Blood of Elves [Witcher 1]

Ducking back in from my batshit life for a brief book rec.

I really, really loved this book. Also, whoever is responsible for the portrayal of Triss in the first game should be slapped.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. For me, the book had two problems.

The first was the conflation of beauty and female power. I don’t think this was malicious in intent — I actually think Sapkowski was trying to be progressive, but I felt it was a bit tone-deaf to talk about how makeup = confidence, since historically beauty standards, which we use makeup to enforce,  are actually aimed at tearing women down and marginalizing women who look a certain way. This issue actually stood out more to me because the rest of the book was pretty amazing about women. (Though — the whole weirdness of BUT CIRI IS A GIIIIRL with the witchers struck me as odd. If the witcher transformation has such an abysmal success rate, and also the world is totally used to power women like Triss and Yennefer, why filter out 50% of the potential witchers by refusing girls? It reminded me of Trails in the Sky, where the bizarre insistence that it was weird to see powerful women despite them being everywhere made the setting feel incongruous with itself.)

The second issue is that Geralt is a massive sue. I don’t much mind since he’s likable and he actually doesn’t, like most sues, warp the world around himself, but the way Triss throws herself at him is a little much, and then the weird implication that Ciri is in love with him too is just comical. Plus also he’s the Most Badass to Ever Badass.

Plus, I like Geralt and Yennefer as a couple. Their love-hate is awesome and I want it to go on forever.

The weird part about it is that he actually doesn’t matter much to the story besides being the person who knows everyone who actually matters. He brings together Ciri, Triss and Yennefer so that they can plot, and the book even comes down on him for his own passivity in the face of their world’s conflicts. (I really liked that theme, by the by — that staying “impartial” in the face of evil is its own kind of evil . The scene where Ciri freaks out at him is really good.) But anyway, yeah, he doesn’t matter much and then BADASS ACTION SCENE SUPER SEXY BADASS and then he goes back to not mattered until next time.

But yeah, those are the sum total of my complaints. The books major themes of racism, impartiality, just war and such were are tackled really deftly, and Sapkowski has a really nice style that’s thick but easy to read. I particularly loved the scene where Yennefer chewed out the men for being whiny babies about Ciri getting her period; it was brilliant and it almost read as meta, as the author chewing out other writers who prefer to gloss over that kind of thing.

What else? The scene with the dwarf brothers was heartbreaking. The use of magic and manifestation of Ciri’s powers was really unique and well-done, I loved the actual descriptions of using and learning magic that are so rare to get in fantasy stories for some reason. Phillipa’s whole arc was one of those great things where I saw it coming but totally understood why the characters didn’t. I liked the focus on political intrigue. I liked that the book was realistic without being grimdark, that it stilled allowed for good as well as evil.

I wish I had more to say! I would totally rec this series to anyone who likes high fantasy but wants something fresh, though I’d recommend starting with the short story anthology as it serves as the backstory for the major relationships in this book.

The series makes me want to play the games, so I think I might go back and finish up the first one, especially since 3 was supposed to be an incredible wRPG. Plus, Yennfer’s character art is fucking awesome:

yennefer.jpg

And look at Ciri! I want to be her.

ciri.jpg

Clearly a lot of my complaints about the first game are addressed and with elan.

13 Comments

  1. illhousen says:
    Well, before going back do remember that the games are sequels to the books as a whole, so you may wish to read them first so as to avoid more spoilers.

    I’m also curious on your thoughts about later books since they went in a… direction.

    1. actonthat says:
      Lulz, I could never forget all the weirdness that resulted from them attempted respawn of Geralt.

      Only up to the third book has seen English releases so far, plus two short stories collections (Sword of Destiny being the second). Looks like they’re translating the prequel novel next before returning to the main series. God knows what order I’ll end up reading them in.

  2. SpoonyViking says:
    Huh. Did either the Brazilian or the American editors change the order around? I think Blood of Elves is the third book in the “Witcher” series; the first one, which you already talked about, is The Last Wish, and the second one is Sword of Destiny.

    Also, Act, for some reason, this post shows up as a comment in your “Legend of Heroes” post on the “Recent Comments” section.

    The second issue is that Geralt is a massive sue. I don’t much mind since he’s likable and he actually doesn’t, like most sues, warp the world around himself, but the way Triss throws herself at him is a little much,[…]

    Triss and various other women, in spite of witchers looking like they do. I’m not familiar with Eastern European fantasy, so I don’t know whether the author was influenced by, say, Robert E. Howard (or even Michael Moorcock, although Elric’s success with women reads more like a parody of Howard’s barbarian characters than the trope played straight), but it does remind me of how many fantasy authors (and much of its audience, as well) at least partly measures the “success” of a male character by the number of women he’s bedded.

    That said, I agree, Geralt is a very likeable character (I consider him to be the “stoic badass” archetype done right), and I do find his main character conflict to be very sympathetic: staying neutral in the face of evil is its own form of evil, but we need only look at the wizards to see how a powerful minority getting involved in politics can make a messy situation even messier.

