The Final Strife – a review

The Final Strife
Saara El-Arifi
Adult Fantasy

Harper Collins UK
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Once this book hooks you in, you can’t let go. I had to stay up until way past midnight to finish it and it’s a long while since I’ve had to do that. It’s a slow starter and I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it at first but once I got into the story I was completely hooked.

There are three classes of people in the empire, red blooded, blue blooded and clear. The red bloods or Embers are the ruling class and they rule their empire without mercy. The blue bloods are the Dusters who do all of the work and the clear or translucent bloods are simply invisible and known as Ghostings. 

Four Wardens control every aspect of life and their disciples learn from them. Every ten years, the disciples become the new wardens and the Aktibar Games are held to choose new disciples from the ranks of the Embers. These games and the opportunity that they bring for change are the focus of the novel. This is a familiar scenario but there is nothing familiar about the story that the author creates here.

We read the story through the eyes of three different women, an ember, a duster and a ghosting. Each of the women has her own agenda and through each of the view points we gradually learn more about the world they live in. Sylah was trained from birth to win the games but six years before, her entire family was murdered in front of her. Now she is a drug addict who survives by fighting for money in the ring. Anoor is the spoilt daughter of the Warden of Strength. Her only interest appears to be creating more and more extravagant outfits to wear. Hassa is a ghosting and also a friend of Sylah’s. As a ghosting, she has no worth in society but she is far more than at first appears. These women’s lives become intertwined and their interests coincide but nothing is quite as it seems.

The three women are very different and at first two of them at least, don’t seem very likeable. However, as the story develops and we learn more about each of them, you find yourself caring for all three. The relationships cover love, anger, hatred and betrayal and right up until the end, you aren’t quite sure how things are going to turn out.

Interspersed with the story are brief extracts from the wardens’ journals which show us more about the way they govern their empire and the horrific way the Dusters and Ghostings are treated. We also get extracts from the story tellers or griots which add more to our understanding of the world.

I found the world building amazing. Bit by bit, we learn about the society, its history and the magic system. I loved the way that the characters themselves don’t know their history and it gets gradually revealed to them and the reader.  The magic system is really logical and based on blood which makes sense as blood is such an integral part of this story.  It’s a dark world and there are some distressing descriptions of punishments meted out to the Dusters and Ghostings but for me, this book was unputdownable.

The book is definitely part of a series but doesn’t end on a cliff hanger. This part of the story concludes in a way that ends satisfactorily but leaves plenty of questions for the next books. I loved this debut novel and can’t wait to see how the story develops next.

The Final Strife is published by Harper Collins UK on 23rd June 2022

Thank you to Net Galley and the publishers, Harper Collins UK, for my ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Sundays in bed with ……… The Final Strife

Sundays in bed with is a meme hosted by Midnight Book Girl but I came across it recently on Jill’s Book Blog. It is simply a chance to share the book that is by your bed at the moment (or that you wish was by your bed). This week the book by my bed (or on the sofa) is The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi

This book is a Net Galley and it has been sitting on my shelf for over six months but I finally managed to get round to reading it as it is due to be published later this month.

Blurb from Net Galley:
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.

This book was slow to get me involved but once I was used to the writing style, I was hooked and stayed up until past midnight to finish it. It’s a brilliant debut and I would certainly recommend it to any lovers of fantasy. Review to come nearer the publication date.