Based on internal chronology, Blood of Elves (2008) is the third book in Andrzej Sapkowski’s WITCHER series. Its format differs slightly from the previous two books, The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny, which are actually story collections. (But don’t think that just because they’re not novels they aren’t necessary; to have the requisite background information you really do need to read both of them before reading Blood of Elves.)
As much as I loved The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny, I thought I’d prefer a WITCHER novel because it would stay more focused on the progressing story of the Witcher and Ciri, his young protégé. This was not quite my experience, though. I enjoyed Blood of Elves, but I thought its pace was a little too languorous and rambling in some spots. I preferred the shorter WITCHER stories because, while they progressed the main plot in a patchy episodic way, they each also featured a self-contained story that was tighter, more exciting, and introduced a greater number of amusing new characters and situations. I missed this in Blood of Elves but, I repeat, I still enjoyed the book, just not quite as much as the previous two.
Blood of Elves begins two years after the Battle of Cintra (which occurred at the end of Sword of Destiny). We find the bard Dandelion in a tavern singing about the battle and its lost princess while the folks who are listening debate about the accuracy of his tale. It’s clear that the city of Cintra fell to the elves, but it’s not clear what happened to princess Ciri, or if she’s even dead or alive. A lot of people seen to be looking for her, almost certainly for nefarious purposes, but Geralt, who found her in the touching final scene of Sword of Destiny, is hiding her so that she can grow up in safety, learn to use her magic powers, and become the world’s first female witcher.
Much of the story focuses on Ciri’s development as she trains with the witchers, learns from two sorceresses, and goes to school. Other scenes show the rising tensions between the elves, who used to possess the land, and the humans and dwarves who displaced the elves generations ago. I’m assuming that there will be a war in the future and that Ciri, who is a human with some elvish blood, will play a major role in it.
I thought I was tired of high fantasy stories starring dwarves and elves, but Sapkowski’s tales feel totally fresh. The language isn’t heavy and ornate, the story is dark while the tone feels light, the characters are vibrant, there’s a touch of dry humor, and there’s a lingering feeling that Sapkowski is being slightly irreverent to the genre. Sapkowski’s stories also have modern sensibilities. They’re not about good vs evil — that’s much too simplistic. Blood of Elves is about concepts we’re dealing with and debating now in our own world — concepts such as racism, immigration, assimilation, and alienation.
Peter Kenny is the brilliant narrator of Hachette Audio’s production of the WITCHER series. I am sure that a large part of my enthusiasm about these books is due to Kenny’s performance. He’s just so good and you’re missing out if you don’t try the audio. Find a sample here. Blood of Elves is 11 hours long. I’m happily moving on to the next book, The Time of Contempt.