Book Review: THE FINAL STRIFE by Saara El-Arifi

Title in red on white patterned background
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: yes - first book

Blurb:

Book cover for THE FINAL STRIFE: title in red on white geometric background

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.

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 dust always rises in a storm.

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.

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.

Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

THE FINAL STRIFE is an immersive story about three women, none of whom are the heroines people expected – or failed heroines -, who are on journeys to bring about the end of an empire.

I really liked the mix of their paths. The failed heroine (Sylah), the unlikely heroine (Aloor), and the secret heroine (Hassa.) That difference allowed for some of the various paths one can take in the face of an oppressive empire to be explored, to showcase different sorts of strength – and the weaknesses of those paths and strengths. It’s a complex mix that plays off each other well and gives for a layered story with multiple different story lines and plans in play.

This is a very slow burn sapphic book. I sent a message to a friend when I was around page 350 (of ~450) saying I couldn’t work out what the sapphic relationship was yet (as there are three female leads, none of whom appeared to be attracted to each other at that point, and one was involved in an m/f relationship at that point.) However, there is certainly a sapphic relationship in those last 100 pages. It’s just a very slow, gradual build up to it before it becomes a burning flame of a relationship (with plenty of ups and downs packed into those last few pages.)

THE FINAL STRIFE is a great example of information flow control. There are lots of shocking revelations that challenge the world building and characters’ expectations/assumptions. These reveals were carefully spaced out so you had a chance to absorb and understand the implications of the previous one before another came. But, equally, they weren’t too far apart for your perception of the world to remain static.

This is the start of a trilogy. In case all the previous revelations weren’t enough, as well as previous ones promising that the next book will bring a lot of change and lead to the reader exploring well beyond the city, it also hints at another big revelation to come…

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