Saara El-Arifi chats worldbuilding behind The Final Strife

"By making their blood invisible I was highlighting their oppression, their forced silence. But silence is never empty…it holds secrets."


The Final Strife, the first of a captivating trilogy with its roots in African and Arabian mythology,  follows three women banding 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.

We had the honour of chatting with Saraa El-Arifi on the worldbuilding behind The Final Strife.

The prologue was absolutely captivating as it gave readers a vivid imagery of the Warden’s Empire. Did you already have the layout of the map in mind when you wrote that?

The first draft was chaos, locations were pretty much a stab in the dark, but as I started to finesse the worldbuilding I began to pin positions down. It was during draft two or three that I actually put pen to paper and drew out the whole scope of the world with specifics like transport, main exports, harbours and populations. Readers only see the tip of the iceberg of the map that I refer to while writing!

And in general, whenever a book has a map in it, do you usually read the map first or wait until later?

I like to immerse myself in the map at the beginning to get a sense of atmosphere and place names. I also refer back to maps a lot while reading.

The historical background is very rich and intriguing. When you first came up with The Final Strife, which came first – the storyline or the historical background?

The world itself was the first thing to manifest. I was keen to write something rooted in my own experience and heritage, so it was the easiest part of writing because it was so personal and unique to me. When it came to the storyline, that shifted as I wrote. I find when I try and plot, the whole story goes awry, so I no longer constrain myself to a set of beats or actions, I let the characters tell me what’s going as I type.

Before each chapter, there is always an excerpt, either from a journal entry, a book, or a speech etc, and it always links perfectly back to the story. How do you decide which character to feature and which medium to use?

The epigraphs were added quite late in the editing process to enrich the world for those who wished to learn more. So essentially, I plucked a theme or character from each chapter that lent itself to setting the scene more thoroughly. Whether that was a nursery rhyme, poem or bill entry, I was able to play around with whatever medium I chose—it was so fun!

It would be amazing to see all these excerpts in a collection, with textured paper, pop-up and different fonts. Can we make it happen?!

I absolute wish! It would be so awesome. Never say never I guess…

The concept of transparent blood is very fascinating. Can you please tell us why you picked that?

There is something truly unique in transparent blood that allowed me to demonstrate the societal structure of the Ghostings in a tangible way. By making their blood invisible I was highlighting their oppression, their forced silence. But silence is never empty…it holds secrets.

Let’s turn to Sylah for a bit. We see Sylah struggling with her addiction to joba seed. Why is it important to include this?

Drug addiction is an affliction that I rarely see explored in fantasy. We put our characters through the most awful experiences in this genre and yet the mental struggle behind the scenes is not often relayed onto the page. Mental health and the presentation of it in storytelling has always been important to me as a reader and a writer and so I tried to do that presentation justice.

Characters are usually like the author’s children. Was it hard to write about her struggle with this addiction?

Absolutely, not only from an emotional perspective but from a stylistic one. It was essential that I presented addiction accurately (as accurately as I could with a made-up drug). That meant an extensive amount of research and development behind the scenes. Every moment with Sylah takes into account her withdrawal symptoms, even if it isn’t always on the page every time.

Which character, aside from the main 3, do you enjoy writing about the most?

Loot, the Warden of Crime. He is a complex character that I loved writing, because at first, he plays into the villainous stereotype, but actually there’s so much more to him than that; he loves deeply, reads thoroughly and is ruthless in ways that warrant his station in life. I especially love writing from his point of view for the exclusive additional short story in the Waterstones edition!

Finally, truth, duty, strength and knowledge. Which do you think you would be selected into?

None of them, I’d definitely be working for the Warden of Crime!

Get your copy of The Final Strife here.

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