Book Reviews (27)

Witcher - baptism of fire

The Witcher #5-endAndrzej Sapkowski

Baptism of Fire

I really like the Fellowship-vibes in this one, with Geralt and his motley crew travelling between marauding armies. We get a range of varied characters, some clearly playing off LOTR. The dwarf Zoltan joins with Dandelion, the archer Milva, [redacted] Regis, and that other interesting guy.

Regis is great, like here to a sulky Geralt – ‘Life differs from banking because it has debts which are paid off by running up debts with others.’

As for Ciri and Mistle: man is that situation fantastically fucked up. I like how Sapkowski refrains from giving us a moral judgment here, because a lot of writers would insist on telling us it’s fucked up.

The sorceresses step up the game with some great manoeuvring and manipulation.

Some points felt a touch like exposition-excuses, and at some places – with otherwise-great Regis particularly – the philosophy went a bit overboard.

The ‘Geralt of Rivia’ ending is delicious lmao.

The Tower of the Swallow

Multiple factions hunt for Ciri, now with a touch of wild-west influence to the narrative.

Great use of multiple POV in telling/showing the story, keeping right in the action while still pacing out the players and their roles to hold and build tension.

Mixed feelings on the elf in the cave exposition dump. But the Kovir worldbuilding segment is really fun, giving it a deep sense of history and a place in an established world.

We could use some more time inside Ciri’s head. It’s changed a lot, understandably, but the vengeful disillusionment can come across a bit generic, especially without seeing the process of change from the inside.

The Lady of the Lake

This ends the main thrust of the saga.

It wasn’t as good for a while. The world-hopping is fun imagery but it doesn’t help form a tight plot, and Condwiramurs isn’t interesting. Ciri’s magic/swordplay being forgotten when someone wants to try and abuse her (and that ongoing theme in general) is an… uncomfortable contrivance.

The Aen Elle are a properly ominous bunch, though, building out what’s really going on in the wider story. And the big battle sequence is fantastic in its action, its interplay of different characters including some from much earlier in the series. The Stygga showdown is brutal.

The ending… hmm, the ending. I don’t find it very satisfying – too abrupt, too inconclusive, a bit deus ex machina. Though I can appreciate the Arthurian elements, and the twist on other material which Sapkowski gets so much out of.

Season of Storms

A prequel novel about Geralt’s time facing two conspiracies in Kerack between the stories in book one, The Last Wish, though with some flashforwards to Nimue and stuff.

This is a good story, one of the most cleanly plotted and one of the darkest at times. I appreciate the epilogue – it doesn’t change anything from LotL, but reinforces what Sapkowski is trying to achieve in a nice way.

Neat to get more of Geralt actually being a witcher and using signs.


So that’s the whole series read! A few thoughts overall:

The male gaze and themes of sexual violence – can be rather cloying, just too much. There are strong female characters and I can see the argument of them exploiting looks for gain, but c’mon. Geez.

The pacing is a bit weird and choppy. I think part of that is because Sapkowski was trying to subvert an ‘epic fantasy hero’ story – Geralt isn’t a hero at the centre of the world, just one guy in wider currents, like everyone. Ciri has power but not control. Everyone is dancing parts of other’s tunes without full understanding.

To focus on those wider currents, a range of viewpoints which sometimes connect more thematically than causally, to have people waste time and fail and flail about – that’s hard to plot tightly in a normal forward-driving way. It’s compelling, though, once you accept what it’s aiming for.

But it could be better executed, especially in connecting the story-characters to the novel-characters. Like, Dandelion is a rapey asshole in the first stories, then in novel #1 he’s a likeable rogue and seems tight with Yennefer? What happened? Were the characters still in flux back then, or was a period of change never really shown? Season 1 of the show does a better job getting started and e.g. putting Yennefer’s desire for fertility in context.

Worldbuilding is really nice. The details, the thought, the influences from folklore, western, lotr-fantasy, arthurian legend. Occasionally a new thing does seem to appear out of nowhere, and on a reread I might spot points where ‘damn wouldn’t [that] be useful here?’ And yeah, could use a map!

Weird how little Geralt uses signs and elixirs in most of this!

Well worth a go for some great writing, a unique blend of influences and subversions, character and world depth. Has its flaws, but what it’s trying for is worth engaging with.