a lot of exposition at first, and it was not handled especially elegantly (a lot of blunt description or unnatural dialogue), but once that had passed the book went from strength to strength, and sets up a next book which I suspect will be even stronger.
There are some books that when you read them, you just know. You know that these characters and their stories are going to live in your head for years.
The only reason it may not be the first title that jumps to your lips when someone asks for a recommendation is that you don’t want to share - Share these characters that you care for SO deeply - Share this world where they struggle and dance, laugh and cry, love and bleed…
Because what if that don’t understand, what if they don’t understand and in doing that show that they don’t understand the piece of you that also lives there.
The Final Strife is one of those books for me.
It takes the norms of the ‘chosen one’ trope or the ‘brooding assassin with a past’ throws them straight out the window. To be honest Sylah would definitely throw you out the window… and swear at you afterwards.
Anoor. Beautiful, courageous Anoor, who I’m sure a lot of bookish people will see themselves in, would probably laugh in your face … and maybe offer you tea.
All the characters are all so beautiful flawed, and so flawlessly real.
The politics, the intrigue, the twist and turn of the plot, the world building all leave you so immersed, so breathless that all you can do is want more
Gritty, Sapphic, Inclusive, Friends/enemies to lovers, morally grey characters, badass side ones … just everything you could ever want, and it all takes place in the blood soaked land of The Final Strife
I do not even know where to start with a review for this book. I mean, sometimes you come across a book that grabs you by the face and just demands to be read. This is one of those books.
You are introduced to the world quickly, smoothly and efficiently, without any kind of condescending tone from the author. Their style is smooth, and easy to read, holds your attention, even when it is three in the morning and you know you should be sleeping.
I loved the story, simply loved it, and I could not wait to finish it, to see if things would work out the way I thought they would. Some did, some didnt, and that was fine by me, as I loved the ending, and I can not wait for the next book.
It was an emotional bumper car experience, that leaves you begging for more!
Like its main character Sylah, this book grabbed me, and wouldn't let me go until it had my undivided attention. It is an intensely felt, beautifully characterised story where you feel for both Anoor and Sylah - two girls who are quite different in many ways and who are the making of each other as they work together to overturn the rigid ruling class who determines those with blue or transparent blood are social inferiors and are dispossessed. Fans of the Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard and Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham will really enjoy this. There are story tropes such as the games of strength and tactics, literal blood magic and a tale of stolen children designed to be sleeper agents in a long game of infiltration and destruction from within. Most disturbing are the Ghostings, the original inhabitants of the land now colonised by the ruling red bloods, and who at birth have hands and tongues removed before being enslaved. It was a very compelling tale and I cannot wait for the next installment.
With thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for a complimentary review copy. Opinions are my own.
The Final Strife is the epic African/Arabian mythology inspired dystopian fantasy I didn't know I was missing from my life. It has instantly become one of my favourite reads this year, and I have not been this excited about the start of a new series in a long time. It features three strong women as its main characters, each individually developed and portrayed as being strong in different ways. It also includes a diverse cast of characters and queer/trans/non-binary rep. If features such as these appeal to you then I would definitely recommend picking it up: a subversion of the 'chosen one' trope, slow burn romance, enemies to lovers, competing in trials/a contest ending in blood, wholesome female friendships, a snarky on the outside but heart of gold main character, a nightly curfew because of a deadly wind that strips the flesh from your bones if you are out in the open after nightfall, giant lizards you can ride around on. I also loved how the book explored the hardships and realities of drug addiction related to the aftermath of coping with trauma.
Overall, I am blown away by all aspects of this novel; the world-building is believable and intriguing without being too confusing, the characters are well-developed and engaging, and the plot kept me hooked throughout – I was shocked after finishing reading the ARC on my kindle to discover that the hardback is around 600 pages! I especially enjoyed reading from Sylah's perspective, and she had me laughing out loud several times. I will be buying myself a physical copy once it is released (June 23rd!) and I am already dying to read the sequel. This is definitely a fantasy series not to be overlooked.
Would I recommend?
Yes, particularly to fans of dystopian fantasy.
