The Witcher #2
Epic, Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery
Hachette Book Group; May 1, 2009 (original English translation)
Orion Publishing; February 13, 2020 (rerelease)
398 pages (PB)
3.5 / 5 ✪
I was generously supplied a copy in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Orion Publishing for the eARC! #NetGalley #BloodofElves
Blood of Elves officially begins the Witcher saga, a series by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. It follows witcher Geralt of Rivia, of some renown and fame, as well as infamy. Though Geralt was initially introduced in The Last Wish, Blood of Elves is the first full length novel set in this world of elves, dwarves, gnomes, men, and witchers. In addition to the Last Wish, you maaaay be familiar with the Witcher games (which are all amazing). While I enjoyed all the games, as well as the Last Wish, I was torn on Blood of Elves.
Witchers—as introduced in The Last Wish—are a secretive order of monster slayers, hated and feared the world over, but needed as well. Taken as boys, they are put through rigorous and dangerous trials then are pumped full of alchemic and mutagenic compounds to turn them into the perfect monster-fighters. The survivors of these are few, but these few become Witchers. Witchers traditionally stay out of the limelight; not getting involved with the politics of kings, nor humans versus non-humankind.
But when Geralt hears of a certain prophecy, he breaks this unwritten rule. Ciri is the lost Princess of Cintra, a child of the Elder Blood—prophesied to bring great change to the world. She is also an orphan, one with magic in her blood. And so Geralt returns with Ciri to Kaer Morhern—the home of the Witchers—and begins to train her as one of their own. But as a child of Elder Blood, Ciri also begins training in magic, slowly becoming one of a kind. Something unique.
The story, such as it is, follows Ciri. Her Witcher training under Geralt. Her magic training under Triss Merigold. Her… less than reputable training, under the bard, Dandelion. Further on, it follows world events surrounding the Princess of Cintra, a prophesied child of Elder Blood. The politics of lords and kings. War. And more.
There’s a lot going on in Blood of Elves. Sapkowski focuses heavily on world-building, switching between vastly different perspectives with little apparent emphasis on the actual plot. The plot which is… incomplete. While the story follows Ciri as she grows up, and Geralt as her mentor, we spend a lot of time with an extended cast. In addition to Geralt, Ciri, Triss and Dandelion, there’s Yennifer, Vesemir, other Sorceresses, other Witchers, kings and viziers, elves, humans, dwarves, gnomes, rebels, warriors, and more. There are random flashbacks—often short and unhelpful, only hinting at past events. It’s both a thrilling, and incredibly annoying tactic. There’s a lot going on; it’s easy to get lost.
First time I read this, it frustrated me on so many levels. Second time was better, but I still didn’t love it. The plot was still muddied, the pacing… odd. I never knew whether I should be feeling action and thrill or thoughtful and contemplative, and then it changed without apparent reason.
And… well. The plot doesn’t resolve at the end of Blood of Elves. It rather ends in a cliffhanger, in fact. Like the kind Michael J. Sullivan is so obsessed with. But where his novels are usually gripping and thrilling… well, BoE is both of these, too. But it’s also a bit dense. And with very little resolution, I found myself turned off it.
While Blood of Elves demonstrates world-building and lore on an elite scale, its plot is a quagmire of random characters, events and flashbacks, all cobbled together in a seemingly random order. Well the story told is a good one—better than good, even—it’s easy to get lost in all the twists and turns. Having played the Witcher games, having read the Last Wish—I could just barely keep up with it all, but still lost focus in the end, when the book ended, but nothing was resolved. I haven’t yet read Time of Contempt (the next Witcher novel), where the story presumably continues. The desire to both is and isn’t there. If it’s another mire of random characters and flashbacks, I’m not sure I want to. If it’s a series of action and adventure sequences following my favorite characters, I definitely do. So, I’m torn. And I’m not sure which way to lean.