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There are issues I have with Blood of Elves which fall into two camps: hang ups I have with the fantasy genre at large, and hang ups I have that are specific to The Witcher. I think its only fair to speak about them separately.
In the case of the former, I take issue with novels that rely on the standard Tolkienesque set-up of vaguely medieval world populated with lithe elves, Norse dwarfs and jerk humans. They feel like a fan-fiction, relying on someone else’s hard work and world building, just so the novelist can jump straight into their version. It is an economical way of using convention to short cut into the heart of a story, much like Wild Western fiction does, but it can easily feel like a wasted opportunity to invent a cool new place. Books like Perdido Street Station spoil you with the weird and wacky, but Blood of Elves falls straight into the trap. It barely even has to describe its elven and dwarven characters, it just knows you already know what they look like and doesn't spare the time (as a story) to do any story telling about them.
More specific a problem to The Witcher is its never ending opening. We begin with a battle, that’s actually a dream sequence, that leads straight into a long debate about some prior war that isn’t particularly interesting to anyone. We are introduced to impressive sounding characters who will eventually have to do something important, but they never get around to doing it during the book. Geralt (the actual Witcher) has one good scene on a boat where he winds up an biologist and fights a river monster, but spends most of the book moping around a castle and not saying anything at all. Yennefer the Sorceress is described to excessive detail, right down to the specific shape of her boobs through her clothes, and though the narrator is keen to remind us of how strong and progressive she is within her setting, all she really seems to do is talk a lot about periods and try to get laid.
Outside of a training montage and a river cruise, this book has very little to offer. What original ideas and lore it brings to the table, it doles out in long boring conversation scenes that permeate through the story. Even the translation seems kind of dodgy as well, with characters in an ostensibly medieval setting using terms like “genetic mutation”, as though microbiology is a familiar thing to a culture that still uses broadswords.
I’ve asked some Polish friends and they have said that a lot of the nuance and idiosyncratic language has likely been lost in translation. I think they’re right. It might also be possible that The Witcher works best as a continuous series, but with such a weak entrance to the first in a trilogy of full sized novels, I don’t feel at all compelled to find out if that is the case.
Man, you\'ve missed two books worth of short stories, some of which are absolutely pre-requested to read to even know who is who in the saga and why should you care. I know English (and general foreign) releases are spotty and there was a time the saga was almost fully translated into English, but Sword of Destiny was still untranslated, but there is just no way to get into the saga-proper without reading at least following short stories: A Question of Price, The Last Wish, The Bounds of Reason, A Shard of Ice, The Sword of Destiny and Something More. In fact, without reading the last two, the whole damn saga is pointless.
As for the language - the English translation, both official and the two fan-made I\'ve seen are dreadfully wooden, especially the official one. It\'s like watching a foreign, dialogue-heavy movie that comes with inaccurate subtitles that cut out all the wit and charm from dialogues.
...I don\'t know much about the series, but I suddenly find myself very sympathetic with a reader who picked up the first actual book in the series and then was suddenly told he needed to do a bunch of homework the book didn\'t tell him about in order to appreciate it.
Believe it or not, this novel was Yennefer's best showing. The remaining four novels in the series put her squarely in Faux Action Girl territory.
In general, there are good points about the remaining books, but there are massive weaknesses as well, and the final two novels are (in my opinion) genuinely terrible.
@Spectral Time Thing is, this is not the first book, but third. It's like starting watching Star Wars from Revenge Of The Sith. Alternatively - it's like playing The Wild Hunt as your first experience with the whole Witcherverse. Sure, you can and technically you are still going to get it all, but you are also going to miss even more. Just because they are collection of short stories doesn't make the first two books any less important for the series or the continuum, since the introduction of various characters happen in them, along with their interactions, relationships and their place in the grand picture of all the events that are going to unfold. And as far as Polish original release went, it was pretty damn explicit you should read the short stories first.
As for the book itself, maninahat's remarks are still spot-on. It's boring, it's padded and technically it's just 3 different short stories cobbled together and stretched out to make them into a regular novel. But reading it without the context of at least The Sword of Destiny and Something More short stories is flat-out pointless, while missing other short stories will make things muddy. There is just no way around it.
Baptism Of Fire is where things go downhill, with a spectacular nosedive. That's the moment where the whole thing drops suddenly the Deconstructor Fleet approach and instead enbraces fully all the cliches it possibly could, to the point the Geralt part of the story starts to be uncomfortably close to being a transcript from a TTRPG game session, The Gamers style.
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