The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi

The Final Strife is an epic fantasy novel that weaves together a fascinating tale of magic and love in a world brutally divided by violence and oppression. 

The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi

The Final Strife is an unmissable debut by a new voice in the fantasy genre, Saara El-Arifi. The Aktibar — a set of trials held every ten years to determine the next ruler of the Empire — is about to begin. The trials are open to all, but not all can win. The Aktibar is gruelling and requires a great amount of skill, strength, and knowledge. Sylah has been destined to win the trials since she was a little girl. Stolen by rebels as an infant, she was raised with the intent of being a weapon to bring down the Empire. But when her adoptive family were brutally murdered, Sylah spiralled into a descent of drugs and self-destructive behaviour. Now Sylah must decide: will she rule the Empire or destroy it?

The Final Strife is a highly intriguing, fast-paced fantasy novel with entertaining twists and turns. Although it is her first novel, El-Arifi proves herself an expert author. Her writing is excellent, and the worldbuilding is magnificently layered. Every aspect of The Final Strife feels extremely thorough, from the glossary to the epigraphs El-Arifi crafts at the beginning of each chapter. Little details like this — and the way the story is inspired by Ghanian and Arabian mythology — add worlds of depth to the novel. On a similar note, El-Arifi’s character construction is also amazing. It is impossible not to warm to our main characters, Sylah, Annor, and Hassa. Sylah’s snarkiness is irresistible, Hassa’s devotion to her people is admirable, and Anoor’s character development is perfect. It was great to see Anoor develop from a snobbish princess-type into a fierce warrior willing to sacrifice everything to better the lives of all in the Empire.

The novel is also incredibly original. Whilst there is plenty of oppression and violence in The Final Strife, it is refreshing to see that it is not down to gender or sexuality. Instead, the oppression boils down to class struggle and colonialism. Hassa, for example, is a trans woman. Many of the minor characters are also non-binary, and medical treatments to aid in transitioning are easily accessible and widely accepted in the Empire. Those who are trans are interestingly not seen as the ‘Other’. Similarly, Sylah and Anoor, like both men and women, yet no one comments on this, and there are no labels for it. It is part of the norm, just as women holding positions of power in the Empire is also the norm. 

Saara El-Arifi is a new voice in the fantasy genre to watch out for. With The Final Strife being the first in a trilogy, it will be great to see what else El-Arifi comes out with. 

Header Image Credit: Waterstones


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