Blood of elves (Andrzej Sapkowski, 1994)

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Blood of elves, by Andrzej Sapkowski (1994, Spanish version by José María Faraldo).

Score: First half quite boring, second half much better.

After two volumes of short stories set in the Witcher universe, Blood of Elves is the first full-length novel of the series. I wouldn’t recommend starting to read here, since the short stories “A matter of price”, “The sword of destiny” and “Something more” narrate events that are important to the plot of Blood of elves, and other stories help understand secondary arcs, such as “The edge of the world”.

Blood of elves follows Ciri’s education with Geralt and the other witchers in Kaer Morhen, and how Triss Merigold gets called for help with Ciri’s magical aptitudes, which threaten to get out of control. The second half develops the political situation that might lead to a Nilfgaardian invasion of the Northern Realms and the role Ciri plays in it as the lost heiress to the throne of Cintra.

The first half is not written very gracefully. It stalls a bit and Triss’s characterization and dialogue are not very well achieved. Sapkowski has a hard time writing women in general and Triss is no exception. Her dialogue with Ciri sounds stiff and not very natural and her only being defined as a character by her unrequited love for Geralt doesn’t help much. The rampant misogyny (“Geralt muttered something about women and their impulsive personalities, the dwarf took this as too mild a definition of their malice, sadism and vengefulness”), never compensated with well-written women, makes this an unpleasant read in some passages. Ciri is quite well-written from the beginning, which actually doesn’t come as a surprise since she’s quite the tomboy. Anyway, she’s a pleasure to read.

What was special about the short story anthologies was that they deconstructed and played around with many tropes from traditional fantasy and folklore. The first half of this book just plays the Chosen One trope straight and adds uninteresting information about the universe for some hundred pages.

The second half gets better. The plot gets finally seasoned with some political movement, including the introduction of the Scoia’tael and some of the history of the elves. Though the plot is not astounding, it’s much more entertaining and achieved than the first half.

The introduction of Yennefer of Vengerberg as Ciri’s teacher serves two functions very well. Firstly, Yennefer is no longer only defined by her frustrated desire to be a mother. As petty and nasty as she could be a handful of pages prior, she gets developed as a rounded-up character with her virtues and vices. Secondly, the nature of magic in this universe gets defined and explained. While Sapkowski avoids subverting the usual tropes for this kind of work, it looks like it will serve the plot right. Anachronisms like Linus Pitt the naturalist and mentions of Mendelian inheritance strike as out of place in a world that for everything else looks like Medieval Europe. It’s a quite bold decision, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

All in all, the quality level on the second half goes up after the depression in The sword of destiny and this novel’s first half and it leaves a quite promising landscape for Time of Contempt.

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