The Witcher
Nastya Kulakovskaya; https://www.deviantart.com/nastyaskaya

Something Ends, Something Begins: A Retrospective on The Witcher Saga (Part 5)

Welcome back to The Daily Fandom’s retrospective on The Witcher Saga. This month we are tackling the third book in The Witcher Saga, Blood of Elves, which is the first book in the series to not be a collection of short stories. As such, we are going to be covering this in a slightly different way than the previous parts. We are going to look at the three central character’s arcs, the overall plot, and two major themes of the novel.

Please check out the other parts on The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny if you have not already.

Yennefer’s Arc — Claudia’s Analysis

Yennefer is, surprisingly, more likable here than she has been since her initial introduction. She opens the book with a badass heroic save and ends it with some of the most touching dialogue in the book.

Knowing ahead of time how important she is to become, something that really struck me about her role in the book was her lack of a role. She is introduced to Ciri in the very end of the story, in a manner meant to mirror Ciri’s time with Geralt, but more importantly, she’s introduced after Triss. We spend a very long time with Triss, developing her relationship with Ciri in an incredibly motherly way. The choice to introduce her, to have to then develop Yennefer and Ciri’s relationship in the shadow of the one she formed with Triss, is odd, especially because Yen is all hard edges and rough words with Ciri in a way that not even Geralt is.

To Sapkowski’s credit, however, by the end of the book, I do buy into Ciri and Yen’s relationship. Yen’s fondness for Ciri shines through in a way that I doubted he’d be able to accomplish. The only disappointing thing is how little she actually appears in this book despite her obvious importance.

And also, her letter to Geralt is the stuff of legends.

Yennefer’s Arc — Kyle’s Analysis

Yen is the only one of the trio that isn’t a POV character in Blood of Elves. She will get that opportunity later in The Witcher Saga though. What we get to see with her is the way she interacts with people other than Geralt. We also get to see the effects she has on the larger world, specifically relating to other sorcerers and the political machinations of others.

The most impactful parts of her arc come from her interactions with both Dandelion and Ciri. With Dandelion, we get to see her evolve in her feelings towards him. As seen in The Bounds of Reason, she didn’t really care for him all that much. Now, she tolerates him and even perhaps likes him. Despite his appearance and outward demeanor, Dandelion is a dependable person that will always have Geralt’s back. He kept him company when she couldn’t. And for her, Geralt’s well-being is one of the most important things. She is, after all, in love and has never cared for someone so deeply before.

With Ciri, we see how Yen quickly adapts to a situation and forms a genuine bond with someone. She has always wanted a daughter, but she can’t be a parent so has no idea how to handle this problem. So, Yen at first keeps Ciri at arm’s length, just as she did with Geralt. She is even jealous of Ciri because she fears the one person that she has ever let get close didn’t trust her enough to call her to Kaer Morhen. Her loss of vision also helps in this regard, as it forces her to appreciate what she had and fears she has lost. As Ciri and her find common ground, Yen relaxes, and the fear fades away.

Geralt’s Arc — Claudia’s Analysis

One of the major problems with this entire book is that, as far as character goes, there’s very little in terms of growth. No one learns anything in this book, and instead, a series of actions happen to some characters. This is exceptionally apparent with Geralt, as we spend a great deal of time with him. As a short story character, this static trait helped ground The Witcher stories. In a novel, it leaves some wanting.

Of course, as a character, Geralt remains a favorite. I do think I will never understand what on earth is going through Sapkowski’s head, as I loved Shani as a character, and found her and Geralt being caught entertaining, but it also felt fanservicey at best.

Regardless, Geralt is mostly not important in this novel. He is but a side character to the greater set up that the book is clearly meant to be.

Geralt’s Arc — Kyle’s Analysis

Geralt for most of Blood of Elves is exactly how we have seen him before. He desperately tries to take neutral stances despite being put into situation after situation that challenges this stance. He is a good man in a horrible world. But the introduction of Ciri adds a new element that we began to see at the end of the short stories. This fatherly attitude and wisdom are beginning to take hold.

Ciri and Geralt have a back and forth repartee that befits a father and daughter interaction. Geralt at several points almost even refers to her as his daughter. There is clearly a connection there beyond destiny, that he is afraid of admitting. And this connection is seen in the latter half of Blood of Elves when Geralt and Ciri are separated. He’s less reserved, makes rash decisions, and of course, gets far more aggressive when she isn’t there.

Perhaps the most important part of his arc in Blood of Elves is what he says to Philippa Eilhart. He tells her that if anyone touches Ciri, he will kill them and kill them mercilessly. This is the moment when Geralt finally admits, not just to himself but to everyone, that Ciri is his daughter. And that means he would do anything for her, including becoming the monster everyone thinks he is.

