Blood of Elves is billed as “a novel of the witcher” and this same witcher, Geralt of Rivia, is blurbed as the inspiration “for the critically acclaimed video game The Witcher,” which tells me some interesting things right away. First, that one way to get fantasy translated into English, it helps to have a popular video game behind it. That’s different from how I understood much of the book-game relationship to work. I had thought that recognizable books spawned games as offshoots, often after the book or series had been adapted into a movie or television production. The way things flow through pop culture keeps changing.
Next, it’s “a novel,” not first in a trilogy or “the novel” or something else. Geralt’s story is likely to be open-ended in some form or fashion. The Last Wish seems to precede in the character’s chronology, although both begin in media res. Blood of Elves is the first in a longer narrative about impending war between the various small kingdoms and countries where Geralt has wandered and had adventures and a larger power to the north. In the book it’s called Nilfgaard, but consonant with the author’s Polish background, could well be called Muscovy or Russia. It is an existential threat to the kingdoms, led by a ruthless autocrat.
As in The Last Wish, the author’s background gives the setting and the story a different cast from someone steeped in Anglo-American fantasy. For example, the pacing is simply different from what I expected in a fantasy novel. There’s not the kind of orderly progression of events or obstacles; there’s not a climax to mark the end of the first book; the action does not even follow the series’ titular character for much of the book. Indeed, Blood of Elves is as much about other characters — the minstrel Dandilion, the enchantress Triss, and above all the possible child of prophecy Ciri — as it is about Geralt. It’s also about the settings and locations, from the witchers’ near-deserted castle to the university town with an obvious model (it’s called Oxenfurt) to the river delta where Geralt really does perform some derring-do.
Danusia Stok‘s translation has rendered Sapkowski faithfully into the English of fantasy adventure.
I liked Blood of Elves precisely because it confounded my expectations, without any self-conscious effort on the author’s part to do so. Fantasy that comes out of another tradition of storytelling is that much more fantastical, simply by being true to its origins. One of my favorite characters (the hilariously annoying adolescent Everett) is a complete walk-on, but Sapkowski’s willingness to add in the extraneous makes his world more believable and his story more enjoyable. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens in the next novels, and I expect to be surprised.