Title: Blood of Elves
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Published: 1994/2008 (English)
Length: 398 (paperback)
Blood of Elves is the first book in a series that tells the tale of Geralt, a sort of mercenary monsterslayer, who is known as a witcher. Like the majority of English speakers, I first heard about Geralt by playing the highly popular Witcher video game series. After countless hours spent fulfilling witcher contracts in the virtual world on my PlayStation, I finally decided to investigate the source material.
The tale opens with many familiar characters from the games. I immediately felt like I knew most of the characters and the world instantly made sense to me. If you are new to the series, rest assured that Sapkowski does an excellent job of world-building and character development. Knowledge of the games is in no way a requirement for the books.
To be clear, this series predates the game series. It is not a novelization of the game!
The bulk of the first half of the book revolves around Geralt’s parental relationship with his mysterious, orphaned ward: a young girl named Ciri. Ciri is trained by Geralt and the other witchers to fight and understand monster lore, although she cannot cast any of the witcher signs (a basic type of magic). Ciri is not safe forever at the witcher stronghold, however, as she is much sought after due to her precious lineage.
Sapkowski infuses a wonderful, eastern European flavor into the tale. Although there are traditional fantasy characters like elves and dwarves, many of the creatures will be unfamiliar to a lot of western fantasy readers. This keeps the story fresh and brings in mythical ideas that are often overlooked in other stories. The Polish to English translation seems to be solid, as I did not notice any awkward wording.
Our witcher, Geralt, takes a backseat in the second half of the book. Instead, we see Ciri receiving an entirely different form of training as she struggles to become an enchantress. Yennefer, a powerful sorceress and Geralt’s lover, takes Ciri under her wing as her protector and teacher. Yennefer’s cold and pragmatic character initially clashes with this maternal role that is thrust upon her. However, her relationship with Ciri develops nicely over this section of the book.
I was annoyed at first to see the focus taken off of Geralt in the second half of the story, but the developing relationship between Yennefer and Ciri is quite rewarding. The reader can see how the two halves of the book show how, in their own ways, Geralt and Yennefer have essentially become Ciri’s foster parents.
Blood of Elves also hints at a great deal of political intrigue as war is on the verge of breaking out between many great kingdoms. Additionally, there is an interesting message at play regarding the fate of minority races such as elves and dwarves, who may be on the edge of a horrific genocide aimed at suppressing rebellion. Last but not least, the race is on to see who will be the first one to find Ciri and harness her powers for his or her own ends.
The end of Blood of Elves is not a true ending but rather a launching off point for the rest of this highly immersive storyline.