After the initial couple of short story collections (The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny) Blood of Elves marks the first full novel for the Witcher saga of books and a complete change of pace, with the story largely consisting of “set-up” for the saga at large. The translation from Andrzej Sapkowski’s original Polish text is once again handled by Danusia Stok, instead of David French who did the majority of the other books, and once again I think I prefer her as a translator. Blood of Elves has won numerous awards and you can see why. Stok’s work here unfortunately loses a lot of the humour from the original Polish novels (something that French is *much* better at – which is why some people may prefer his style) but it has an epic-poem feel to it and suits the grand narrative style of a classic fantasy novel; perfect for an initial push into a larger Witcher narrative.
The opening chapter is fantastic, really action packed and well-written, although its impact relies heavily on having previously read Sword of Destiny, which makes the original decision by the publisher to skip over that volume even more ludicrous. It’s noteworthy that this first chapter is told from the perspective of Ciri, and the novel as a whole jumps about between lots of characters, not always focussing on Geralt, and this is a welcome break from the witcher-focussed short stories. In Blood of Elves there are chapters from the perspective of kings and emperors and it gives the reader a good idea of the sweeping changes going on in the world and of the encroaching nature of war. To get the audience back up to speed there is even an early chapter that acts as a sort of chorus, with lots of people discussing the events of the short stories that have lead up to this point; although this in no way replaces reading The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny.
Finally, the closing chapter of the book is, in my opinion, very unusual. As mentioned above, this novel acts as a sort of “set-up” for the grand narrative, and the action, tension and excitement keeps ramping up-and-up as the story progresses. But the last chapter switches this about and is a quiet “training montage” with Ciri and Yennefer, showing the two bonding and becoming closer before they leave on their journey. It’s a quiet character piece, which gives us good insight into the two women, but is a sombre and sedate tone to end the book on. By the end of the novel there are lots of plot threads left dangling loosely, ready for the sequels, and many characters have unclear fates after an action-fuelled tussle in the streets of Novigrad.
Reading these books whilst playing The Witcher III: Wild Hunt has been, so far, an excellent experience. It was especially interesting with this novel to be introduced to the characters of Sigismund Dijkstra and Philippa Eilhart at precisely the same time I ran across them in the game. Blood of Elves does an excellent job, with dialogue and supporting sub-chapters (from different characters perspectives), of fleshing out these personalities, and this give them a much greater presence in the videogame also. Much like the latest game, this novel also concerns itself with the hunt for Ciri, although this time when she is still just an adolescent girl, and gives good reason to why she is so importance to everyone. Blood of Elves also introduces the character of Triss Merigold, who is mentioned offhandedly in Sword of Destiny but never written about in person until now, and she is an instantly likable character. Again, I would recommend these novels to anyone currently playing through the Witcher videogame series, especially the latest videogame, and they are just fantastic novels in their own right. I’m now on to Time of Contempt, the second book in the saga and fourth in the Witcher series.