Blood Of Elves
Written by Andrzej Sapkowski
Translated by Danusia Stok.
Gollancz hardback and paperback
Released 16th October 2008
Geralt of Rivia is a witcher, but he always stands out from other witchers with his white hair and piercing eyes, as well as his cynicism and lack of respect for authority. Although a magically and genetically mutated monster-slayer for hire he is far more than a striking-looking man. As a witcher his sorcerous powers, enhanced by elixirs and long training, have made him a brilliant fighter; a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer; his targets are the vile fiends and demons that ravage the land.
Sapkowski’s world is assembled extremely well, and his sense of depth, is reminiscent of Middle Earth in many ways. Firstly as many stories take place in the kingdom of Cintra, the fictional land; secondly there are recurring themes such as focus on conflict, in-depth dialogue and the roles of magic and magical objects. The author includes the fantasy characters you would expect; also manages to uphold the genre with energetic, intelligent and compelling writing. What is clever is his skill to add a hint of Polish folklore which has undoubtedly catapulted his Witcher Saga onto to the European platform.
Blood of Elves (Polish original title: Krew elfów) is the first novel in the Witcher Saga and was first published in Poland in 1994. The English translation was published late 2008. This book is a sequel to the Witcher short stories collected in the books ‘The Last Wish’ and ‘Miecz przeznaczenia’ (which translates as ‘A Sword of Fate’) It is then followed by ‘Czas pogardy’ (which translates as ‘The Time of Disdain’ but which is marketed as ‘Times of Contempt’). ‘Krew elfów’ was the winner of the Janusz A. Zajdel Award for best novel in 1994. Blood of Elves is only the second book by the author to hit the British shelves; the first of an expected and enthralling five part series.
For more than a hundred years the superficially familiar world of humans, dwarves, gnomes, elves and warring human kingdoms lived together in relative peace. But in this fantasyland, time is changing, where magic gives its users genetic mutations and the uneasy peace is over. Now the races once again fight each other – and themselves: dwarves are killing their kinsmen, and elves as an ethnic minority are using guerrilla tactics to fight back against human colonisation as well as killing their own; even those who befriend humans.
Sapkowski creates a world where there is moral ambiguity coupled by dark cynical humour. Cintra is a land which is mirrored with reality; with hard hitting politics and unstable economies. It also begins to show the larger scope of events in the land where war is imminent and race discourse grows tensely.
The complex plot in the Blood of Elves focuses on the Empire of Nilfgaard attacking and overwhelming the Kingdom of Cintra. The Lioness of Cintra or Queen Calanthe commits suicide and her granddaughter, Cirilla, called Ciri, or ‘Lion Cub of Cintra’ somehow flees from the burning capital city. Emhyr var Emreis who is the Emperor of Nilfgaard, sends his spies to find the youngling. He realises Ciri’s importance, not only because of her royal bloodline, but also because of her magical potential; the elven blood that runs through her veins.
The heart of this instalment is not the saga’s signature character – the preternatural assassin Geralt of Rivia, but his young ward Ciri who needs his protection. He takes her to the witchers’ stronghold in Kaer Morhen who have been waiting for the prophesised child. It becomes obvious Ciri isn’t ordinary so she is taught by old Vesemir, Coen, Eskel and Lambert. She learns about monsters and how to fight with a sword: learning with the blindfold. But Geralt knows that she can never become a witcher. During her ‘education’ a sorceress named Triss Merigold comes to Kaer Morhen. Triss (Geralt’s former girlfriend) teaches Ciri how to control her abilities and helps with the strange, troubling and abnormal behaviour she is emitting. Together they reveal that Ciri possesses powerful magical abilities. Individuals who exhibit such promise and power are referred to as the Sources.
As the political situation grows ever dimmer and the threat of war hangs almost palpably over the land, Geralt searches for someone to train Ciri’s unique powers. At the same time, a mysterious mage of considerable skill called Rience (not the Rience in Arthurian legend) is looking for the girl. He is a servant of the powerful mage Vilgefortz of Roggeveen who is a member of the Chapter or Sorcerers. Rience catches Geralt’s friend, Dandelion the bard, to get information about Ciri, but another sorceress called Yennefer manages to save Dandelion and injures Rience in a conjuring battle. Dandelion might not have survived to continue his role as Geralt’s frequent companion if it wasn’t for Yennefer.
Although initially painted as a helpless waif, Ciri the prophesied child soon grows into a tough spirited girl under Geralt’s protection as the plot thickens. Holding this promise of immense power, for good or as a harbinger of doom, it is up to Geralt to ensure Ciri takes the right path and remains safe from those who wish to kill her.
The pace of the novel is a little lethargic and the political discourse can sometimes become irksome and often onerous. The most pronounced drive of the novel is that Ciri is a descendant of an ancient elven bloodline depicting that Ciri’s involvement is paramount to harnessing all power in Cintra.
There is unfortunately little effective action which seems overshadowed by lengthy periods of political discussion and war stratagems. However, Sapkowski does address every aspect of a good fantasy story eloquently and surprisingly with ease. His style reads as easily as David Gemmel’s, but hits harder and deeper to complement George R. R. Martin by creating a world that is both familiar and comfortable. It is through his inventive use of character manipulation that he makes this novel a new and realistic reading experience.