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. ūüôā

MY RATING: 6.5/10 – Pretty good

The Witcher Continues: Andrzej Sapkowski – Sword of Destiny

I was so taken with¬†The Last Wish that I didn’t wait long to continue reading about Geralt of Rivia and the various monsters he encounters. Although this second story collection is a little different than the first (in some ways better, in some rather worse), I like where the story is going. I also finally watched the first few episodes of the Netflix show and I really, really liked them!

by Andrzej Sapkowski

Published by: Orbit, 1992
Ebook: 400 pages
Series: The Witcher #0.75
My rating: 6,5/10

First line: “He won’t get out of there, I’m telling you,” the pockmarked man said, sahking his head with conviction.

The Witcher returns in this action-packed sequel to The Last Wish, in the series that inspired The Witcher video games.
Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. He roams the country seeking assignments, but gradually comes to realise that while some of his quarry are unremittingly vile, vicious grotesques, others are the victims of sin, evil or simple naivety.
In this collection of short stories, following the adventures of the hit collection THE LAST WISH, join Geralt as he battles monsters, demons and prejudices alike…

Geralt of Rivia is back and he’s ready to slay some monsters for coin. Or, you know, not. He’s equally as ready to befriend the monster, refuse the coin, muse about the existence of destiny, and yearn for the sorceress Yennefer. And all that despite the fact that he’s not supposed to have feelings…
Lots of people have been recommending this series long before it was on Netflix, and I now understand why. Geralt is such a great character. Brooding and quiet, seemingly unfeeling but so obviously a Good Guy that it hurts, he goes through the world, seeing all the evils there are and trying to make things a little better. He can also do magic and use elixirs to give himself superpowers, so that doesn’t hurt. But I was most impressed that a character who says relatively little can feel so three-dimensional and real. In case you haven’t noticed, I love Geralt with all my readerly heart.

This book is, again, comprised of¬† (this time not so short) stories that aren’t immediately connected to each other but paint a wonderful picture of the world and start to flesh out a much¬† bigger tale. Although the allusions to fairy tales weren’t as obvious here as they were in the previous book, there were tales where I could recognise The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, and The Six Swans. The stories aren’t retellings but these fairy tales are used as a sort of kick-off point for an original tale. Of course, Geralt then tells us that we’re idiots for believing those old tales because reality is totally different.
And it’s true. The Little Mermaid asks her prince why¬†he doesn’t change his appearence for her and comes to live with her under the sea. One of the former six swans (there weren’t even six) laughs about the idea that a shirt made of nettles should have lifted his curse, and so on. So fairy tales are used and turned on their head, and we can laugh at these tropes at the same times as reading about different ones. Although it’s not a big part of the book, I absolutely loved discovering these little hints and allusions, and seeing what Sapkowski makes of them.

What I loved the most in this book was Geralt as a character.¬† But I was also ridiculously happy to see some side characters from the previous book again. Dandelion the bard is back, Yennefer becomes way more important and has easily turned one of the most intriguing characters in this series for me. And we meet Ciri – who I only knew would be important from the video game (which I didn’t play myself but my boyfriend did and I caught the occasional glimpse of it). Ciri’s appearence also connects this volume to the first book because events that happened in The Last Wish have an effect on events from¬†Sword of Destiny. So it’s not just random tales about a witcher that later evolved into a series of novels, but Sapkowski already had some sort of plan for a larger story.

There were obvious differences between the first collection and this one. Obviously, I jumped into this book because I really enjoyed the first one, so I was a little surprised that I wasn’t getting more of the same. The most obvious difference is the length of the stories and subsequently the entire book – but then, I consider more Geralt a good thing. However he writing style itself also changed and that is what put me off the most. It wasn’s stellar in the first book either, but since¬†The Last Wish was so dialogue-heavy, I didn’t mind too much. I could pretend that characters simply expressed themselves in strangely or had certain ways of speaking.
In Sword of Destiny, there is a lot more description – which I find good, in general, as it helps flesh out the world and the characters – but most of it is rather bad and inconsistent. I stumbled across many lines where I thought “oh boy, was he trying to be poetic here?”, there are frequent repetitions, sometimes words just don’t quite fit. It was a pretty jarring experience and if I hadn’t loved the other aspects of the book so much, I probably would have DNFed this book. I assume much of this can be attributed to this being a translation. But, not speaking Polish, I don’t really know. It might just be how Sapkowski wrote it in the original. This has prompted me to try the next book in German, to see if the language is as jarring in a different translation. I will let you know how that went in my next review. ūüôā

Despite my problems with the writing, I really enjoyed reading this and I would be totally happy to dive into the next witcher novel (a proper novel this time) right away. The last story in this collection, and its ending in particular, made me cheer out loud because not only was it very touching, it also delivered a pretty cool twist. My plan is to watch the first season of the Netflix show and then continue with¬†Blood of Elves (Das Erbe der Elfen in German). I also got The Witcher III for my birthday, so I think I’m all set for the foreseeable future. All that’s left to say is: “Toss a coion to your witcher!”

