BLOOD OF ELVES by Andrzej Sapkowski (Book Review)
I’m a Witcher: an artificially created mutant. I kill monsters for money. I defend children when their parents pay me to. If Nilfgaardian parents pay me, I’ll defend Nilfgaardian children. And even if the world lies in ruin – which doesn’t seem likely to me – I’ll carry on killing monsters in the ruins of this world until some monster kills me. That is my fate, my reason, my life and my attitude to the world.’
Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski is chronologically the third book in The Witcher series. It marks an end to the short stories which were the format of the prequels, and begins our main narrative. If you haven’t read the first two prequel books, then I’d highly recommend that you begin with those, as this book makes many references to past events and characters that were featured in The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny. Part of the joy of reading this novel is discovering those connections, and seeing how certain events develop.
This book primarily centres around three main plots: the aftermath of Nilfgaard’s invasion of Cintra, the uprising of the Scoia’tael elves, and the character Ciri, a young child whom Geralt of Rivia, our Witcher, took into his protection during Sword of Destiny. Throughout the first half of Blood of Elves we see Ciri training in Kaer Morhen, known as the Witcher’s Keep, a place mystical to the outside world as only a few have ever set foot inside its walls. There we see Ciri study the art of being a Witcher whilst she builds on her agility and learns their techniques in swordplay, something which a female has never done before. The last part of the book sees Ciri in the Temple of Melitele with the enchantress, Yennefer, as she hones her ability to use magic.
However, from the very beginning, it becomes apparent that there are forces out to capture Ciri. A prophecy foretells that she is a child of Destiny; for good or ill, Ciri will change the world, and therefore there are those that seek to destroy her. It is upon Geralt to keep her alive.
I would certainly say that Blood of Elves is a character-driven story, which I particularly enjoyed because I was already invested in many of the characters. Ciri has lost everything, her home, her family, and all the wealth that she should have rightly possessed being the granddaughter of Calanthe, the Queen of Cintra; she’s riddled with nightmares and underneath her sassy bravado, she is very much a scared and lonely child. I found Ciri’s coming of age narrative to be poignant yet heartwarming as she struggles with her place in the world, and develops bonds with Triss Merigold and Yennefer, who both become her mentors.
In fact, these were some of my favourite chapters. I had long been anticipating meeting Triss, as I’d previously only read snippets about her. I loved the way she was assertive towards men in a time where women were sidelined, the way she took charge of Ciri’s needs as a young female, and her caring nature was like a breath of fresh air amongst a world of mostly hostile and rigid characters. Then there was Yennefer, my beloved Yennefer, who is the most twisted and deliciously complex character that I’ve come across in a while. I seriously love any chapter that has her in it! Although our Yennefer remains her darkly humorous, cold, enigmatic self, we do see beneath her exterior; she also has a caring side, which is particularly highlighted in the brilliant last chapter where she shows affection towards Ciri.
So, what about Geralt of Rivia? This is a question I kept asking myself throughout the book. Although I wholly enjoyed having some spotlight on the main female characters, I feel that Blood of Elves sorely lacked in its characterisation of Geralt; in fact, it was almost nonexistent. That’s not to say Geralt is absent from the narrative – he is present during a lot of scenes, and he does build a father-daughter bond with our Ciri, but we hardly get any passages from his point of view. He falls to becoming more of a background character, which I found quite disappointing. For a series that is called ‘The Witcher,’ there really wasn’t enough of the Witcher. This also subsequently made the book less action-packed than the prequels, as there were hardly any scenes where Geralt was slaying monsters, and I for one missed this. Where were the monsters, Sapkowski?!!
I am exaggerating a little; there were at least three fantastic action scenes that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was elves, wizards and humans that became the monsters this time around, but I was still hoping for a few fantastical beasts being killed too. I feel that had the book been longer, this could have also been included.
So, instead of an action-packed narrative, this novel focuses more on political intrigue. I feel that this aspect may let the book down for many readers, as politics and warmongering can become tedious. Personally, this wasn’t the case for me. I found having a perspective from the various Kings and Queens, to see their plotting against both the Scoia’tael elves and the Nilfgaardians, who have already invaded and conquered the land of Cintra, was highly fascinating. There were many occasions where I found myself reading between the lines, as many of the characters held a lot of inner deceit. Sapkowski cleverly showed humans to be the oppressors, and the non-humans to be savagely fighting for their place in the world, rather than being dominated under human rule. I loved the way I could sense an all-out war brewing, which I can’t wait to see played out in the following books, but I also can’t wait to see whose side our main characters will be on.
‘I state that we ought to live. Live in such a way that we don’t later have to ask for forgiveness.’
Overall, I think it helps that I’m madly in love with this world and its characters, because despite wanting more from Geralt’s perspective, and having a lack of fantastical monsters, Blood of Elves was still a highly enjoyable read. If you’re a fan of The Witcher games, or of the newly released Netflix adaptation, then I’d entirely recommend reading this book, immediately!