Thank you, thank you, thank you Harper Collins U.K. and NetGalley for the arc of The Final Strife by Sara El Arifi in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
Initially starting this book I was mmm, not do sure, but this was quickly transformed into I cannot put these books down…Sylah, Anoora and Hassa are characters whose stories will remain in my head and my heart for a long, long time!
What can I say, these are characters who love, bleed, love and try, live and dance and just won’t leave me. They feel so strongly and so deeply, they fight for their and the future of those they care for.
Anoor is beautiful, stronger than she knows and so wonderfully kind. Sylah, broken, at the depths of loss and sorrow, but still fighting for more, and better, despite herself and Hassa, a beautiful, courageous soul!
This book delivers on all fronts, political dynamics, intrigue, twists, gurns and totally devastatingly emotional! Plus, romance and relationships that pull you in and turn you inside out!
Plus the cherry on the icing on the cake, morally grey characters, plots within plots and sapphic love. What more could I ask for? Book 2 now please!
A beautiful sapphic story that speaks of revolution, oppression, and addiction: this is a truly remarkable debut from Saara El-Arifi! This is not for the fainthearted, but El-Arifi does a great job of conducting a painstaking exploration of classism, racism, and so much more.
The worldbuilding was spellbinding, with the terrifying tidewinds that swept away the lives of so many, and El-Arifi's use of blood as an indicator of social classes and how the ruling classes institute racism was eye-opening.
The protagonists are flawed but made me want to root for them desperately. Hassa was such an interesting character, and I longed to hear from her perspective more, as a Ghostling who had so many secrets of her own. Sylah was physically powerful yet bore the scars of her past in her debilitating drug addiction, lost to oblivion until she meets Anoor. And Anoor, sweet Anoor, had the best BAMF character growth in this story!! Her privilege and sheltered upbringing never negated her true self, and the more she learns, the more she gains empathy and resolves to shake things up in the Empire.
The sapphic romance between Anoor and Sylah was a sweet, slow burn, and was honestly so cute my heart couldn't take it!!! The nature of the book is dark, but the lightness in their relationship was like a beacon in the dark and I loved to see it.
It was also so refreshing to see how El-Arifi infuses her culture and background into the story with descriptions of food, griots etc. I was so happy to see positive representations of queerness! There are trans characters, non-binary characters, lesbian, bisexual, and gay characters and they are interwoven into the story without being made a big deal of and are not punished for their sexualities.
Thank you to HarperCollins for granting my wish and offering me an ARC on Netgalley!!
Sapphic enemies to lover of course i was there plus its fantasy and sci fi and going to be a trilogy, excuse me while i go scream for joy.
Saara El-Arifi you little minx you knew what i wanted in a book and delivered, the sense setting and world building is *chef kiss*, its not a info dump but worked in to the storyline nicely. the characters are on point which a growth that is natural and either character 180s they ARC to become what is need in the storyline. Plus the cutlures are well researched and explain in the story and so makes it all so realistic and respectful.
the balance between the magic system and the fantasy aspects of this story is just right and so allows the other themes of the book to come through and encourage a deeper connection with the story and characters.
this author has just joined my auto buy list and i cant wait for the next book
I reviewed the Final Strife for book recommendation site LoveReading.co.uk. I’ve chosen it as a LoveReading Star Book and Liz Pick of the Month. See link for full review.
WOW. And I really mean, WOW.
The Final Strife is Saara El-Arifi's debut, and if her debut is THAT good, I can't wait for the future books.
This book is chonky. And I love chonky books. But big books can sometimes make you feel lost, with too many names and places and information. And this isn't the case here. The universe is complex, the characters well-defined, but I never felt lost.
I loved the plot and truly struggled to put the book down sometimes. I have a lot of questions and can't wait for the rest of the series !
Thank you Netgalley and HarperCollins UK for granting my wish and providing me with an eARC of this book! I’m so excited that it’s my first Netgalley review.
I don’t need a lot from a book. All I ask for is a little romance, an interesting plot and good writing. And oh boy did The Final Strife deliver! I was hooked from the very first page. F/F and enemies to lovers and you’ve hooked me. Samara El-Arifi did an outstanding job with her debut novel. The world-building was out of this world (see what I did there!) and I adored the unique magic system.
I will definitely be recommending this book to my friends and can’t wait for the next book.
