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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.
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