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Very good

Reading The Witcher: Andrzej Sapkowski – The Last Wish

Happy New Year, Dear Readers! The last book I read in 2019 has now turned into my first review of 2020 and I am so glad that I can start the year with a good one. With the Witcher now on Netflix (haven’t watched it yet but I’m very excited), it was about time I checked out one of those books. I think I may read one more of them before I dive into the TV show because this collection really got me hooked.

by Andrzej Sapkowski

Published by: Orbit, 1993
Ebook: 353 pages
Series: The Witcher #0.5
My rating: 7/10

First line: She came to him towards morning.

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin. And a cold-blooded killer. His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.
A collection of short stories introducing Geralt of Rivia, to be followed by the first novel in the actual series, The Blood of Elves. Note that, while The Last Wish was published after The Sword of Destiny, the stories contained in The Last Wish take place first chronologically, and many of the individual stories were published before The Sword of Destiny.

I had known about the Witcher for many years and I watched my boyfriend play some of the game (The Witcher III) but I had always planned to read the books before I checked out the games for myself. Now there’s a Netflix show with none other than Henry Cavill (I like him ūüôā ) and that gave me the needed push to finally check out the first – in publication order – of the books. People have warned me that this is more of a short story collection than a novel and that is true but to me it never¬†felt like a collection but rather like looking into Geralt of Rivia’s life at different points in time.

We first meet Geralt just before one of his adventures. As a witcher, his job is to find a monster who plague people, get hired to defeat that monster, and then get the¬† job done, get paid, and move on to the next village. That doesn’t, however, always mean killing a monster. Sometimes it first means figuring out who the monster even is – and having horns or vampire teeth isn’t always the necessary indicator. From that very first story it becomes clear that Geralt follows¬† his own code, that his ethics aren’t always the same as other people’s. And although he’s a quiet, thoughtful kind of man who doesn’t speak much (though he is an excellent grunter), I found myself quite liking him right from the start. Between the individual stories, a sort of frame story is set up that we follow as a red thread. I didn’t really find this necessary but it added a nice time layer to the story collection.

There were several things that surprised me. The first one was how dialogue-heavy the book was, especially during the first few stories. There is very little description and Geralt learns most details about his job or the monster-in-question through some other character telling him. This may not be to everyone’s taste but it sure made for a quick read. The other surprise was how heavily fairy tales feature in these stories. I had known before starting this book that it uses fairy tale tropes and sometimes even retells fairy tales, but to meet obvious versions of Beauty and the Beast or Snow White – although with a twist – was still a happy surprise for me. I loved how Sapkowski uses the tropes we all know from these tales and turns them upside down. Suddenly, you get a beast who’s not all that unhappy with his beastly form. And Snow White turned a little bloodthirsty after being almost killed for jealousy… there are more twists to discover that I won’t tell you here, but I was very happy with the direction these stories took.

As for recurring characters, there are few. Dandilion the bard follows along with Geralt on a couple of adventures and Yennefer – a well-known character to people¬† who played the Witcher games – is mentioned several times. I was super excited to get a story where Geralt and Yennefer met for the first time because although I don’t know how, I have gathered that she will be important later. Despite most characters only being there for one story, and considering the lack¬† of vivid descriptions, I find it all the more impressive that the world feels like a proper world. I have no idea of the geography or who rules what part of the land but every place Geralt visits feels lived in and believable.

The writing style is the one thing I’m conflicted about. I don’t know how much is due to the translation, how much would have been the same in the original Polish, but even though there wasn’t much description, I found it slightly weird how women were described. Reading about any of the women in these stories gave me major flashbacks to older fantasy books I used to read. Although there aren’t explicit descriptions of boobs, a woman’s body shape¬† is almost always remarked upon in some way, as is her beauty (or lack thereof). That doesn’t mean that women are reduced to their looks as there are quite a few powerful female characters here, and some of them are beautifully complex in their motives and actions. But I did notice that their bodiees were commented on quite frequently, especially compared to the male characters.

For me, this was an excellent book to end the year with. It wasn’t groundbreaking or particularly beautifully written, but it was highly entertaining, it surprised me with its twists, I really loved Geralt as a character and I will read another Witcher book very soon! If you want something fun that’s a quick read, that uses fairy tale roots to tell a whole new story, then pick this up. It also made me even more excited for the Netflix show because, even after reading just this one book, I feel like I know Geralt and I want to see how Henry Cavill plays this role. So yes, my first review of 2020 is definitely a recommendation.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good