Title: Blood of Elves
Place in series: # 3
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Published: 1994 (English translation from 2009)
For more information about The Witcher Series, and my review of previous titles in the series you can find my introductory post HERE.
There’s something about this series, at least the English translation, which seems to bring about the worst blurbs I’ve ever read. They’re absolutely terrible, and what’s worse, wrong. Do yourself a favor and don’t read them, they’re not only poorly written; they’re incorrect.
BEFORE WE BEGIN
Blood of Elves is the third book in The Witcher Series, but the first full-length novel.
Because the first two books, The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny, are short-story collections, as well as the out-of-order publishing of the English translations (with Sword of Destiny not published in English until 2015) there is a misunderstanding floating around that you don’t need to read short-story collections to understand the events in this or the following books.
Unfortunately, I’ve also seen some retailers marketing the short-story collections as optional or stand-alone stories. So, before we begin this review, let’s clear up this unfortunate misunderstanding.
The short-story collections were written and first published before the full-length novels, they are not stand-alone prequels. Much of the worldbuilding, mythology, origin stories, character relationships, and backstories are established in the first two books.
This is important because, as a storyteller, Sapkowski does not backtrack; if characters have been introduced, events explained or relationships established in the short stories he does not go out of his way to remind you how, what, where, or when in the novels.
Despite what you might have heard or some retailers claim, this is one continuous series that should be read in chronological order, with Blood of Elves being the third book. This is how I approach the series and my reviews of the novels. From this point on there will be spoilers for The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny
Blood of Elves picks up where the final story in The Sword of Destiny, Something More, leaves off.
The Empire of Nilfgaard, under the leadership of Emperor Emhyr var Emreis (brilliantly voiced by Charles Dance in The Witcher 3), has attacked the independent, northern Kingdom of Cintra. During the battle, Queen Calanthe has fought to the bitter end, committing suicide to prevent capture as her Kingdom falls.
Meanwhile, her granddaughter, Princess Cirlilla has been smuggled out of the castle and is thought lost or dead in the battle. Because of Cirir’s unique bloodline, she is wanted by both the Emperor of Nilfgaard as well as many others who all seek her. Unbeknown to almost everyone, Ciri has been found and reunited with Geralt who brings her to Kaer Morhen where he begins training her as a witcher.
Her training eventually reveals unique powers connected to her bloodline. In an attempt to understand them and teach Ciri how to control her powers, Geralt seeks the help of the Sorceresses Triss Marigold and eventually his estranged lover Yennifer of Vengeberg. Meanwhile, threats and conspiracies to capture Ciri are everywhere threatening not only her but everyone close to her and Geralt.
In Blood of Elves, all the foundational work done in the two previous books come to fruition.
We’ve seen Geralt met, build a relationship and finally, accept Ciri as his destiny. From the first few pages, it’s made clear that Geralt and Ciris connection has developed into a father/daughter relationship. Their interactions, as well as the depiction of Ciris time at Kaer Morhen and her interactions with the other Witchers, is endearing and entertaining.
Through several of the shorts stories, we’ve met and watched Geralt and Yennifer’s relationship unfold. Although in their case it’s more build, tear down, rebuild, and tear it all down again, which is how we find them at the beginning of this book; estranged, willful, stubborn, and inevitably drawn to one another.
We’ve met Dandelion and examined his friendship with Geralt, which considering their vastly different personalities is an interesting and entertaining one. This story deepness Dandelions character and, through certain events, you get to see that he’s so much more than a foppish bard.
Now, all the separate parts of Geralt’s life begins to merge. Through Ciri, and his need to protect her, Geralt is forced to abandon—albite slowly and grudgingly—his detached view on the world, and his reluctance to get involved.
This is especially true since we now get a first real taste of the scheming, and conflicts between all the different factions battling for power. The Northen Kingdoms, Nilfgaard, and the Sorcerers and Sorceresses who, already influential, always seek more power and have their own personal secret agendas.
This situation is made even more dangerous and complicated by the racial tensions between humans and non-humans. Especially considering that the non-human societies are in themselves divided between those waging a guerilla war against the humans, and those arguing for cohabitation and peaceful social reform.
That being said, this is not a fast-paced book. There are many actions scenes, many important events—this is not a book you can skim read—but at its core, it is a book and a series focused on its characters.
The difference now that we move into the novels is that the perspective becomes more multifaceted. For someone like me, who prefer when a book focuses on its characters and diving deep into their motivations, I enjoy Spakowskis style of storytelling.
A person more interested in the larger plot might feel different. Sapkowski has a certain way of using POV’s and interludes in his writing that will not appeal to everyone, (I write more about Spakowskis style in my introductory post.)
Personally, I find this focus on characters and character interactions extremely enjoyable, especially when centered on a character as complex as Geralt. Ciri, although a pre-teen at the start of this book, is written as a well-rounded, thinking individual. She’s refreshingly free of the cliché female heroine traits.
She’s not invincible, she’s an orphaned girl being hunted by very unpleasant people; she’s learning, growing, and reacting to new experiences in believable ways. What’s more, she’s vulnerable. Despite being “special,” she’s a child, and she thinks like one.
This is not a book, or series, where the bad guys are dumb, or inept. They’re smart and powerful; neither Geralt nor Ciri will win every fight. They’ll encounter people far more powerful than them, make mistakes, choose poorly, and at times act irrationally; this makes them both relatable and believable.
Blood of Elves is not my favorite book in the series, but, that’s like me saying vanilla is not my favorite flavor ice cream; it’s ice cream!
What I love about this book is that it is not afraid to take the time needed to establish essential relationships, while also being an action-packed, adult story. Sapkowski takes his time explaining why Ciri is unique, why everyone is interested in her; she not made into a “special girl with special powers” she’s a person. Of course, that does not mean all these questions have been answered by the end of this novel, or that the answers won’t change as hidden agendas are revealed.
Sapkowsky also tells us why someone like Geralt or his friends care about her, and each other. Why Geralt, who is uninterested in the political games of Kings and Sorceresses, protect her. Why, as the series progresses, Geralt and Yennifer will eventually move heaven and earth for this girl. And why she, in return, will do the same for them.
In doing so, he makes the characters believable. Instead of cardboard cutouts of heroes and characters who always do the right thing, he gives his characters individual motivation and most of the time, despite being the “right thing do” they’re purely selfish. These are characters that are primarily driven by personal desires and self-interest, this makes them people.
In my opinion, that makes them so much more entertaining.
My Rating: 8/10
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