Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.
Series: The Witcher (Book 3 of 7)
Genre: Fantasy, high fantasy
First English translation published: Oct 2008 (Gollancz), May 2009 (Orbit)
Blood of Elves expands beyond the introduction of Geralt of Rivia and brings forth a different level of worldbuilding into the story in a character-driven narrative.
While this book is technically the start of the main series, I wholeheartedly recommend reading the prequel short stories in The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny first. A lot of references to past events in Blood of Elves were covered in those two books – important past events. I even found myself doing a quick read of some of those short stories to jog my memory since I had read them a year ago.
This novel, however, does not have the typical fantasy story structure with a climax at the end. I felt that Blood of Elves was almost like a long Prologue of sorts dealing with two key plotlines. The first was centred on Ciri’s training; initially by the witchers in Kaer Morhen, and then by Yennefer in the Temple of Melitele. The second was a highly political and war-focussed narrative around the invasion of Nilfgaard, the tenuous peace amongst the different races, and the ominous prophecy by the elven Seeress, Ithlinne Aegli aep Aevenien.
“Verily I say unto you, the era of the sword and axe is nigh, the era of the wolf’s blizzard. The Time of the White Chill and the White Light is nigh, the Time of Madness and the Time of Contempt: Tedd Deireádh, the Time of End. The world will die amidst frost and be reborn with the new sun. It will be reborn of the Elder Blood, of Hen Ichaer, of the seed that has been sown. A seed which will not sprout but will burst into flame. Ess’tuath esse! Thus it shall be! Watch for the signs! What signs these shall be, I say unto you: first the earth will flow with the blood of Aen Seidhe, the Blood of Elves… “
Shoehorned into this overarching story was also the fact that someone is desperately looking for Ciri. For now, I still don’t know what it truly meant for Ciri to be the ‘child of destiny’ aside from her heritage and her unique powers. And this is something that I am very eager to find out. Blood of Elves focussed a lot on Ciri. Thankfully, I enjoyed her characterisation. The interaction between her and Yennefer in the last chapter was one of my favourite parts in this novel, as well as any of Ciri’s scenes involving Geralt. And of course, any of Geralt’s own POV scenes. Unfortunately, the latter was not plentiful enough in this book for my taste.
As compared to the previous two books, the worldbuilding in this instalment steered away from the ‘monsters’ theme (which I loved) and more towards the political landscape (which I’m not so fond of). Frankly, it was downright confusing, and the learning curve was insanely steep. The various lands and their respective rulers and alliances, etc. etc. completely confused me. There were so many names – difficult to pronounce and with the most unusual spelling – that it was hard to keep track of. The absence of a map was also sorely felt, especially since I was not exposed to the video game.
All said, it was still an enjoyable read and was often quite humourous too. It helped that I’ve already developed an investment in the characters, especially in Geralt and Ciri, and their father-daughter-like relationship. Geralt is such a complex character, and not given to any outward display of emotions but you know it’s there, simmering and roiling under the surface. I even started to like Yennefer a bit more from her scenes with Ciri at the end of the book.
Gorgeous alternate book cover of Geralt and Ciri by Niki Vaszi (https://www.artstation.com/nikivaszi)
The Witcher series is not a particularly original or unique fantasy story, but there is something quite refreshing in its take on ‘sword and sorcery’. This series is definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of this fantasy subgenre.