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Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski
4.5
Book Name: Blood of Elves (Krew elfów)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Publisher(s): Orbit (US) Gollancz (UK) NOWa (Poland)
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: May 1, 2009 (US) May 21, 2009 (UK) 1993 (Poland)

Although The Witcher series had been on my to-read list for years, I didn’t actually get around to it until I spent a bit too much time on YouTube one slow afternoon. I learned two things that day. First, if you play the Lord of the Rings soundtrack enough, YouTube will eventually begin suggesting other pretty music from other fun fantasy stories, including video games. Second, if “Priscilla’s Song” was any indication of the quality of The Witcher books, then it was high time to start reading them. In retrospect, I should have started the series with The Last Wish. But I wound up diving straight into Blood of Elves instead and was immediately hooked.*

Blood of Elves takes place on the Continent, where the Four Kingdoms to the north are allied against the aggressive Nilfgaardian Empire to the south. Humans, dwarves, elves (and various other races of halflings, gnomes, dryads, etc.) have been in various states of conflict off and on for generations, ranging from run-of-the-mill racism to full-blown ethnic cleansing. Things are tense.

While humans are currently the ruling race, there are guerilla bands of elves, known as the Scoia’tael, wreaking havoc on the roads, occasionally assisted by dwarves and other non-humans. The Scoia’tael may or may not be receiving direction from Nilfgaard. To add to the confusion, all the kingdoms have sorcerers at their beck and call. But although many sorcerers are ostensibly employed by the various rulers, they also answer to the Chapter and have a way of manipulating people and events to their own inscrutable agendas.

Of all these races, nations, factions, and conflicts, the witchers are the only politically neutral group on the Continent. They’ve undergone brutal mutations and training to become monster-killers for hire, and they’re very good at what they do. The only problem is that there seem to be fewer and fewer monsters to kill. Also, they give people the creeps.

The action picks up a few years after the kingdom of Cintra was conquered by Nilfgaard. While the invaders were unable to claim any more territory in their first attempt, Nilfgaard still controls Cintra and a second war with the Four Kingdoms appears to be inevitable. The young Cintrian princess, Ciri, is widely thought to be dead. In reality, however, she was secretly rescued by the famous witcher, Geralt of Rivia. He and his fellow witchers are raising her in hiding but have to call in help when Ciri starts manifesting magical ability. Yennefer, an enchantress (who also happens to be Geralt’s former lover), takes over Ciri’s education.

In the meantime, spies from Nilfgaard, the Four Kingdoms, and the Chapter are trying to find Ciri. Emperor Emhyr var Emreis of Nilfgaard wants to marry her to strengthen his claim to Cintra, the rulers of the Four Kingdoms want to assassinate her to keep her out of Nilfgaard’s hands, and certain members of the Chapter have started connecting Ciri with an ancient elven prophecy regarding the end of the world.

All that being said, the story isn’t particularly dark or gritty. It’s charming and wry. It has heart. The witchers, who are all male, are raising the adolescent Ciri as best they can, but they aren’t doing as good a job of it as they think. The enchantress Yennefer is clever and kind beneath her delightfully sarcastic exterior. And Geralt’s friend, Dandelion, a celebrated poet turned mediocre spy, is a particularly fun character. There were parts that even made me laugh out loud, such as Geralt’s extended encounter with a pompous scholar while defending a barge from a water monster.

“It’s impossible! Such an animal can’t exist! At least, it shouldn’t!”

I agree with that last statement entirely, thought the witcher, jabbing the aeschna’s armour…

Obviously, I love Blood of Elves and want everyone to read it right now. But I do have to dock a star. Half a star because there is no map. Another half star because the book is too short. Blood of Elves takes place in a richly imagined world with elaborate racial and political structures, compelling characters, and an engaging plot. And yet at just 320 pages long, the book left me yearning for more. Andrzej Sapkowski built a world that rivals Westeros in its complexity and depth, only to barely skim the surface. A perfect version would have at least twice as many pages and a few more characters. And a map.

*After reading Blood of Elves, I went back and read The Last Wish. I don’t know that it makes much difference in which order you read them, but they should definitely be the first two Witcher books you read before moving on to The Time of Contempt.

Editor’s Note: The order to read The Witcher books was a FAQ everywhere I looked. According to Goodreads the order is as follows: The Last Wish, The Sword of Destiny, Blood of Elves, Times of Contempt, Baptism by Fire, The Tower of Swallows, and The Lady of the Lake.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (2 votes cast)
Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski, 9.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
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2 Comments

  1. Dan J. says:

    For anyone else who is familiar with the video game but not familiar with the books, the books actually came first. The game is based on the books, rather than vice versa as I initially assumed.

  2. Yora says:

    The books are actually a pretty continous story with a fixed order that matters quite a lot. The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny are not optional. They have a more episodic internal structure than the later books, but they have a significant amount of important character and plot development.

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