First item of business: I submitted my doctoral thesis last Thursday! Unfortunately I didn't take a photo of it before handing it in, but trust me: long thesis was loooong (98,500 words long, more or less). This means I'll be resuming regular posting here (and, for that matter, reading...) in the new year.
Second item of business: I have a busy holiday season this year (and a lot of scheduled relaxing, too), so short posts until it's over. :-) Starting, very lazily, with a review I wrote for SFX magazine over the summer, on Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski.
It is a superficially familiar world: elves, dwarves, "verily"s and warring human kingdoms. But this is a fantasyland where magic gives its users genetic mutations and the elves are an embittered ethnic minority using guerrilla tactics to fight back against human colonisation. Following on from The Last Wish, Polish bestseller Sapkowski's short story collection, comes this translation of the first in his five-part series.
Despite the teenage-boy-grabbing tagline ('Geralt is a hunter'), the main focus of this instalment is not the saga's signature character, preternatural assassin Geralt of Rivia, but his young ward. Ciri is the twelve-year-old heir to the throne of a city that falls to invaders in the first chapter. To make matters worse, disaster has been prophesied for the world and she is the prime candidate for harbinger of doom. Geralt hides Ciri with the Witchers, monster-killers mutated for superior speed, strength and senses.
Although initially painted as a helpless waif, Ciri soon grows into a tough, spirited girl. The character interplay is complex, unsentimental, and anchored in brutal shared history. All bodes well for twisty plotting in future volumes.
On a phrase-by-phrase level the writing is passable, if occasionally tone-deaf, although that may be the fault of the translation. The broader problem is that the author relies heavily on direct speech, often personality-free and clumsily overladen with information, to tell the story. Some passages are all dialogue, stripped even of 'he said', and long, rather stagy debates tend to stand in for plot. Description is minimal throughout, which may seem like a virtue in a bloated genre, but this is so thin it damages the sense of place – a disaster for an invented world.