Ciri’s Arc — Claudia’s Analysis

Ciri is obviously my favorite character. Her journey is the one I look forward to most i The Witcher Saga. I really enjoy her scenes.

One of the most prominent scenes in the book is the introduction of Triss Merigold and Ciri’s period basically being put front and center. There’s a strange amount of focus on her girlhood that sometimes wavers on that line between good and weird. Certainly, there were aspects of her conversations with Triss that felt relatable. But there were also moments that felt out of place, and peculiar. Also, I’m incredibly curious as to how Ciri is handling her period because as a general rule, physical activity can actually alleviate some symptoms but fortunately this is only a small chunk of the book.

Ciri is generally delightful, and I enjoyed moments in her point of view the most. There’s something about revealing the greater conflicts and betrayals of this world through her eyes that makes them feel less like a teenage boy’s fantasy and more like a lived thing. Even Geralt and Yen’s relationship feels much more real through Ciri’s observation of it than it does in the short stories. By forcing these old, dare I say cliché, scenarios through a fresh perspective, I find many things about this world more interesting than before.

Ciri’s Arc — Kyle’s Analysis

Ciri is the central focus of Blood of Elves and The Witcher Saga as a whole. Unlike the two short stories she appears in, we get to see things from her POV. As a result, we get to see some of the horribleness that this world takes for granted from the viewpoint of a child. She has this sense of naivete that is crucial to her development. Her interactions with Yarpen really highlight this. She forms a friendship there that starts her out on her own journey to her moral compass. Yarpen is a world-weary but kind man and through him, she realizes that this world seems far more complicated than she once thought.

She has always been observant of things far bigger than her, and we get an explanation as to perhaps why. Ciri is a source, but more than that, she by the end of Blood of Elves has been trained to be many things. She was destined to be a queen, married off against her will for the betterment of Cintra. She is a feisty young girl being shaped into a Witcher, a calling she does not truly comprehend. And now, she is undergoing training to be a sorceress and control her powers as a source. No one has ever asked her what she wants and soon that will become important.

Her connection to both Geralt and Yen really works. She acts very similarly to both of them, but also has her own unique quirks. She is the “something more” that has been spoken about several times. But it’s one thing to say that and another to show it. Sapkowski manages in such a short amount of time, to bond these three together and use that bond to highlight their differences and similarities.

Overarching Plot of Blood of Elves — Claudia’s Analysis

As a general rule, this book does not have a plot. It has a lot of people talking, and a lot of set up, but once Geralt leaves Ciri at the temple, what semblance of a plot there might have been, is thrown off. Instead, we are introduced to character after character, and the main trio is placed, presumably, where they will need to be for the rest of the story.

The lack of plot is mostly a technical failure. A stronger writer might have been able to mask it, or at least make the book into a proper character study that also successfully set up the next book. But this is Sapkowski’s first novel and it shows. His only strength in this novel is that his characters are likable and that anyone who read The Witcher short stories will care about Cintra and the politics surrounding it.

Without context, the discussion of whether or not Ciri must die would be meaningless. My love for Cintra and Ciri’s grandmother helped pull me through those scenes. I care about the politics of The Witcher world because I care about Cintra and Ciri. I care about what will happen to Ciri in the context of retaking Cintra. But I only care because I spent two books meeting her grandmother in person.

Overarching Plot of Blood of Elves — Kyle’s Analysis

Blood of Elves is the first of the full-length novels in The Witcher Saga. As a result, it has a difficult job ahead of it. It must take the disparate elements of the short stories, tie them all together to form the backdrop to a much larger tale. It then must take these pre-established characters, move them along in their journey, while introducing new ones. And finally, it has to set up multiple long running arcs. It is a book of pure setup.

The strongest elements of the entire Saga are the characters. We have already discussed the main trio, but there are other characters of interest. First, we have Dandelion, who we find out is working as a spy for Dijkstra. This is another element added to his character as normally he is just the comedic relief. Now he has a more central and serious role to play, but he never loses his charm. Plus, this is used to show how the First Nilfgaardian War changed the perspective of the world.

Then we have Philippa Eilhart. She immediately comes across as someone out for her benefit but occasionally has a point. The bigger picture is more important to her than the small scale. She is a political snake, attaching herself to any side so long as she can manipulate events to go her way.

We haven’t met some of the players in the political game, but all the domino pieces are put in place. We even see that Emhyr is playing the long game, conning the Northern Realms into doing what he wants. Hints to his own nature and identity are provided, but the reader is still left in the dark. This adds to both his mystique and his presence of overwhelming authority.

