Review: Blood of Elves (Witcher Book Series)

Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Publisher: Orbit
Genre: Fantasy

The following is the third in a series of eight reviews of the Witcher books. Because this review assumes reader familiarity with previous entries, there may be spoilers for the preceding texts.

After reviewing two short story collections, finally, I am pleased to begin the novels. As I mentioned in my review of The Sword of Destiny, Andrzej Sapkowski backtracks in the Witcher timeline, writing “The Last Wish” to establish the origins of key relationships between Geralt of Rivia and Yennefer of Vengerberg, and the connection that Geralt has with the Child of Surprise, Ciri, beginning with “A Question of Price.” Going forward, all relevant characters to the saga will remain omnipresent.

Content Guide

Readers sensitive to mature content should approach the literary Witcher series with caution equitable to the video games. This is literature for adults. As each book in the series is over 400 pages, an exhaustive content guide detailing what Christians might find offensive would be a novel to itself. In this space, I will adhere to The Blood of Elves. To supplement potential gaps, I recommend reading the content guides of our reviews of The Last WishThe Sword of DestinyThe WitcherThe Witcher 2, and The Witcher 3 for additional insight concerning the mature nature of this franchise.

Language/Crude Humor

“If you know magic and spells… If you can case them… Can you turn me into a boy?”

“No,” Tris replied in an icy tone. “I can’t.”

“Hmm…” The little witcher-girl was clearly troubled. “But could you at least…”

“At least what?”

“Could you do something so I don’t have to…” Ciri blushed. “I’ll whisper it in your ear.”

“Go on.” Triss leaned over. “I’m listening.”

Ciri, growing even redder, brought her head closer to the enchantress’s chestnut hair.
Triss sat up abruptly, her eyes flaming.

“Today? Now?”

“Mhm.”

“Hell and bloody d**nnation!” the enchantress yelled, and kicked the stool so hard that it hit the door and brought down the rat skin. “Pox, plague, s**t, and leprosy! I’m going to kill those cursed idiots!” (86)

The above is one of my favorite passages in Blood of Elves, if not the entire Witcher series because it is loaded with information. Even so, Triss’ response is crude, and with dwarves making an appearance in later chapters, swear words in the four-letter class will appear, in addition to humor concerning human reproduction.

Sexuality

“Hmm…But now…There are far more people than…Than there are you.”

“Because you multiply like rabbits.” The dwarf ground his teeth. “You’d do nothing but screw day in day out, without discrimination, with just anyone and anywhere. And it’s enough for your women to just sit on a man’s trousers and it makes their bellies swell…Why have you gone so red, crimson as a poppy? You wanted to know, didn’t you? So you’ve got the honest truth and faithful history of the world where he who shatters the skulls of others most efficiently and swells women’s bellies fastest reigns. And it’s just as hard to compete with you people in murdering as it is screwing–

“Yarpen,” said Geralt coldly, riding up on Roach. “Restrain yourself a little, if you please, with your choice of words.” (175)

Blood of Elves would not be a Witcher book without some innuendo and titillation. In the city of Oxenfurt, Dandelion walks in on Geralt as he entertains an infamous red-headed medical student.

Drugs and Alcohol Use

Ciri drinks a strong alcoholic decoction on accident, and on purpose. Both times, she enters into a trance where she channels prophetic omens.

Spirituality

Along with Ciri’s “prophetic word,” the Temple School of Melitele in Ellander returns to prominence from its debut in “The Voice of Reason.” It is here where Ciri receives her training in magic. Between arguably the three most-known sorceresses in this text, readers should expect magic to spark.

Violence

“Aelirenn!” shouted the Squirrel loudly as if wanting to shatter her hesitation with the cry. But she was too late. Geralt, shoving Ciri away, slashed her broadly across the chest with his sword. Blood spurted over the girls’ face and clothes, red drops spattered on the white petals of the rose. (204)

Blood of Elves features four major fight scenes where blood and guts will run freely and in great detail, as demonstrated above.

Racism and Bigotry

Along with a brief summary of prior events leading up to the legend of Geralt, Yennefer, and the Child of Surprise, Sapkowski also reminds readers of the feud between humans, elves, dwarves, and other races unaccounted for in the introductory chapter. Blood of Elves introduces the Scoia’tael, AKA the Squirrels, a special unit of non-human guerrilla mercenaries dedicated to fighting against humans and those who would defend them. Because of the actions of the Squirrels, pogroms targeting non-humans in towns everywhere are on the rise.

Review

For the longest time, I considered Dandelion a clown, and not in the fond way that we think of bards. However, after repeated readings, I must conclude that few other characters in fiction are as ride-or-die as he is.

Though the Witcher short stories introduce Geralt, Siri, Dandelion and Yennefer, Blood of Elves is where fans of the video game series will recognize a few more prominent names. The novel begins with Dandelion recounting Geralt’s adventures through a powerful ballad among a mixed audience of humans and non-humans. They recount battles fought during the first Nilfgaardian, war corroborating each other’s testimonies in competitive fashion, verifying Dandelion’s tales narration. The troubadour slips away from the crowd to indulge in some harlotry but is interrupted by an unknown figure inquiring the whereabouts of Geralt and a certain girl with ashen hair. Dandelion declines to disclose anything and is almost subjected to torture, but a certain friend of Geralt’s rescues him in a demonstration of wisdom and power. 

