Start: June 11, 2019
Finish: June 19, 2019
Synopsis: For over a century, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and elves have lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over, and now the races are fighting once again. The only good elf, it seems, is a dead elf.
Geralt of Rivia, the cunning assassin known as The Witcher, has been waiting for the birth of a prophesied child. This child has the power to change the world – for good, or for evil.
As the threat of war hangs over the land and the child is hunted for her extraordinary powers, it will become Geralt’s responsibility to protect them all – and the Witcher never accepts defeat.
The Witcher returns in this sequel to The Last Wish, as the inhabitants of his world become embroiled in a state of total war. [via back cover]
I had high hopes for this book. I really want to like the Witcher series and there are some things that I do like about it. I hoped this book would help me finally fall in love. But the third entry in the Witcher series and the first full novel, Blood of Elves feels like a stark departure from the character driven stories in the short story collections that precede it. Honestly, the reason this book earned 4 stars instead of 3 is because the last 60 pages were some of the best in the entire novel, but I’ll come back to that later in the review.
Like most fantasy series, the land of the Witcher universe is one of unrest. There are endless wars and skirmishes between humans and non-humans, between bordering countries and between life and nature. There are no nice, clean lines that demarcate different groups, despite what people in this world believe. Geralt of Rivia is a witcher, a monster hunter who for the right price will take care of monsters that threaten humanity. He’s also a man who doesn’t neatly fit into any group. He’s not fully a human, but also not fully non-human. Witchers are usually referred to as mutants and are scorned by larger society like many of the monsters they hunt.
Verily, there is nothing so hideous as the monsters, so contrary to nature, known as witchers for they are the offspring of foul sorcery and devilry. They are rogues without virtue, conscience or scruple, true diabolic creations, fit only for killing. There is no place amidst honest men for such as they.
Geralt stuck close to the fringes of society and as such had interesting opinions about the nature of humanity. That was the best aspect of this series and it’s still present in Blood of Elves. Unfortunately, most of it is pushed to the side to make way for political unrest and warring that will likely be explored in further books.
There isn’t a single narrative thread that runs throughout this novel, which causes the pacing of the book to suffer. Characters linger in locations for pages with no sense of urgency. Chapters two and three take place in Kaer Morhen, a stronghold in the mountains where the witchers live during the winter months. Ciri, Geralt’s ward and surrogate daughter, possess magical abilities that frighten the witchers, therefore they decide to seek the assistance of a sorceress, Triss Merigold. She tries to help, but learns fairly early that whatever is afflicting Ciri is fair beyond her scope of knowledge or magical abilities, thus, reluctantly Triss recommends they seek the aid of Yennifer. Instead of progressing to this new goal, the narrative lingers in Kaer Morhen and we learn more about the political situation and how it will impact the world at large. This is where the story begins to drag and I struggled to pay attention. Suddenly, the politics of this world which always lingered in the background are propelled forward, forcing readers to take note.
This happens again at various points in chapter six where we read about the formation of factions that hope to play an active role in the war with the invading Nilfgaardian forces.
“Nilfgaard is watching and waiting,” continued Meve slowly, toying with her necklace. “Nilfgaard is observing us. Something is hanging in the air, silly thoughts are springing up in many heads. So let us show them what we are capable of. Let us show them who is really king here. Let us shake the walls of this great castle plunged into a winter torpor!”
While reading these sections, I found myself flipping through the pages to see how much further I had to go to reach a part that interested me. I’m nervous that in the next book we’ll be overwhelmed with information about the political landscape. It’s the strongest aspect of this series and doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from other high fantasy series.
Despite my feelings about the pacing and overall narrative thread, I didn’t hate Blood of Elves. As I said in the introduction, the last 60 or so pages were fantastic because it focused on the relationship between these various characters and their inner complexity.
“What is there between you and Geralt, Lady Yennefer?”
Ciri almost fainted, horrified at her own impertinence, chilled by the silence which followed the question.
The enchantress slowly approached her, placed her hands on her shoulders, looked her in eyes from up close — and deeply.
“Longing,” she answered gravely. “Regret. Hope. And fear. Yes, I don’t think I have omitted anything. Well, no we can get on with the tests, you little green-eyed viper. We will see if you’re cut out for this. Although after your question I would be very surprised if it turned out you aren’t. Let’s go, my ugly one.”
The Witcher series is the strongest when we examine the relationship between these characters: Geralt, Ciri, Yennefer, Triss and many, many others. These are characters who wield tremendous magical powers and fighting abilities, something many people who envy them for. Yet they’re deeply unhappy and run from their true feelings. They’re flawed in the best ways and that’s what makes these books so fun to read. I hope we get more of these intimate character moments in future books and the political plot is pushed back to the shadows where it belongs.
I think I like this series. I don’t dislike it and I enjoy learning more about these characters I first encountered in a video game back in 2015. The second and third novel arrived at my home today and I want to dig into them soon. My only wish, besides less focus on the political stuff, is for Yennefer to have more time on the page because she’s easily my favorite character in any series.