The Witcher #2: Sword of Destiny by Andrej Sapkowski

Read: 7 November, 2018

As with The Last Wish, this is a collection of loosely connected short stories. There’s a strong theme of parenthood, with both Yennefer and Geralt grappling with their infertility, and with Geralt circling his destiny with Ciri. There’s also a scene where he comes across his birth mother, and faces the pain he feels that he was given over to the witchers rather than aborted. It’s an interesting situation, and it shows just how much he resents having been made a witcher – even while fitting the role so well. In terms of the destiny discussion, it’s also interesting to note that his mother – a sorceress – should have been infertile.

There is a scene where Geralt comes to the monument of the second battle of Sodden Hill and comes to believe that Yennefer (along with Triss Marigold and Coral) has been killed. It was rather moving to see the depth of his (misplaced) grief.

Yennefer shows up a lot, but she doesn’t get much actual interaction with Geralt. Any time they talk, they are either having sex or lamenting that they can’t be together and doomed to break up every time they try. We are shown Geralt’s own feelings for her, both at Sodden Hill and in his almost battle with his rival, Istredd. But while we’re told again and again that he loves her, we aren’t given much of a reason for it. If I remember correctly, this comes out a bit more in Blood of Elves and Time of Contempt, when the two of them form a sort of nuclear family with Ciri.

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The Witcher, vol. 3: Curse of Crows by Paul Tobin (illustrated by Piotr Kowalski)

Read: 17 August, 2018

This is my favourite book of the lot.

I enjoy the random Witcher adventures – the monsters are interesting, I like the way Geralt interacts with people, and I always like the reveals at the very end that Geralt knew what was going on the whole time. But Geralt at his very best is Geralt when Ciri and Yennifer are around.

The artwork is also much better in this one, especially the backgrounds. The city shots, in particular, were gorgeous. Kowalski also did a good job of capturing the right body language and facial expressions to go along with Tobin’s writing.

As for Tobin’s writing, he’s once again managed to capture the characters’ personalities. This is especially impressive with the banter between Geralt and Yennifer, which rides such a very fine line – too affectionate and it isn’t them, but too teasing and it could come off as mean-spirited.

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The Witcher Saga #4: The Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski

Read: 19 December, 2016

I’ve decided to play through Witcher 3 again (because it’s just that amazing), so of course I had to start reading the next instalment in the series. I need something to keep me going when I have to be AFK!

As in Blood of Elves, there’s no real structure to this novel. There are three distinct episodes – Ciri and Fabio’s Big Day Out, Geralt At The Ball, and Ciri On The Run – but nothing except chronology binds them together. Each one has its own structure, as though perhaps Sapkowski is more comfortable with the shorter format of the first two books but was compelled to publish full length novels.

I read Blood of Elves after playing Witcher 3. Now that I’m playing with two books under my belt, it’s been such an interesting experience. For example, there’s a side quest where Geralt comes across some sort of travelling carnival with a caged wyvern it claims is actually a basilisk. PC Geralt challenges the identity of the creature, but the argument ends when the cage falls apart and it escapes, endangering the audience. It’s was an amusing little side quest on my first play through – a Thing To Do as I work my way into completionist heaven – but this time it was delightfully amusing.

I have several of these experiences, or ones where I caught a reference made by a character. It’s added a whole extra depth to my enjoyment of the game.

The lack of structure is a bit jarring, but not distressingly so. I enjoy the characters, and I love the richness of the setting. I’m not sure that I would be enjoying it quite as much without all the emotional baggage I’m bringing in from the game, but it works beautiful in tandem.

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The Witcher Saga #3: Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

Read: 3 December, 2015

Ciri, princess and heir-in-hiding to a conquered nation, is in the care of the Witcher Geralt, a monster hunter. Over the course of the book, Geralt enlists the help of friends – a poet, two magicians, a university student, and others – to help keep Ciri safe, both from those who seek to use her for politican gain and from her own power.

I came to the series through the video game, Witcher 3, which I played recently. I really enjoyed the characters and the plot, and the way that the relationships were somewhat unusual for epic fantasy (the way so many characters act with parental affection toward Ciri, for example). So I thought it’d be fun to take a look at the source material.

I was a little surprised by Blood of Elves. For one thing, Geralt isn’t even in most of the book. Sure, people talk about him an awful lot, but it’s nothing like the game where he’s front and centre. If I had to decide on a single main character, I’d say it was Ciri – she’s present in the most scenes, she is being talked about in nearly every scene she is absent from, and to the extent that the book has a structure at all, it’s about her education and development.

Oh yeah, did I mention that this book doesn’t really have a plot? There’s certainly nothing like a three act structure. There’s a lot of build up – about Ciri’s destiny, about a possible future war, about the conflicts between human and non-human cultures – but then it just ends. It ends when Ciri leaves the place where Geralt has placed her for her education, perhaps implying that this is her childhood book and that the next book will involve the next stage in her life.

I remember being around the 200 page mark and trying to explain to my spouse what’s happened so far, and all I could think was “well, Triss met Ciri… and someone appears to be looking for her.” That’s it, in 200 pages, that’s basically the plot.

But at the same time, I never felt bored. The characters are rich and interesting, and there’s a great deal of exposition on the previous Nilfgaardian war and the possibility that there will be another. And meanwhile, I’m getting to know all these characters, and to care about what will happen to them.

I quite liked the writing style. I noticed that Sapkowski keeps a lot of the action off-screen, so often we’ll see a character decide to do something, and then we’ll see them having already done it. Or maybe a character will just come on stage having already done a thing. It was well done and interesting, and Sapkowski does clearly know when a thing must be shown.

I found the writing style to be very slavic, as well, with more in common with, say, Lukyanenko’s writing than Robert Jordan’s. I also had quite a few giggles when characters said things that my Russian in-laws say, or expressed themselves in very similar ways. It was refreshingly different.

There were some translation issues, but I found them to be fairly minor. I always understood what was meant.

In conclusion, I quite enjoyed Blood of Elves. I find the world building to be quite interesting, I’m really enjoying the characters, and I like the slightly different take on the epic fantasy genre. I will definitely be checking out the next book in the series.

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