Most people know that when you find a genie in a bottle, you’re supposed to get 3 wishes. This premise governs the finale of a book which apparently sparked video game series. I’m not a gamer; I do however read a fair bit of fantasy. The structure of this book is probably its most unique feature. It’s more like a series of interconnected short stories, where one story centers on something that gets revealed in the next story. The stories all feature Geralt of Rivia who is a witcher. A witcher is a skilled monster killer for hire. Geralt is good at what he does.
Most of the book follows Geralt and his interactions with a variety of other characters as Geralt travels around investigating problems. A pattern develops; usually what happens is that the monster that someone wants to hire Geralt to get rid of is less evil than the people who want it gone (or at least the monster is highly misunderstood).
An example of both patterns is in the story of “A Question of Price”. The previous story turns on Geralt insisting “I will never go back to Cintra”, and “A Question of Price” explains why. Geralt is called to participate in a meeting by the queen of Cintra, Calanthe. Calanthe refuses to tell Geralt exactly why she wants a witcher at a meeting of people who want to marry Pavetta, Calanthe’s 15 year old daughter. Not too far into the discussions, a mysterious knight who refuses to remove his helmet crashes the meeting, claiming that the deceased King had promised him the princess’s hand in return for saving the king’s life. The knight, once his helmet is removed, turns out to be the kind of creature Geralt is hired to kill. However, it turns out that the knight is not the villain, and Geralt requests a reward which is the source of his earlier statement of never wanting to go back to Cintra.
The titular story takes up roughly the second half of the novel. Geralt and a traveling poet named Dandelion are travelling and get involved with a sorceress named Yennefer. They also find a jinn in a bottle. Geralt warns Danedelion to not touch it, but Dandelion wants his 3 wishes. The jinn is released and is about to kill them both when Geralt tries a exorcism spell he doesn’t understand (he admits several times he has no idea what the words mean) which appears to work. When he is asked how he got the jinn to go away and he repeats the exorcism, people listening react with disgust. This becomes something of a running gag until a priest explains it to Geralt.
It’s actually really funny in hindsight when it’s revealed that Geralt is actually the one who got the wishes and the exoticism was the first wish. According to the priest, it translates loosely as “Get out of here and go f*** yourself”. Geralt’s second wish involves exploding a jail guard to escape prison, and the third follows when he first has to save Dandelion from Yennefer who want to capture the jinn, and then has to save Yennefer from herself/the jinn.
As fantasy, this book is pretty standard. The world is vaguely medieval/Tolkein-esque and contains a variety of magic users and supernatural monsters. What is more unique and to me became more appreciable once I figured out some of the narrative patterns is how narratives interweave and it’ s not always clear where in the chronology of the story a given event is taking place until some time after. There a few further installments in the series, but I’m not sure structure is enough to keep me interested. I like Geralt and Nenneke (the character who appears most frequently besides Geralt) but the plot and world are pretty generic overall. If you like fantasy and are ok with non-standard chronology in the story then I would recommend this as an interesting read, though not especially gripping fantasy.