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There is good, bad, even controversial content in the Witcher series, but Blood of Elves can be summed up as being utterly boring. Bo E is the worst book in the franchise, and that is bad unto itself for several reasons. Among them is that people frequently mistaken this book for being the first of the series. Itís a bloated exposition-filled mess, even when read in order.
Ciri overshadows everyone else in this book, as Bo Eís main purpose is to boost her general capabilities to one step below Geralt's as a sword and sorcery protagonist. It would not be so bad, if the series did not waste its chance to build Geralt and Ciri's relationship. Ciri splits her training among the other witchers in Geralt's home base, but almost none of these characters ever show up for the rest of the series. What interactions Geralt and Ciri do have together are one-sided and predictable, as the book does not contrast Ciri's positive traits to Geralt's negative ones. However, Ciri's relationship with Yennifer is much more interesting. They develop a mother-daughter relationship, in contrast to Geralt's stiff "Do what I say" attitude. The plot of the sequels has Geralt trying to find Ciri after getting separated from her, yet the relationship between Yennifer and Ciri is much more immersive. Triss makes a strong introduction in this book, but midway through the story she is shoved to the background, and never quite recovers what charisma she had in the first third of the story.
Sapkowski excels at writing short stories, but his overarching plots between books is hit and miss. This book is much worse if you reread it after finishing the series, as you start to see subplots the author either gave up on or resolved with mundane answers that discourage further explanation. The book seems to imply there is some extradimensional sentient force connected to Ciri and the concept of fate in general, but this idea never progresses to the sequels. Similarly, Ciri has this power to fortell the future, which vanishes in later books.
Elves don't really matter in this book, and the dwarves who share the same plight, are relegated to a single subplot midway through the book. There is some discussion of rebellion vs reform when it comes to combatting racism, which is a decent subject, but one that's covered far too briefly. Instead Geralt dedicates his time to banging a medical student named Shani, whose 17, which is two, possibly three years older than the girl he's adopted as a surrogate daughter. Geralt also chases an evil wizard, whose been already utterly trounced by Yennifer at the start of the book. Its noir caper that lacks mystery and suspense.
If you can tough out Ciri going through two extra long 80's montages with a smattering of plot in middle, you should probably read Bo E, because at least a few details do make it into further books. However, there are too few good qualities to outnumber the bad. The series is mostly uphill after this book. Mostly.
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 elseís 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, thatís actually a dream sequence, that leads straight into a long debate about some prior war that isnít 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 ďgenetic mutationĒ, as though microbiology is a familiar thing to a culture that still uses broadswords.
Iíve 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 theyíre 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 donít feel at all compelled to find out if that is the case.
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