Yes, I know this isn’t the first Witcher book. But it is a good enough entry point, so I’ll be doing it first. Don’t worry; I’ll get to The Last Wish later.
The Witcher has become one of my favorite fantasy franchises in recent years. I loved The Witcher 3 and, while I did have my problems with it, I thoroughly enjoyed the Netflix show! I can’t say I cared much for Witcher 1 and I still haven’t bothered playing much Witcher 2. Even so, I’ve experienced more than enough to say with confidence that this series is amazing!
For a while, I had intended to review the other two games next. But then I came to a realization. There was only one area I could go next. It was time to go to the books!
And I did start in the wrong place. Oops. Oh well. I’ve made my bed. Time to sleep in it.
Typically, in a long-running fantasy series, you want each book within it to feel like its own story. It needs to build on what came before it while paving the way for the one to come next while still telling its own story. A great example of this is A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones for you TV only folks). Each book has a self-contained story that works into the greater narrative of the series as a whole. Thus, reading each individual book is completely satisfying to read while still leaving you hungry for more!
This is where Blood of Elves fails. It does a lot to build on the world and characters that were established in the first books and it does plenty to set up events to come in the later entries. Unfortunately, it does little to tell its own story. As such, reading this one can kind of be a slog. Necessary, yes. But that only makes it more infuriating.
After Nilfgaard laid waste to Cintra, Princess Cirila was left alone and on the run. Luckily, she was picked up by the man she was promised to by the Law of Surprise: Geralt of Rivia, a legendary Witcher. He takes her to Kaer Morhen, home of the Witchers, and trains her in the sword before taking her to a monastery to learn… stuff. A short while later, Ciri finds herself trained by Yennefer, a powerful sorceress with strong connections to Geralt. All the while, powerful figures across the world, from high wizards to kings and spies, gather to figure out what to do about the coming war with Nilfgaard, the fate of the Lion Cub of Cintra, and an ancient elven prophecy concerning both. Meanwhile, Geralt desperately tries to corner a powerful and dangerous sorcerer who, after being sent by a mysterious benefactor, has set his flame-scarred eyes on Ciri.
This is one of those paradoxical books. A whole lot happened. But at the same time, nothing really happened at all! This entire novel felt like a great big first act. It built up to a lot but left it to the next books to pay it off.
This is a double-edged sword. On one hand, if the reader becomes invested enough in these characters and this world (which is quite easy, but we’ll get to that), then leaving the story unresolved helps hook the reader in. It encourages them to immediately pick up the next book and keep reading! However, that leaves the story within this book feel incomplete and unsatisfying. It will either leave you frothing at the mouth for more, despite your satisfaction or rolling your eyes and asking for more to get that satisfaction.
Did you want to see Geralt capture his prey and get his answers, thus setting him upon the greater threat of the series? Too bad, Mr. Scar-dy-face is still living high and large! Want to see Ciri learn the blade or her first spell? You get a dialogue montage! Want to see the knight with the feathered helm do literally anything? Too bad, you’ll have to wait until later! How about the elves that are illuded to in every fucking chapter? We get one scene with them that resolves nothing! This story is a whole lot of set-up with no payoff! I hope you become invested in what you get! Otherwise, you’ll never get anything!
Aside from some excellent characters and world-building. You’ll get plenty of those.
My boner for the various characters in The Witcher series has been made abundantly clear. Geralt is one of my favorite fantasy characters of all time; he’s a perfect blend of unstoppably badass, grim but heroic, admirable and intimidating, and sympathetically tragic. Yennefer is a tsundere done right, a woman terrified of letting her emotions run free which only allows them to grow stronger, a seemingly cold bitch with a heart of gold. Ciri, while she can be annoying at times, is a great protagonist, serving as a fantastic lens for the audience to be introduced to the world while still being her own character. She’s brash and headstrong while still being smart and capable; she’s naive but eager to learn, even if the lesson is grim and makes her heroic aspirations seem childish. Every member of the cast is interesting and likable, coming together to form one of the most incredible casts I’ve ever been treated to in fantasy literature!
The world itself is also incredibly interesting! We’re given just enough peeks into it to make it well-developed while still being shrouded in mystery! We see numerous interesting locals, are treated to just enough politics to be interesting without being boring, and are given plenty of cool monsters and magic spells! It’s high fantasy done right; the world is defined and engaging while still being mysterious enough to make the audience want to explore it!
Which I often did, as I took frequent breaks to play The Witcher 3 and explore in-between my reading.
Despite all my complaints, I did like this book! If there weren’t four other books to read that will build further on this story, I’d likely be more upset. But much like a concluded TV series, there is no need to be upset over a cliffhanger! All it takes is one long session of binging!
If only I had time for that…
I’d highly recommend reading The Blood of Elves. However, I would recommend reading the first three books (The Last Wish, Sword of Destiny, and Season of Storms) before you dive into this one. Even then, you should still only check it out if you’re super sure that you’ll be into it. Otherwise, you might not get the satisfying conclusion that a good story needs. Only hop aboard this ship if you are sure that you’ll get to the end.
Yes, I know five books is a bit of a time investment. But hey! Five Witcher books aren’t as long as one Stormlight Archive book! I’m sure you can find it in your schedule!