The Witcher #1: The Last Wish by Andrej Sapkowski

Read: 16 June, 2017

When I decided to start reading this series, I picked up the book with a helpful “1” on the spine. Well, that turned out to be Blood of Elves – chronologically the third book. To get Geralt’s story from the beginning, I actually had to go to the book with “Introducing the Witcher” on the spine.

Go figure.

I do wish that I’d read this in order, because this is the book that sets the scene. Why is Ciri Geralt’s responsibility? How did Geralt get involved with Yennifer? This is where these questions are answered.

The format of the book is a bit different. There’s a bit of an overarching story, but it’s really more of a frame to display a handful of short stories. These read very much like side quests in Witcher 3 – even to the point of Geralt stumbling on two bodies in the woods and going in search of the related quest line (something that I’ve done more than a few times in the game).

There’s a bit less politics, though Geralt still manages to tumble into a royal court or two. Mostly, it’s down-to-earth Geralt, riding around and philosophising as he deals with monsters (including the human kind).

I’m not sure if this book has a different translator or if I was just in a different frame of mind, but the prose seemed to flow quite a bit better than in Blood of Elves and Time of Contempt. I read this one very quickly, and it’s definitely my favourite so far.

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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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