A great read. Set in a world very different to our own. I totally enjoyed sharing Sylah’s journey to discover herself and her true heritage. There are endless excitements and challenges for her along the way. Stories of barbaric treatments meted out to those deemed of a lower status. These made my flesh creep but all part of a well woven tale that stirs feelings and emotions.
We also shared in Sylah’s deep felt sorrow of past events in her family and how this was driving her on to her ultimate goal.
The ending wasn’t quite what I had been expecting and was all the better for that. It was the sort of ending that leaves you wondering and wanting to know, what next? Thoroughly recommended.
This is the start of an exciting new fantasy series. It has elements of ‘The Hunger Games’ and Noughts and Crosses’, but is quite unique in its world-building. There is a very tight caste structure – but not one based on skin colour, or wealth alone – rather on blood colour. In a reversal of the Western standard, where the aristocracy are described as blue-blooded, the top caste here – the Embers – have red blood. Next down – the Dusters – are blue blooded, and right at the bottom – the Ghostings – have clear blood. Naked – as a brothel madam points out – all look the same, unless they bleed, making passing for another caste relatively straightforward. However, the Ghosting caste are also defined visually by their lack of hands and tongues. This was a legal requirement brought in as a punishment following a long ago uprising by the Ghostings, to prevent further insurrections:
“It is my fervent belief that severing the hands and tongues of Ghostings benefits their wellbeing. Those whose wounds fester are weeded out young, their frail countenance discarded before they become a nuisance to their masters. Those who survive understand the power of pain and the importance of subservience. —Journal entry by Aveed, Disciple of Duty”
There are three main character in this book – all female and of different castes: Sylah (Ember), Anoor (Duster) and Hassan (Ghosting). The twist is, that Sylah and Anoor grew up in the ‘wrong’ caste. Sylah is one of the Stolen, the twelve two-year-old Ember children who were swapped by the rebel Sandstorm for Duster children (such as Anoor). Most of the changeling Duster children were discovered and killed, but Anoor’s Ember mother could not have her reputation tarnished by admitting that the Sandstorm had infiltrated her home, so kept Anoor’s secret. Sylar was brought up by the Sandstorm to help lead the revolution and to topple the Embers:
“Stolen, sharpened, the hidden key,
We’ll destroy the empire and set you free,
Churned up from the shadows to tear it apart,
A dancer’s grace, a killer’s instinct, an Ember’s blood,
A Duster’s Heart.”
“In a battle, the last battle, the only battle. And we name it now, so it sears into our flesh, the moment to come, the rebellion that will destroy the Embers and the empire they stand upon. The Dusters’ last stand. And it starts with you, my Stolen children, you are our last hope, you are The Final Strife.”
Only, it didn’t go to plan. Sandstorm was discovered, and all but Sylah and her Duster mother were believed dead. Sylah used her martial training to earn a living as a cage fighter, but with no hope of fulfilling her purpose, became a drug addict, addicted to Joba seeds. Desperate for money for a fix, Sylah breaks into Anoor’s bedroom – feeling that anything Anoor had, should have been her birthright. Anoor turns out to be not such a weak, entitled milksop as Sylah had expected, and imprisons Sylah, forcing her to go cold-turkey.
The empire is run by the four wardens: Warden of Strength, Warden of Truth, Warden of Knowledge and Warden of Duty (There is also a Warden of Crime to take care of the underworld). Every ten years the Aktibar trials take place to find the next disciple for a Warden, and then ten years hence to become the next Warden once they had learned the ropes.
Sylah’s mission had been to enter the Aktibar for the Warden of Strength. She misses the deadline and instead is forced to help Anoor train for it. Anoor has always been underestimated. Her mother (current Warden of Strength) hated and abused her for her low blood.
Sylah believes only what Sandstorm told her – that all Embers were bad. Anoor had a very sheltered upbringing – but a very keen curiosity and sense of fairness, and through Sylah discovers much about the privilege and destitution of the outside world. Both learn so much from each other, and become better people because of it. They also learn a truth about the empire, that they never in their wildest dreams would have considered possible. Hassan, as the lowest of the low, and as an unseen and ignored servant to Embers, sees all layers.
