Synopsis: Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. He roams the country seeking assignments, but gradually comes to realise that while some of his quarry are unremittingly vile, vicious grotesques, others are the victims of sin, evil or simple naivety.
This is quite an enchanting collection of short stories which introduces The Witcher fantasy series. The Blood of Elves is the first of the novel-length Witcher series, though The Last Wish should really be read first. See the bottom of this review for reading order. And yes, this is the series that inspired the Witcher video games! Originally published in Polish, the final book is due to be translated into English March 2017.
The world in which Geralt of Rivia lives is dark and full of monsters and other fantasy creatures, some of which I’ve heard of and others which I have not. This makes the world both familiar and exciting at once. On the one hand you have the staples of the genre: elves, wizards, and sorcerers. On the other you have: “manticore, wyvern, fogler, aeschna, ilyocoris, chimera, leshy, vampire, ghoul, graveir, were-wolf, giant scorpion, striga, black annis, kikimora, vypper” etc. And Witchers themselves of course, human children who were mutated in order to gain abilities that would aid them in the slaying of said monsters.
Most of these short stories are inspired by existing folklore and fairy tales, though I doubt if any reader would be able to pick up on all of them. (And if you can then you are much more well-versed than I am!) I drew a few parallels between “Beauty and the Beast” and “Snow White”, and I’m quite sure I’ve read something about a striga before, though the stories that were entirely unrecognizable were equally as entertaining.
“A Grain of Truth” was one of the highlights for me. Many of these short pieces explore the idea of monsters being human and humans being monsters and that’s a theme I gravitate towards. Nivellen reminded me of Beast in Beauty and the Beast and the conversation between he and Geralt was intriguing. Don’t go in expecting as tame an outcome though.
Geralt seems like he will be an interesting character. I think The Last Wish gives you a good idea about the world and shows you what a Witcher does, but I don’t think Geralt was really explored in depth here. I couldn’t really predict what he would say or do even by the final short story, though that may come around more easily in a full-length novel.
Roach, Geralt’s horse, though only briefly mentioned in a few stories past the first one, is my favourite thing about Geralt. I think it’s a good indicator of his personality that while other characters call him masculine and handsome, he rides around on a somewhat skittish mare. Most other masculine hero types tend to find themselves on sleek and temperamental stallions. Also the name “Roach”. I love horses, okay? This meant something to me haha.
These stories are also quite dialogue heavy, though a lot of what Geralt’s conversations are about is not saying things out loud. Most of the time I caught on, other times I still don’t know what silent agreement two characters came to. The Last Wish itself isn’t even written. That said, I liked that this didn’t focus on action. When it came time for sword fighting and magic it was subtle and easy to appreciate.
My one issue with this is the sexism. I know this kind of comes with the fantasy genre, but does it need to? All of the “womenfolk” were either the monsters themselves or introduced to us naked “with the exception of [this or that necklace]”. Even Yennefer, who sounds like she will be an important part of Geralt’s future story, and clearly is against sexist treatment from men, was completely naked upon Geralt’s first meeting her, and then again during his first real conversation with her. It doesn’t ruin the story but I think it’s important to note.
I’m very excited to have the rest of this series ahead of me. I was first intrigued when the trailer for Witcher: The Wild Hunt came out. I didn’t have a PS4 at the time which (luckily) saved me from going ahead and playing it and missing out on experiencing the books first.
Here is the suggested reading order which I found on a forum:
1. The Last Wish (1993) Short Story Anthology
2. Sword of Destiny (1992) Short Story Anthology
3. Blood of Elves (1994)
4. Time of Contempt (1995)
5. Baptism of Fire (1996)
6. The Swallow’s Tower (1997)
7. Lady of the Lake (1999)
3.5 Ships- Liked it a lot