The Witcher Witches On: Andrzej Sapkowski – Blood of Elves

I started diving in the the Witcher universe late last year, mostly because I wanted to be prepared for the Netflix show (can definitely recommend reading the first two books prior to watching), and the two story collections surprised me so much that I knew I would continue reading the series this year. Blood of Elves is the first full-length novel in the Witcher series and while I think the author does much better with short stories, I still kind of liked it. Enough to keep going anyway.

by Andrzej Sapkowski

Published: Hachette, 1994
eBook: 420 pages
Series: The Witcher #1
My rating: 6.5/10

Opening line: The town was in flames.

For over a century, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and elves have lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over, and now the races are fighting once again. The only good elf, it seems, is a dead elf.
Geralt of Rivia, the cunning assassin known as The Witcher, has been waiting for the birth of a prophesied child. This child has the power to change the world – for good, or for evil.
As the threat of war hangs over the land and the child is hunted for her extraordinary powers, it will become Geralt’s responsibility to protect them all – and the Witcher never accepts defeat.
The Witcher returns in this sequel to The Last Wish, as the inhabitants of his world become embroiled in a state of total war.

This book is very much an introduction. An introduction to the larger tale that will (probably) take place over the course of the series. Geralt of Rivia has found his Child Surprise Ciri and is training her in the arts of fighting at Kaer Morhen. But soon it becomes apparent, after a visit from Triss Merigold, that Ciri could use a mother figure as well. Add to that the fact that many people are out to find her and user her for their own purposes…

Although this is a novel, not a short story collection like the previous two books, it very much reads like vignettes that were pushed together somehow to form a slightly coherent whole. Through several different POV characters, we see the state of the world – impending war, the machinations to get to the prophecied child, unrests in the kingdom, and political intrigues – but there was decidedly too little of Geralt himself in this book to quite please me. I had a blast meeting Dandilion again (who was called Dandelion in the first two books and is called Jaskier in the Netflix show, for ultimate confusion) and of course my favorite sorceress Yennefer, that complicated, amazing, difficult woman!

But the story as such is rather thin. A mysterious man named Rience is looking for Geralt, and through him for Ciri, and has his agents spread throughout the kingdom, killing and torturing people for information. Geralt, meanwhile, has sent Ciri away to a secret place, making sure she isn’t found by anyone who would harm her. And the various rulers of the land are discussing on how best to unite the kingdom to prepare for war. The situation between humans and Elves is difficult, but we also musn’t forget the Nilfgaardians. Sure, there currently is a truce in place, but nobody believes it will last long… And that’s really all the plot we get, summed up for you.

Then why did I kind of enjoy this book anyway? It is only set up, no conclusion. It opens new plot strings, shows us more about the characters, but it doesn’t really lead anywhere. In fact, the book spends a surprising amount of time on long conversations between two characters, be it Ciri and Yennefer, or Dandilion and whoever is questioning him at the moment (serioulsy, that guy attracts trouble like nobody else). That’s why I felt the transition from story collection to novel wasn’t all that well done. Sapkowski still does the same thing he did in The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny, except not as clearly divided by chapters.

I did love to get to know Ciri a bit better, especially as she grows up a few years throughout this book. Having been trained a little bit like a witcher (minus the dangerous treatments) and a little bit like a sorcerer, she still is just a girl wanting to fit in somewhere. Sapkowski surprised me again with how much time he spent on having Ciri discuss being a woman with first Triss Merigold and then Yennefer. It is Ciri’s first period that makes the witchers understand that they can’t give Ciri everything she needs (although why a grown man who has been with women wouldn’t have some understanding of how things work is beyond me, but okay, I’ll run with it) and then, a thirteen-year-old Ciri worries about things like losing her virginity. It’s not plot relevant and it’s not even super important to the characters but it does make her a much more believable young girl. Prophecy or no, she’s a teenager who worries about teenage things. The fate of the world may rest in her hands, but what’s begin discussed amont her friends is who kissed whom and who’s the prettiest. So while these sections weren’t exactly action-packed and consisted mostly of two characters talking, I really appreciated them.

I also liked how Sapkowski helped me remember what happened before without using info dumps. When the rulers discuss on how to handle the upcoming war, they don’t rehash all the events from the first two books, but they talk about them as something that happened and had consequences, which in turn helps us readers remember those events and the names of the people involved. Because let’s not forget that while Ciri is Geralt’s Child Surprise and has a prophecy and all that, she’s also the only living heir of Queen Calanthe (one of the most badass characters in fantasy ever!), the Lion Cub of Cintra. Apart from her magical powers, her blood lines, and her witcher training, she’s also an important person politically speaking. And that’s what this book is really all about. Showing us just how important this one little girl really is and what her mere existence is doing to the kingdom. I expect epic stuff to happen in the following books, judging from all that was set up here.

And that’s really all there is to say. I had hoped for more depth when it comes to the conflict between races from a book that’s called Blood of Elves but we get only a few glimpses of that. Enough to keep me interested but, you know. More wouldn’t have hurt. I also wanted more Geralt but at the same time I appreciated the other characters’ points of view. And while I enjoyed this book, it is by no means a book that stands on its own. There’s no evil cliffhanger or anything but nothing gets resolved, no questions are answered, it’s more like a very long first chapter. I, for my part, will continue on to the next, and probably the one after that, because I fell in love with the world and with Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer as characters. These books have all been quick reads so far and didn’t feel at all like they were 400 pages long. And once I’m done, I’ll finally dive into the game, only five years after everyone else. 🙂

MY RATING: 6.5/10 – Pretty good

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