“Hassa added her rage to the burning coals that were always glowing white in her mind. Ghostings were the dregs of the empire because Embers made them that way. Even Dusters thought they were lesser. They were all wrong. They didn’t know the truth.
If your blood runs red, go straight ahead. If your blood runs blue, you’re not coming through. Translucent hue, who are you, who are you, who are you? We’d tell you exactly who we are, if only we could, Hassa thought. The words, starting in the throats of the officers, had crawled across the river into the mouths of countless children. A nursery rhyme, they thought. Isn’t that how propaganda starts?
… “Tell them they are lesser. And they will feel lesser. Show them they are nothing. And they will be nothing. Take their identity. And they will be no one”
Hassan has always known what was going on, and is the most mature and liberal of the three. She alone does not judge people by the colour of their blood, and knows that real, lasting change can only come through all sectors of the empire working together.
“We cannot reclaim what is ours without the help from those who oppress us.”
Can Anoor win the Aktiba? If so, what then? Can things change? and for the better, for all? Anoor states:
. “I’ve realised a world run by people who think they’re better will never be better for everyone. … I didn’t want to fight this battle, but I was the only one who could. Not because I’m better but because I’m not one of them. And that’s a start”
Apart from the brutality and discrimination that is blighting the Empire, there is also the worsening environmental situation, with the scouring, deadly sand storms. Even if society changes, will there be a land left to live in?
I am really looking forward to the next in this series. It is not just a great fantasy adventure story, it makes you think long and hard about discrimination of all kinds in the real world. Highly recommended.
The Final Strife is the first book in a fantasy trilogy, and I absolutely loved it. I thought it was a brilliant read, and I'm really looking forward to the direction the story takes as the series progresses.
The three main characters, Sylah, Anoor and Hassa, are each very different, unique characters. I can't choose a favourite from the three of them. I loved the way Hassa's trans identity is handled, and also her sign language. Sylah is a complete mess, but she is stronger than she thinks she is, and I loved reading her journey. And Anoor... I adored Anoor. This is the kind of queer fantasy that I live for.
The world building is complex, and the world the characters are in is horrific, filled with violence, discrimination and bigotry. But the story still managed to feel hopeful, and not too dark. The politics and the way magic works fascinated me, and the plot is exciting and dramatic.
I'm really looking forward to book two!
Five blazing stars! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
You know when you grab a book with high hopes and you end up totally satisfied and some more.
3D characters with unique voices.
The author's prose sumptuous. Her narrative evocative, colourful, and vivid. It allows the reader to completely immerse themselves in the story (Boy! Was I grumpy when ripped out from between the pages!).
Now? I'm suffering serious book hangover with no idea of what to read next.
Second installment, please!
This exciting new author goes onto my watchlist for the future!
Thanks to Netgalley & Publisher for the opportunity to read an ARC copy
I loved this. It was slowed paced for at least the first half but that didn't effect my enjoyment.
Sylah may have her flaws and issues but I loved her. Seeing her journey and struggle with drug addiction. The strength she has to power through and try help others.
Hassa may actually be my favourite character. I just wanted to hug and protect her at times. I need a novella dedicated to her.
The training for the trials were interesting to read. Learning about the skills and powers needed to get through each one.
We spent enough time with each trial to learn more about the world and how they do things. But didn't feel filler at all.
This story was rich in detail without ever feeling too info dumpy. I never found myself confused or overwhelmed with information.
Wow. What a fantastic book. Easily the best fantasy novel I've read in the past few years. Saara El-Arifi builds a breathtaking world with roots in Africa, complete with a vibrant landscape and history, and a host of diverse characters. All of this with zero pandering to white readers. Go Saara!
I particularly enjoyed the casual way that diversity is baked in. There were a few places where I was unconvinced by the logic, or didn't understand why someone did something, but that takes away nothing from this stunning debut. The only major complaint I have is that the book finished abruptly—or I had a few pages missing from my file.
I'm staying tuned for book 2.
(Review copy from NetGalley)
Thank you Netgalley and publisher for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
The Final Strife, is an epic fantasy based around three POVs, Sylah a red-blooded Ember, stolen as a child by the fabled Sandstorm, to help bring down the empire. Anoor a blue-blooded Duster, replaced in the cradle to the stolen Ember, and Hassa, a clear blooded Ghosting, the dredges of the empire, hands, and tongue cut off at birth to keep them silent and weak.