    1. illhousen says:
      “Huh. Did either the Brazilian or the American editors change the order around? I think Blood of Elves is the third book in the “Witcher” series; the first one, which you already talked about, is The Last Wish, and the second one is Sword of Destiny.”

      No, it’s the correct order. The Sword is a collection of short stories with little effect on the overall plot, however, so presumably the American release decided to skip it.

      “I’m not familiar with Eastern European fantasy, so I don’t know whether the author was influenced by, say, Robert E. Howard”

      Eastern European fantasy can be roughly divided into two broad groups. The first is the regular fantasy which follows familiar to you sources (Tolkien, Howard, Le Guin, other classics). Some authors, of course, get original with it and take their worlds and stories in different directions, but the same is true for Western fantasy as well. Witcher mostly falls into this category, with some forays into the second one, especially in the short story collection.

      The second is so-called slavic fantasy and… how to describe it? You know those Christian music bands and Christian thriller books and stuff like that? Usually poor-quality knock-offs of various secular entertainment that are consumed mostly because they’re Christian, not because they’re good? Slavic fantasy is like that, except the main appeal is not about religion but about “being not-Western”.

      It basically attempts to recreate Tolkien’s work on a different mythological base, but, well, there wasn’t a new Tolkien yet (and it doesn’t help that slavic mythology is basically gone), so it’s mostly stillborn.

      1. SpoonyViking says:
        No, it’s the correct order. The Sword is a collection of short stories with little effect on the overall plot, however, so presumably the American release decided to skip it.

        Ah, I see. I can understand that, but I think it’s a shame; the book works wonderfully as a prelude to shit getting thrown on the fan in later novels, especially since (at least in the Brazilian edition) Geralt becomes Ciri’s new guardian in Sword of Destiny, not Blood of Elves).

        It basically attempts to recreate Tolkien’s work on a different mythological base, but, well, there wasn’t a new Tolkien yet (and it doesn’t help that slavic mythology is basically gone), so it’s mostly stillborn.

        Shame, because the premise actually sounds very interesting. Well… As long as the writers don’t just write another “LotR” rip-off and only change “Sauron” to “Czernobog”.

        1. actonthat says:
          Geralt gets Ciri in Last Wish though, doesn’t he? It’s the last story.

          And yeah, the whole publication order is v weird. They basically took the chronological publication and went 2 3 4 6 1 7 8 9 and 5 doesn’t even have a slated translation. I would guess it’s them trying to keep up with the game’s hype and not publish anything ancillary. I would also guess that Last Wish is the bare minimum to understand the events of the main saga, since in-universe it happens first and it also explains Geralt’s relationship to Ciri and Yennefer.

          1. SpoonyViking says:
            Geralt gets Ciri in Last Wish though, doesn’t he? It’s the last story.

            Not in the Brazilian edition.

          2. Aumanor says:
            Geralt finds Ciri in “Something More”, the last story of “The sword of Destiny”. I definitely recommend reading it before the next books i the saga if you haven’t yet, it’s imo about as relevant to the main plot as The Last Wish was (since only A Matter of Price and the titular story matter in the long run). And it contains both of my favourite short stories (The Bounds of Reason and Eternal Flame). Warning: critical doses of Dandelion.
        2. illhousen says:
          “As long as the writers don’t just write another “LotR” rip-off and only change “Sauron” to “Czernobog”.”

          Well, I don’t follow it closely, but it seems to lean on heroic fantasy more than epic one. More focus on local stuff and specific characters than on the big picture. The most famous example of the genre is pretty much a Conan rip-off, complete with the protagonist’s backstory being more or less stolen straight from Conan.

          Though it does have a very Sauron-like big bad and a plot device that needs to be destroyed or delivered somewhere, forgot which, in order to defeat her.

          (Also, it’s Chernobog, not Czernobog. “Cherny” means “black”, “bog” means “god”)

          1. SpoonyViking says:
            Hm, I’ve seen “Czernobog” before. Could it be a spelling difference between countries, or is it a straight-up mistake?

            I don’t suppose any of those stories were translated into English, were they?

            1. illhousen says:
              Could be. It’s transliteration, after all.

              And no, slavic fantasy doesn’t really get Western releases as far as I can tell.

              Reply
  3. ec says:
    Yeah, Triss in the first Witcher game is written much more like Yennefer (the Last Wish mind-control shenanigans spring to mind particularly) than her actual self, which suggests to me that they might have switched them at some point. From the second game onwards she is characterised more faithfully as a talented but relatively laid-back sorceress.
  4. Cosmogone says:
    >>Though — the whole weirdness of BUT CIRI IS A GIIIIRL with the witchers struck me as odd. If the witcher transformation has such an abysmal success rate, and also the world is totally used to power women like Triss and Yennefer, why filter out 50% of the potential witchers by refusing girls?

    I’m sorry for necroposting, but I can actually answer that! There are only male witchers and only female witches for the same reason: these words are gender-specific in Slavic languages, with former being the male semi-artificial version of the latter.  Basically, Sapkowski went into it from the purely linguistical standpoint and by the time he realised this must have some in-story giustification, it was way too late to think of something reasonable.

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