I am fanatical about fantasy stories. Whether it be in books, television shows, movies or in games, I have fallen in love with the fantasy genre time and time again. It is the creativity in fabricating a complete world so unlike our own that gets me excited. It is in the process of creating characters and scenarios that I will never meet nor face, that I find the most wonderful. I continually look forward to exploring these unknown worlds.
Earlier this year I had taken a couple of hours out of my day to relax and play a game on my PlayStation 4. That’s normal for a 28-year-old, right? Anyway, I had purchased a game called The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and wanted to see what it was all about. I knew nothing of ‘The Witcher’ world, its characters or its plot. I became enthralled with the story and wanted to know more about Geralt of Rivia. After a brief google search, I discovered that the game was based on the stories of Polish fantasy writer, Andrzej Sapkowski. The Witcher Series is made up of two prequel books, The Last Wish, and Sword of Destiny, which are small collections of short stories related to the main characters of The Witcher Saga.
The real juicy parts come with the introduction of the first of ‘The Witcher’ novels, Blood of Elves. Following that are four books titled Time of Contempt, Baptism of Fire, The Tower of Swallows and Lady of The Lake. They make up the five-book saga. As Sapkowski is from Poland, he writes all of his books in Polish. Of his collection, The Last Wish, Blood of Elves, Time of Contempt and Baptism of Fire have been translated into English. Just recently the fourth book in the saga, The Tower of Swallows have also been released with an English translation (may 2016). According to booksellers, the fifth book in the series, Lady of The Lake will be translated and released for sale in 2017. I am yet to purchase the translated edition of the fourth book, however, the moment I can get my hands on a copy I will certainly start reading it.
To mark the release of The Tower of Swallows here in Australia, I thought I’d share some commentary on the first three books in the saga.
BLOOD OF ELVES (BOOK 1)
“For more than a hundred years humans, dwarves, and elves lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, and now the races fight each other once again. In this tumultuous time, a child is born: Ciri. She has strange powers and a strange destiny, for a prophecy names her as one with the power to change the world, for good or for evil”.
Ciri, a young girl, is set as one of the central characters the story builds on. Another is Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher. Witchers are mutated humans who have supernatural abilities, incredible strength and hold a specific power. They deal in the hunting and termination of monsters and creatures wrought in darkness, however, there is always a price. They don’t work for free. The story follows Ciri’s escaped after her home kingdom, Cintra, is attacked. Ciri is under the watch of Geralt as he attempts to guide her and protect her. He takes her to his settlement to meet and train under other Witchers.
The story covers many aspects of fantasy with the sort of characters you would expect. There are dwarves, elves, magic, and sorcerers. Geralt is certainly a good protagonist for this series and brings a good dry sense of humour to an otherwise bold character. Supporting the story is the introduction of another important character, Yennefer, an enchantress who has a long history with Geralt. The way that the story revolves around the connection between Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri is certainly intriguing. Sapkowski does slow things down a bit with in-depth description and dialogue about the political dramas between different empires and warring nations. At times I felt it was a little too much, however, the social and political aspects to add to the story and gives the reader a complete view of the setting of the novel.
What Sapkowski makes exciting is the emphasis on Ciri, her abilities and the amount of attention she receives from all parties involved. As the central character, Ciri shapes the entire storyline. Although there is not a huge amount of action that captures the reader entirely, there is enough to make you want to learn more about Ciri and why she is so important to Geralt, as well as the entire world that Sapkowski creates.
TIME OF CONTEMPT (BOOK 2)
“Ciri is the child of prophecy, foretold to have the power to change the world, for good or evil. And she’s finally on her way to the magical college on Thanedd Island to learn how to master her powers. Accompanied by the powerful enchantress Yennefer, the journey should be a simple one, but they receive world that they are being followed and shortly afterward Ciri is mistaken for a student and arrested. Separated from Yennefer and thrown on her own resources, Ciri turns to Geralt, a powerful Witcher, for aid…and takes the first steps along a path which will lead to revolution…”
This is the second book in the saga and really takes off where the first book ends. The opening of the book reminds readers of the fragile conditions of the world, with the threat of war and sketchy relationships between nations. Threats like the Scoia’tael (non-human guerrillas, primarily elves) are reintroduced, highlighting racial tensions and bringing a sense of ‘reality’ into the world. After all, most hatred in our world is caused by indifference, right?
In this novel, there is a much heavier focus on magic, sorcerers, and enchantresses. We actually learn more about their order and the way in which their society works. It adds to the story and really starts to build a sense of wonder in the reader.
There is certainly more action in this novel as well, especially in the middle section of text. The description of the events and the creation of the scenes are certainly exciting, and I praise Sapkowski for his invention and creativity. The major battle scene pits good and evil against each other, sorcerer against sorcerer, enchantress against enchantress. The use of magic, betrayal, and wonder is enough that Sapkowski forces you to keep reading. I didn’t want to put this book down. The ending of the book introduces important new characters, The Rats, and certainly builds a feeling of anticipation for the next book.
BAPTISM OF FIRE (BOOK 3)
“War rages across the land, the future of magic is under threat and those sorcerers who survive are determined to protect it. It’s an impossible situation in which to find one girl- Ciri, the heiress to the throne of Cintra, has vanished- until rumour places her in the Nilfgaard court, preparing to marry the emperor.”
The third book in the series, Baptism of Fire, is a compelling story and probably my favourite so far. When I finished this book I was disappointed because I didn’t want to wait for the fourth book to be released with an English translation.
The series, in general, has an ever-present focus on strong female characters, which I think is awesome. I really enjoyed the introduction of new characters and the build-up of Ciri’s story and how she relates to those around her. There is also an introduction of a mythical creature which excited me greatly. Keep your eyes out for that. It’s so cool…
Sapkowksi keeps up with his descriptive dialogue as well as his use of backstories for character and plot development. There are parts of all three books where things seem to drag on, however, in this book I really think the story develops very well. The emphasis is still placed on Geralt and his recovery from the battle in the previous book but really adds some freshness in getting to know him on a greater level. Ciri again is the central character and this book does not disappoint, especially when it comes to the events surrounding Ciri’s disappearance.
So far I have loved this saga. I don’t want to give too much away, as I don’t like spoilers, but I think this saga is an exciting read. The fourth book, The Tower of Swallows will be available here in Australia at the end of May (2016) and I am eagerly awaiting its release. Sapkowski has created a world that is fascinating and brings to the table the essential components that you’d expect in a fantasy novel: Magic, an array of great characters and a sense of wonder.
The fact that the novels have been translated from Polish into English can be a little distracting, but not overwhelming. There seem to be some errors in translation as parts of the story don’t really flow, however, it’s forgivable. The majority is understandable and is translated well enough that you still want to keep reading down to the last word.
I love a series that encourages me to imagine that I was in the story, and Sapkowski certainly does that with The Witcher Saga.
A good read indeed.