Audiobook Review: Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Series: Book 1 of The Witcher
Publisher: Hachette Audio (June 2, 2015)
Author Information: Website
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Narrator: Peter Kenny | Length: 10 hrs 55 min
I remember being thrilled when I discovered that The Witcher saga by Andrzej Sapkowski was available in audio format. As a big fan of the video games which were adapted from this series, I was of course interested in reading the books, but as waiting for the English translation from its original Polish already required a bit of patience, I never really dared hope that the audiobooks would be coming too.
As of this writing though, English versions of The Last Wish, Blood of Elves are now available in audio with The Time of Contempt coming very soon. In time it would be amazing to see the entire saga get the same treatment, and not least because I think the books stand up quite well in this format. They’ve chosen a very good narrator in Peter Kenny, whose voice lends itself perfectly to telling this type of story. His performance style can be described as almost “bard-like”, which really highlights the book’s opening scene in which the charming minstrel Dandelion holds a crowd rapt by reciting the heroic exploits of the legendary Witcher, Geralt of Rivia.
As a Witcher, Geralt is part of a society of enhanced fighters and monster-slayers. Taken as children, they are subjected to intensive training and a ruthless regimen of alchemical and mutagenic compounds intended to alter their physiology and prepare them to hunt their prey. Although Witchers are meant to remain neutral in matters of politics, Geralt has taken an orphan princess named Ciri into his protection, hiding her from spies and assassins sent to find her. He believes that she is the prophesied child meant to bring great change to the world, not only because of her royal heritage but also because of the magic that flows in her veins – the blood of elves.
The narrative follows Geralt and Ciri on various adventures. The young princess, taught sword fighting and other martial arts by Geralt and other Witchers, learns about supernatural monsters and how to kill them. She also begins training in magic with the sorceress Triss Merigold. But on the way to a school were Ciri will receive a more normal education, the party encounters all kinds of obstacles, including illness, encounters with monsters, Scoia’tael ambushes, and attacks from Nilfgaardian agents. As Ciri’s magical potential becomes more powerful, Geralt realizes he will need the aid of some friends and unexpected allies in order to continue protecting and training her.
It’s important to note that while Blood of Elves is advertised as the first of the series, it is technically preceded by two short story collections in terms of chronology: The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny. It’s not really necessary to read either before tackling Blood of Elves, though it would probably help fill in a lot of the background information. The book is very heavy on world-building elements, and while Geralt is arguably the star of the series, he doesn’t appear as much as you would expect. His character is often seen through the eyes of others, or is talked about in others’ perspectives. On top of this, the switching points-of-view and various flashbacks may make this story feel confusing and disjointed. Having read The Last Wish as well as played The Witcher video games might have familiarized me with a lot of the characters and the setting because I managed to follow without getting too lost, but it might pose a challenge for readers going in blind. It’s probably worth considering The Last Wish as a starting point instead.
In spite of this, the plot was wildly entertaining. One can never be sure how much is lost in translation, but there is some humor that managed to come through. Also, the author sometimes employs an interesting storytelling style where entire scenes are almost completely made up of dialogue, and it often amazed me how much of the atmosphere and plot came through via conversation alone. Again, this is where Peter Kenny’s narration shines, because someone less skilled with differentiating voices would probably have a lot of trouble pulling off these scenes.
Sapkowski definitely has a flare for writing adventure and action, even experienced through the lens of translation. The pacing is strong, despite various breaks in the plot to focus on character development or to explain the political situation. The highlights were of course the scenes of Geralt fighting off enemies and monsters. The book does leave us hanging a bit, but this is after all the first full-length novel in the series and does spend a lot time establishing the premise and setting things up nicely for the next one, The Time of Contempt. I’ll have to seek that out very soon.
If you’re a fan of the games and can’t get enough of Geralt of Rivia, I highly recommend these books. They could also be good for fantasy readers looking for a somewhat different kind of sword and sorcery. The translation is decent, but what I was really impressed with was the way the narrator read for this audiobook. Can’t wait to experience the rest of the series.