Triss Merigold of Maribor travels toward Kaer Morhen after an invitation from Geralt. She arrives to discover that the resident witchers have placed Ciri under rigorous witcher training, subjecting her body to all kinds of abuse, including a diet of salads comprised of materials only known to members of the caste. Before Tris discovers the foremost reason why the witchers summon her, she first chastises them for their failure to heed that Ciri was becoming a woman unbeknownst to them.

Triss admits that Ciri’s gifts are beyond her capacity to manage as she is a young, less-experienced sorceress. As part of the agreement she had arranged with Geralt and his clan, young Ciri is allowed to leave the fortress. When spring breaks the winter, Triss, Ciri, and Geralt leave Kaer Morhen. On the road, Triss falls inexplicably ill. Even after repeated readings of this text, I can only conclude that Sapkowski incapacitates Triss as a plot device to render the troop vulnerable, for while the trio joins up with a troop that includes Yarpen Zigrin—last seen in “The Bounds of Reason” from The Sword of Destiny—they would become waylaid by the Scoia’tael (Squirrels), a revolutionary force of non-human gorillas who took up arms to resist potential genocide brought forth by racism and xenophobia. I say that Triss is incapacitated for the purpose of plot, because as readers might remember Yennifer’s powers in previous texts, the Squirrels would have been no match for a troupe armed with a sorceress at full strength.

Of course, Geralt’s party survives the attack. The quartet then goes their separate ways. Importantly, Ciri is dropped off at the Temple of Melitele, and Geralt goes into another direction, taking a job entailing the protection of a ferry from sea creatures. Here, Geralt reads a letter that exudes everything that I love about Yenefer, the best female character ever written in fiction, who admonishes Geralt for choosing Triss to have the first shot at taming Ciri’s latent power.

Elsewhere, thugs posing as Temerian guards board the ship looking for Geralt and Ciri. At this moment, sea monsters attack, disrupting Geralt’s capture as he was willingly allowing himself to be taken into custody so that he could find out who is on his trail, and especially Ciri’s. The sea monster interrupts his apprehension, ironically.

Later in the novel, with the help of some subterfuge with Dandelion and a character Witcher fans will remember from the first game, Shani, Geralt is able to locate the whereabouts of the mage Rience, who had assailed and interrogated Dandelion earlier. A wound that Geralt fails to detect due to his witcher’s elixirs as well as the unexpected intervention from another character provides additional suspense.

Meanwhile, at the Temple of Melitele, Yennefer teaches Ciri the ways of magic. At first, they mutually dislike each other, but they manage to warm up to each other on accord of their mutual love for Geralt. Yennefer receives a letter, the contents of which do not become clear until the next novel. They depart, for their journey is a long one.

Though the transition has yet to take full effect, Blood of Elves heralds the Witcher series shifting its focus from Geralt to Ciri. As a fan of the games who has gone backwards in the timeline by reading the novels, this motion is disappointing even if the story’s focus on the Child of Destiny was always the author’s intent. Then again, a motif in the games that makes them so great is that Geralt is actually not the central figure in the stories that he is involved, though he is a cog within larger political mechanisms. This novel demonstrates this expectation, or rather, my appreciation for CD Projekt Red’s adherence to the novels’ usage of Geralt has increased upon investigating the source material. My appreciation for the character has also grown greater, because here, I bear witness to him as a father who loves his adopted daughter with literal reckless abandon. The man almost gets himself killed at least twice to protect her in just this book alone. 

My concern for an adequate dosage of Geralt is attributed to the focus of the novel being split 45/45 between Geralt and Ciri, with one part of the remaining 5% of the novel dedicated to the kings of the Northern Realms, and the last 5% to political intrigue. The Sword of Destiny ends with a story “Something More,” where readers find out about the Battle of Sodden Hill, won due to the allied efforts of the Northen Kingdoms against Nilfgaard, thanks to the extraordinary contributions of the Brotherhood of Mages. In this remaining 6%, video game fans will recognize the names of Kings Demavend, Foltest, and Henselt; some may remember Vizimir, who does not make an in-game appearance, and only the most hardcore Witcher fans would have known of Queen Maeve before the recently-released game Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales (stay tuned for the GUG review of that game in the next two months). This enclave of monarchs demonstrates Sapkowski’s judicious exploration of narrative so that readers do not get bored with the details of his world-building. As I will mention in reviews of his other novels, this, his first novel, is arguably where he is most effective in getting full use of the pages in the text. 

For example, Blood of Elves provides a healthy dose of my favorite female character in all of fiction, Yennefer. Given what we know about her from The Last Wish and “The Bounds of Reason,” readers might anticipate that she has ulterior motives in her care for Ciri. However, the woman’s whose heart is like “A Shard of Ice” warms up to Ciri with natural maternal instinct. In other words, Blood of Elves begins to weave the threads of how this haphazard family comes to know each other. It really is touching, raising the stakes of the novel’s sequel given Sapkowski ominous ending to this one. With that, Blood of Elves remains one of the top books in the saga.

Fans in the video games will also be pleased to see the appearances of Shawnee, Philippa Eilhart, and Dykstra.

Stay tuned for further reviews of our adventures with Geralt of Rivia.

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Maurice Pogue

Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.

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