There are so many themes in this book, love, loss, addiction, revenge, and racism all set in an immense fantasy world. The world-building was vivid and rich, and while it does follow the age-old assassin, enemies to lover’s trope, this book does it with ease. The plot followed smoothly and had lots of twists and revelations which I didn’t see coming. I loved the character of Sylah, she was just so beautifully flawed, hard, edgy, and suffering from extreme loss and addiction.
I absolutely loved this book, and couldn’t put it down, I will definitely be buying this when it's released, and I can’t wait for the next instalment.
Thank you to HarperCollins UK for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
First off, let me just say that The Final Strife has had so much hype surrounding it and, sometimes, when a book is this hyped, it fails to meet expectations. Not so in this case – The Final Strife not only met those expectations but exceeded them. It was every bit as great as everyone has been saying, if not more so.
The basics before my review – the empire is ruled by red-blooded Embers, who hold all the power. Blue-blooded dusters are the workers, the poor. Clear-blooded Ghostings are the servants, the invisible.
This book, the first in a trilogy, follows Sylah, a red-blooded Ember stolen by blue-blooded Dusters when she was a baby and raised to infiltrate the Ember ranks and bring the empire down.
Anoor, a blue-blooded Duster left behind as a decoy when the Ember children were stolen, brought up in the Ember world, in their privilege, but always less than.
Hassa, a Ghosting who is used to being invisible and uses this to her advantage.
Sylah, stolen by Dusters, was destined to win the Aktibar, the trials that take place every ten years to find the next Ember rulers of the Empire (Wardens), and become Warden of Strength. Taken by the Dusters as a child, they raised her to win, until her entire adopted family were murdered. Six years later, Sylah is a completely different person, without a cause, without hope, and she has turned to Joba Seeds, an addictive drug. She lives day by day, always looking for her next fix.
Anoor, a Duster child left behind as a decoy when the Ember children were stolen, has lived her entire life knowing she is different, that she needs to hide who she is. And it’s not easy being a Duster when your “mother” is the Disciple of Strength, soon to become Warden of Strength. When Anoor crosses paths with Sylah, she decides to enter the Akitbar herself and prove everyone wrong – Anoor wants to create change from within, but to win the Aktibar, she needs Sylah’s help.
Then we have Hassa, a Ghosting servant and friend of Sylah, who’s status renders her all but invisible to Embers. Hassa uses this to her advantage, gaining work in the heart of the Ember’s home, gathering information to help other Ghostings.
Can all three work together to bring change to the Empire? Is there more going on beneath the surface? Will their differences destroy everything?
The Final Strife is the debut novel by Saara El-Arifi, and it’s hard to believe this is her debut it’s that good. This reads like a seasoned pro. The world building in this book is incredible – some books pile information upon information on the reader and it makes it difficult to fully immerse yourself in the story. That wasn’t the case here – the Empire was intricately woven and built-up for the reader, without detracting from the narrative as a whole. It left you with a deep understanding of the world, but you were fully immersed at the same time.
The characters are fully fleshed out, with POVs from Sylah, Anoor, and Hassa driving the story. You really get a feel for each of these characters and their relation to this world, and this helps drive the narrative throughout. When these three characters interact with each other, it’s funny, irritating, emotional – you really feel what the characters feel in their interactions.
There are a host of side characters, some you’ll love, some not so much, but all incredibly written. Plus, this is book full of diverse characters, which is amazing.
Then there is the plot – this was exciting throughout, full of action, full of intrigue, full of politics and history. I can’t say too much without giving things away, but the plot sweeps you along for the ride, it never falters (surprising given this is a 600+ page book!). You are hooked for every page and the reveals are shocking when they come.
It perfectly sets up for Book Two, and I am so excited to see what happens and where these characters go from here.
Thank you for letting me read the advance copy of this book, it really was worth the time I took to read. Although there were some rather brutal and visceral episodes in this book, they were there for a reason and were acceptable within the context of the narrative. The characters were well developed and fleshed out and the story immersive. Once I started it was difficult to stop. Can I have the next in the series now please ?
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