The Final Strife – Saara El-Arifi

I, Hannah, read The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi, a high fantasy book that has amazing world building and characters. This is the first book in an upcoming trilogy, and I can’t wait to continue with El-Arifi when she comes out with the next two books. If you want to hear more about the author, listen to the wonderful interview she did with FTF Podcast. But here is my reaction to the book. Let’s get into it.

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 slaves, of the crushed, of the invisible.

This book is amazing. It follows different peoples, separated by blood. This has been a theme I’ve seen a lot recently, in The Red Queen or The Guilded Ones, but El-Arifi makes it her own. The Red blooded elite can use their blood for magic, creating rune-like magic. They are the “saviors” of society, building up their world after a Great Fire that burned everything but their island to the ground. But not everyone is a fan of the elite. A secret society stole away red blooded children and raised them with the intention to overthrow the government, replacing the children with blue blooded children. Sylah is one of the red blooded children, all grown up. She has suffered and is addicted to a joba seed. A drug that keeps her from remembering the horrors of her past. When she runs into someone from the past, she is pushed into her old world. She suddenly has a reason to survive. A reason to continue a fight she had given up.

Anoor is a blue blood who was raised in the red blood world. She was one of the children swapped at birth, and has no idea why she is the way she is or where her family is. All she knows is hatred from her mother and ostracization from her supposed society. But when she decides to take her own legacy into her hands, she will need all the help she can.

Hassa is a clear blood, also known as a “Ghosting”, she is invisible and surrounded by mystery on her people and what her role is. The Ghostings are the “slave” class. They are being mutilated for an uprising 400 years ago. But there is a lot going beneath the surface, and Hassa is trying to reach out to Sylah to hint to her what is going on and what she needs to know, as a friend.

This book was so interesting to me. The plot definitely had a lot of things running through it, but it all worked. I read a review that critiqued it as “the math ain’t mathing”, but honestly I think that was where it worked best. It is supposed to be a lot of layers on top of one another, with expert foreshadowing and interesting hints at what is to come. I was shocked at a few of the moments and it lead me to be really excited for the next book. I wanted to know more and see where things went. I think a huge part of this novel was how El-Arifi takes things like the class system and the colonialism and has it be a main theme of the novel while giving us interesting action sequences, a look at addiction, and mystery.

I also felt like she really had a great hold on her characters. Each of them was flawed in their own way, and they all had to bounce off one another. There are things that happen where you want to kick someone for making a certain decision, there are moments that felt earned and some that you shake your head at. But overall it all made sense in the story to see where things are set up and where things will potentially go. I greatly enjoyed seeing these characters progress. As an aside, I thought the use of drugs in Sylah was so deftly handled. I feel like a recent trend I am seeing in some of my women-author fantasy is showing off a character who would have been a side character be a main focus in novels, and I’m here for it. Sylah is a hotheaded, drug addled person who doesn’t want to grow but is forced to. Usually we would see a main character using her as a friend who they shake their head at. But here she gets to shine as someone who needs to overcome substance abuse and gets to be a flawed character in her own right. I understood her pain and felt connected to her and felt the novel really knew what it was doing. Anoor is the typical main character, but she also gets her own growth and criticisms of how she benefits from her placement in society. Hassa is struggling to make everyone see what is going on. You get her frustration. The characters felt great, they felt human. I can’t wait to see what they do.

I will admit some of this book is likely easy to call. But, I have recently gotten into a more laissez faire attitude when it comes to reading books. I don’t want to know what the foreshadowing means. I don’t want to guess the ending. I want to see where the author leads me. And El-Arifi lead me to interesting places. I liked how she used the characters. I liked that they changed but had realistic growth. It was all so interesting and I enjoyed the journey more than the destination. And it felt like the author let me do that! So pick up this book if you like fantasy and interesting characters.

Someone did point out that there is fatphobia when it comes to Anoor, so I think that is important to note. Plus, there is the underlying drug use, drug abuse, racism, sexism, and colorism themes. So make sure you are prepared for those.

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