Read: 3 December, 2015
Ciri, princess and heir-in-hiding to a conquered nation, is in the care of the Witcher Geralt, a monster hunter. Over the course of the book, Geralt enlists the help of friends – a poet, two magicians, a university student, and others – to help keep Ciri safe, both from those who seek to use her for politican gain and from her own power.
I came to the series through the video game, Witcher 3, which I played recently. I really enjoyed the characters and the plot, and the way that the relationships were somewhat unusual for epic fantasy (the way so many characters act with parental affection toward Ciri, for example). So I thought it’d be fun to take a look at the source material.
I was a little surprised by Blood of Elves. For one thing, Geralt isn’t even in most of the book. Sure, people talk about him an awful lot, but it’s nothing like the game where he’s front and centre. If I had to decide on a single main character, I’d say it was Ciri – she’s present in the most scenes, she is being talked about in nearly every scene she is absent from, and to the extent that the book has a structure at all, it’s about her education and development.
Oh yeah, did I mention that this book doesn’t really have a plot? There’s certainly nothing like a three act structure. There’s a lot of build up – about Ciri’s destiny, about a possible future war, about the conflicts between human and non-human cultures – but then it just ends. It ends when Ciri leaves the place where Geralt has placed her for her education, perhaps implying that this is her childhood book and that the next book will involve the next stage in her life.
I remember being around the 200 page mark and trying to explain to my spouse what’s happened so far, and all I could think was “well, Triss met Ciri… and someone appears to be looking for her.” That’s it, in 200 pages, that’s basically the plot.
But at the same time, I never felt bored. The characters are rich and interesting, and there’s a great deal of exposition on the previous Nilfgaardian war and the possibility that there will be another. And meanwhile, I’m getting to know all these characters, and to care about what will happen to them.
I quite liked the writing style. I noticed that Sapkowski keeps a lot of the action off-screen, so often we’ll see a character decide to do something, and then we’ll see them having already done it. Or maybe a character will just come on stage having already done a thing. It was well done and interesting, and Sapkowski does clearly know when a thing must be shown.
I found the writing style to be very slavic, as well, with more in common with, say, Lukyanenko’s writing than Robert Jordan’s. I also had quite a few giggles when characters said things that my Russian in-laws say, or expressed themselves in very similar ways. It was refreshingly different.
There were some translation issues, but I found them to be fairly minor. I always understood what was meant.
In conclusion, I quite enjoyed Blood of Elves. I find the world building to be quite interesting, I’m really enjoying the characters, and I like the slightly different take on the epic fantasy genre. I will definitely be checking out the next book in the series.
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