The Legacy of the Lioness of Cintra — Claudia’s Analysis

I did not like Queen Calanthe in the first story she appeared. Her character felt like a cliché interpretation of an older, strong-willed woman, and not like a real person. I found her interactions vapid and uninteresting. I was won over by the character in her later appearances.

Her protectiveness of Ciri, her obviously difficult position as a queen, a parental figure, and grieving mother I felt were apparent in Sword of Destiny. The following utter destruction of Cintra was a gut punch tied up also in the grief Geralt felt before he found Ciri.

And then, as if that weren’t enough, then there’s the way people speak of her after death. How she led her people into battle. How her people were so loyal they’d want nothing short of the Lion Cub herself on the throne.

Sapkowski’s working with the advantage of having built up Calanthe through two books before this one. For once I feel and believe it. And given the importance of destiny and inheritance in this world, I’m glad this aspect of the worldbuilding hits home for me. I do not care for the greater political machinations of this world, but I care for what happens to Cintra, and to Ciri as the rightful heir to that throne.

The Legacy of the Lioness of Cintra — Kyle’s Analysis

Queen Calanthe was a strict but fair ruler that was willing to admit she was wrong, this is something we saw in the short stories. She was the first ruler who thought beyond just herself, though there were selfish elements to her actions. Her power was shown right away in The Question of Price when we find out that she is ruling in Cintra which forbids women from being the sole ruler. It was obvious from the get-go, that she was different than others and was going to shape events whether she intended to or not.

The most obvious part of her legacy is that Ciri is being hunted down because she is Calanthe’s granddaughter. She is the key to the throne of Cintra and as such is a liability to the stable political relations in the world. Cintra lies between the Empire of Nilfgaard and the Northern Kingdoms. The kings and queens agree they need a buffer zone in order to stop the threat of Nilfgaard. Calanthe had made sure that region was well protected by forming a political alliance with Skellige and attempting to marry off Ciri. Now, without Calanthe, that protection is gone.

Another bit of her legacy that will come into play later in The Witcher Saga i the aforementioned alliance with Skellige. We get a flashback to her accepting an oath of loyalty and debt from Crach an Craite. By tying Skellige and Cintra together, she unknowingly set in motion a series of events that led to the state of the world currently. Eventually, someone will have to come and collect upon this debt in order to stop these events.

The Cycle of Violence — Claudia’s Analysis

I think I discuss this with more detail in our Q&A, but in essence, I think Sapkowski’s version of the cycle of violence is oversimplified and hard to feel for at the time being. The cycle of violence, as a concept, can mean a lot of things. It can be reflected in small, everyday situations. I hurt you, so you hurt me, and we continue like this forever. It can also be global, political, even religious.

Sapkowski is always most fun when he’s being a little tongue and cheek about philosophy, but I just didn’t feel any of that in this book. Everything feels very external, an impartial observer looking in. The Scoia’tael are said to have reason to rebel and to be being manipulated, but we see little to nothing of their perspective. This book mostly just reads as terrible things happen, trust us because we said so, and falls flat for me in terms of examining not only reasons for cycles of violence, but systems that perpetuate them, mindsets that fuel them, and ideas and ideologies for dismantling them.

The Cycle of Violence — Kyle’s Analysis

Sapkowski has not been shy about expressing particular philosophical and moral points throughout The Witcher Saga so far. This certainly doesn’t stop here, as a matter of fact, he takes the opportunity to build upon something he introduced in some of the previous stories. The elves are afraid of losing their culture to the humans, who are the most recent addition to the world and are slowly dominating it.

He examines early zealotry in the form of the Scoia’tael and the story of Aelirenn. We see elves, dwarves and gnomes band together to fight the oncoming domination of their world. But they have lost sight of their goals and are merely lashing out at anyone who’s different than them. This is clearly seen when the Scoia’tael attack Yarpen’s caravan. Their hatred and want for revenge are being used by others to make things go a certain way. The cycle continues unabated.

Yarpen calls out the elven hypocrisy by flat out saying that the dwarves were here before them, and there were others before the dwarves. The new will inevitably overthrow the old. The oppressed become the oppressors, factions are formed on the basis of a very simple but deadly argument. Us versus them. So much bloodshed has happened in our world because of this mentality that seems to spin around and around like a wheel, neverending. That is Sapkowski’s point, this is something we can try to combat, try to stop the wheel, but inevitably something will cause that wheel to keep on spinning.

Conclusion Of Part 5 The Witcher Retrospective

Thank you for joining Kyle and Claudia as they work their way through this retrospective on The Witcher Saga. Having now reached the main pentalogy of the Saga, some major events are on the horizon. Tomorrow, catch a Q&A between Kyle and Claudia as they discuss Blood of Elves, The Witcher in general, and their different experience levels with the Saga.

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