Saturday, June 19, 2021

Blood of Elves (Witcher #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski

Here I am, gamely trying to stay ahead of the Netflix TV series for The Witcher. I picked up a slightly battered copy of Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski at my favourite local secondhand bookstore, and it's taken me a while to get to reading it, but here we are. My feeling, as always, is that Sapkowski is a pantser. He writes the story as it unfolds in his head, with only the vaguest notion of where he's headed and where he's going to end a particular instalment.

If you're firmly team Geralt, then Blood of Elves is going to be a bit of a let-down for you, for this book very much focuses on the mother/daughter relationship that develops between Ciri and Yen. We also get to see a fair amount of Triss, who has it bad for Geralt, which he doesn't quite reciprocate because, well, Yen. And having read somewhere that season two of the TV series draws heavily from this book, I'm highly curious to see how the showrunner will spin out a cohesive, satisfying season. Because the book itself is basically a large chunk of prequel.

While the preceding titles in the series were very much vignettes, there's a touch more structure here as we get a taste of the bigger picture, which centres around racial tensions arising courtesy of the elves and others who feel disenfranchised by human encroachment. We also have the looming presence of the Nilfgaardian Empire that is stretching its long-fingered hands into territories not previously its own. And of course Ciri's growing powers that hint at a more terrifying danger that lies beyond all these mundane troubles.

No, I haven't played the games, and only a little of Witcher 3, so I'm blissfully unaware of all the other content. For now. But I can see stuff is brewing, and most of Blood of Elves is all about Ciri learning about her powers, training not only with the remaining witchers, but also with the mages, courtesy of Yennefer. We have hints around the edges where we catch glimpses of what Geralt is up to, and there are a number of parties who are far too interested in the girl – and between Jaskier, Triss, Yen, and Geralt, they go out of their way to keep her hidden from those parties. 

So, in terms of overall plot, not much happens in this book other than character development. What Sapkowski does well is his characterisation, especially in dialogue – with some truly pointed social commentary that I feel is all too relevant to contemporary culture, delivering observations about race and identity and resultant, related conflict.

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