Book Review: The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi

I’m back to doing book reviews on my blog! Took a long hiatus due to burnout, but I am taking a different approach with them. Here’s the most recent book I finished.

This book had me at epic fantasy with roots in Ghanian and Arabian folklore, and a sapphic enemies-to-lovers romance.

“The Final Strife” by Saara El-Arifi is Book 1 in a trilogy that centers on the main character Sylah. In this repressive empire on this dystopian world, people are divided into castes based on their blood. Embers, who have red blood, have the most power because they can do bloodwerk magic; using their blood to activate rune patterns. Dusters are second-class citizens and Ghostings are slaves who once rebelled against the ruling class and have been punished for centuries by their overseers dismembering their tongues and hands.

Sylah is one of the Stolen, Ember children kidnapped from their families, raised from infancy to compete in trials to choose new leaders; sleeper agents who will overthrow the government from the inside. But her people are killed and Sylah becomes a drug addict, hopeless and alone. Until she meets Anoor, the Duster raised in her place who needs help with training to compete in the trials.

The “revenge against the colonizer” trope has become so commonplace in fantasy now that frankly, I’m tired of it. There’s always some Chosen One who’s going to overthrow an evil empire. But I loved this book because the characters were complex and it didn’t go the way I expected. Loved the slow-burn romance and that Sylah’s bisexual. I also appreciated the way the author handled her drug addiction; it was sensitive without being trite.

Will definitely be reading more in this series.

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