Thursday, 2 July 2015

Guest Book Review: Blood of Elves

I've taken the day off from blogging to let a friend of mine review a book based off the highly popular  video game The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. James is a dear friend of mine and is my sometimes-co-blogger. So, onto the post!

I am not a real Witcher fan. I came to the series, like many English-reading fans, through the video games. Specifically the recent The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt and it was upon completing the game that I thought, 'Bloody hell, how great must that have been for a Polish fan who's been reading Andrzej Sapkowski's work since the 90's?' Even though I had not read the books or really played the first two games, The Wild Hunt felt brilliantly like the epic conclusion of something special. And it was. I was hooked, totally along for the ride and absolutely in love with every character involved.

I say this because it meant I entered Blood of Elves with a very different perspective than someone just beginning a new series. Yes, it is the first book, but I had the unfair advantage of feeling like I already intimately knew these characters. Though, I've read some say that new readers should begin with The Last Wish as it's a collection of short stories set before the series and provides some background. I ignored that, obviously, but there is some merit in that idea.

The novel follows Ciri and Geralt, a child orphaned by war and the monster hunter whose destiny it was to find her. Ciri is prophesied to end the world, or to save it, or shape it, or elevate the power of whoever can manipulate, enslave or marry her. And there are so many people who'd like very much to find her for the own purposes. Enter Geralt, the famous and stoic witcher, who is known far and wide for both his deadly abilities as a hunter and torrid love affairs with beautiful enchantresses. In Ciri, Geralt does not find a valuable asset or source of power. He finds a daughter whom he would go to any lengths to protect. Ciri herself must come to terms with the violent miseries of her childhood in a world on the brink of war, where everyone else is making plans for her without a care to what she may want.

Ciri and Geralt by dragonlizzard

Blood of Elves is more of a character study than a novel. It is the first step in a grand adventure, but chooses to revel in its players first before doing much of anything. Sapkowski's world is already in full swing from page one and all of its principal players have lived long and/or eventful lives. To bring the audience up to speed, Sapkowski uses colourful conversations where people argue about the past in place of exposition. There are several scenes composed of only dialogue and it allows the author to establish every character's very distinct voice.

There are reasonable downsides to this, of course. The world of The Witcher is very dense with multiple plot lines to follow and so many characters who will all obviously have a part to play in later novels. Blood of Elves spends so much time jumping between one interesting conversation to the next that very little of the overall plot goes anywhere. After almost 400 pages, the story has not moved narratively or geographically very far. Yet it all feels like the first stones tumbling down the mountainside before an avalanche. It's a fun set up that lets the audience get invested in their toys before they can play with them.

I am jealous of all the people who've known them for 20 years now.

I know Geralt, Ciri, Yen and Triss. At least, I think I do. Even coming from The Wild Hunt to Blood of Elves I still feel like that's true. While many of the concepts espoused in the novel may be familiar to me from the games, it still felt like a solid way of kicking off the saga. If nothing else, it is just fun to spend more time with these characters.

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