Having absolutely adored The Final Strife, I am so excited to be able to interview Saara El-Arifi and ask all my burning questions. It’s one of my favorite books of 2022 so far and so you know I had to see if El-Arifi would chat with me! Keep reading for our full conversation!
Summary of The Final Strife
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.
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Were there any alternate title ideas? How did the name or the concept come to you?
OK so, I am TERRIBLE at writing titles. I am yet to come up with a book title that has stuck. The Final Strife was originally called Bloodwerk. Which gives a very different impression of the world. Thankfully I have a very good agent with a very good eye for these things and she plucked the phrase ‘The Final Strife’ from the book.
The world building is one of my favorite parts, how was it to create the world? What is your favorite smaller world building fun fact in your book? Something that might not be essential to the plot, but that you loved creating.
The world manifested first for me, before the plot or the characters. As I knew I wanted to explore my own family roots and experience, it was then much easier to transpose that into a world built on the fragments of me. I then enriched the world with aspects of history and themes of colonisation and empire—I had some pretty dark days researching that! But overall the worldbuilding was also one of my favourite parts of writing. One of the earliest details that came to me were the joba trees which are planted in the front of peoples’ houses. They symbolise wealth; the bigger the tree the more money you have as you can afford to water it, feed it etc. Some of the richest people in the empire also decorate their tree. It’s a fact that doesn’t impact the plot, but I love how simple yet effective it is in painting a scene.
Let’s talk POVs, how was it to write a multiple POV and did one or the other write easier/harder? Were there any unexpected challenges in using multiple POV?
There were always going to be two POVs: Anoor and Sylah. Both were planned to be the antithesis of the other, but actually what I found as I wrote was that though their personalities were very different, their inner motivations were very similar. This meant developing stylistic differences in the way each of them narrated a scene and that was quite fiddly, subtle work! Hassa was a character that grew and grew during edits, and I’m so glad she did. She went from being a side character to being intrinsic to the plot and her role only grows in book two!
The amount of action and betrayal was SO layered and intricate. How much do you know about a book events before drafting? How much do you generally change in revisions or edits?
I know very little about what is going to happen as I draft. There are certain things I wanted to achieve e.g. subverting the chosen one trope, but I also had no idea how that was going to happen. The magic for me happens in revising. The first draft I figure out the story, the second and third I begin to storytell. This was certainly the case for TFS which doubled in size during edits.
The theme of rebellion and continuing the cycle of violence is one of my favorite themes ever and in THE FINAL STRIFE. Can you talk a little bit about this theme for new readers? What drew you to this exploration?
Writing TFS was so much about finding myself. I was searching for who I was as a Black woman in the world and who my ancestors had been before. It was when I discovered a lack of knowledge of the horrors of colonialism that I began to put pen to paper. In doing so I was trying to find a new kind of truth in the silence of history. I was trying to reclaim so much of what I feel has been lost while also presenting a parallel world that recycles the same themes of violence and oppression that we see in modernity. I was also having a very active conversation with the fantasy genre as a whole, and how we need to do better to diversify epic, adult fantasy.
Did you learn anything about yourself as a writer throughout the process of releasing THE FINAL STRIFE?
I’ve realised there’s beauty in simplicity. That the most poetic of lines might look fancy, but ultimately, it’s the economical ones that pack the punch. I also think I’ve come to appreciate editing as the greatest craft, rather than drafting. Though drafting is fun, editing is really where the magic happens.
How was release and do you have any advice for other debuts who haven’t released yet? What’s been the most unexpected joy?
Debut week was amazing. I was lucky enough to have a book launch to celebrate with all the people who got me to where I am. Being a debut alongside so many incredible people has been one of the greatest joys of my life. I think building a community of other writers is essential in retaining a mediocre sense of sanity in this business. But the very, very best thing has been meeting readers who also love my characters as much as I do.
About the Author
With a DNA profile that lights up like a satellite photograph of Earth, 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 had a significant impact on her growth—not physically, she’s nearly 6ft—and she learned what it was to be Black in a white world.
Saara knew she was a storyteller from the moment she told her first lie. Though her stories have developed beyond the ramblings of a child, she still appreciates the thrill of a well-told tale.
THE FINAL STRIFE is Saara El-Arifi’s debut novel, the first part of a trilogy inspired by Ghanaian folklore and Arabian myths.