One book that’s been getting a lot of buzz lately is The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi. Her debut novel, this is the first in her Ending Fire trilogy. This fantasy novel is inspired by Ghanaian folklore and Arabian mythology, where people are divided based on the color of their blood and where secrets about their world are greater than they could ever know. I picked up The Final Strife both as a hardcover and as an audiobook. The audio narration is wonderful, and I’m glad I chose that format for my first reading. Wow, what a book! I already can’t wait to continue the series!
The Warden’s Empire is a land with a dark history of destruction, isolation, and revolution. Sylah is one such revolutionary, a woman who fought among the resistance before they failed, leaving her behind. Now she lives a life of crime and prize fighting, succumbing to her addictions, and dreaming of rising up again. Anoor, in contrast, has grown up in a palace, the daughter of a powerful ruler. She’s been told all her life that she’s talentless, but she’s ready to prove herself in front of the whole nation. Hassa is part of the slave class, and though she’s been silenced, she knows far more than most realize. Together, these three women could be the key to unleashing a new revolution and changing the world as everyone knows it.
The Final Strife is a stunning book that sucks you in from the very beginning. At first, it mainly follows Sylah, a young woman who was part of the resistance before they went underground. She’s an addict now, making just enough money from fighting to feed her addiction. But when she gets into a tricky situation, she must help Anoor—the daughter of the most powerful ruler—in her quest to complete a months-long trial. Anoor is girly and naive, and she has been told her whole life that she has no talents. She’s the underdog in this competition, but with Sylah’s help, she may just have a chance of making it to the end.
This is a long book at nearly 600 pages (or 20 hours in the audiobook version), and there is a lot of world-building that draws from Ghanaian folklore and Arabian mythology. Even so, The Final Strife doesn’t feel like a long book; it doesn’t ever drag on. Every chapter is exciting enough to hold your captive interest, whether by the action sequences or by the dynamic characters. One thing I love is how each chapter begins with an extra bit of media—snippets of laws, journal entries, doctor’s notes, and so much more. It gives readers a sense of the world in myriad ways, but it also helps in better understanding the characters.
Each of the characters is absolutely beguiling. Sylah and Anoor get the most attention here. Sylah is a badass. She’s a fighter, rough around the edges, emotionally closed off, and somewhat in denial about how bad her addiction is. But deep down, she really cares about the people in her life and about her revolutionary mission. Anoor is the opposite: She’s feminine, sheltered, and lacks confidence in herself. And yet she builds up a toughness throughout this story, becoming so much stronger than anyone expected—especially her unloving mother! The third point-of-view character, Hassa, gets far less page time here. She’s mysterious and, despite her status and abilities, quite powerful. I hope to get to know her much more in the next two books in the trilogy.
The Final Strife is quite political and action-packed, but it’s also about connection and acceptance. There is some great diverse representation here, as well as some queer romance. At least one character is bi or pansexual, and another is a lesbian. One of the main characters is disabled (due to violence committed against her as a child). This book also explores discrimination and bigotry, here based upon a person’s blood color. This has clear parallels to the kinds of discrimination that are pervasive in our real world today.
I love how the story here unfolds, giving enough time to breathe and get to know the fantasy world and array of characters, but always pushing the narrative forward. As it moves closer to the end, there are some shocking reveals and exciting twists. The story ends on a cliffhanger, and there is so much excitement to look forward to in the trilogy’s second book.
The Final Strife is such an engrossing and fun story! It mixes together so many of my favorite elements: magic, romance, mystery, deception, adventure, danger, even comedy. The characters are vivid, and even with their flaws, they make you root for them. The audiobook makes the whole book that much more immersive. This is a fabulous start to the Ending Fire trilogy, and I’m excited to read the next book, The Battle Drum, due out next year.
Get the Book
You can buy The Final Strife here – it’s available as a hardcover, ebook, and audiobook.
|The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi|
|Series||The Ending Fire (#1)|
|Audiobook Narrator||Nicole Lewis; Dominic Hoffman|
|Setting||Ghanaian & Arabian-inspired world|
|Book Length||20 hours; 597 pages|
|Format I Read||Audiobook & Hardcover|
|Original Publication Date||June 21, 2022|
In the first book of a visionary fantasy trilogy with its roots in the mythology of Africa and Arabia, three women band together against a cruel empire that divides people 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 slaves, of the crushed, of the invisible.
Sylah dreams of days growing up in the resistance, being told she would spark a revolution that would free the empire from the red-blooded ruling classes’ tyranny. That spark was extinguished the day she watched her family murdered before her eyes.
Anoor has been told she’s nothing, no one, a disappointment, by the only person who matters: her mother, the most powerful ruler in the empire. But when Sylah and Anoor meet, a fire burns between them that could consume the kingdom—and their hearts.
Hassa moves through the world unseen by upper classes, so she knows what it means to be invisible. But invisibility has its uses: It can hide the most dangerous of secrets, secrets that can reignite a revolution. And when she joins forces with Sylah and Anoor, together these grains of sand will become a storm.
As the empire begins a set of trials of combat and skill designed to find its new leaders, the stage is set for blood to flow, power to shift, and cities to burn.
Book One of The Ending Fire Trilogy
About the Author
Saara El-Arifi‘s heritage is intrinsically linked to the themes she explores in her writing. She was raised in the Middle East until her formative years, when her family swapped the Abu Dhabi desert for the English Peak District hills. This change of climate taught her what it means to be Black in a white world. The Final Strife is Saara El-Arifi’s debut novel, the first part of a trilogy inspired by Ghanaian folklore and Arabian myths.
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