Although there is an 8th book in the series, The Lady of the Lake is pretty much the end of the story of Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri, and in it things get weird. This novel is a combination of sci-fi time travel, military campaigns, and the usual fantasy stuff we have come to expect, with elves, dwarves, unicorns (!) and plenty of fighting and violence. Compared to the previous books, this one has sections that really drag on, usually featuring military campaigns and side characters who, in my opinion, aren’t that interesting or necessary to the story.
From the first chapter, Sapkowski signals that time is going to take some strange turns in this novel. Galahad — yes, THAT Galahad — espies Ciri bathing in a lake and is enchanted. He begs her to tell him her story, and so she agrees. In the next chapter, Sapkowski introduces two characters — Condwiramurs the dream reader and Nimue the Lady of the Lake — who together will try to use their powers to discover the truth of what happened to Ciri, Geralt and Yennefer. It all gets a little confusing, but since time travel is key to this story, I suppose it’s necessary. Moreover, Sapkowski has a lot to say about history, how it’s told and how it’s used by political authority to bolster their legitimacy and power.
Once we get into the meat of the story, picking up with Ciri, Geralt and Yennefer from where we left off in The Tower of Swallows, the narrative picks up steam. At the end of the last novel, Ciri had escaped the sadistic bounty hunter Bonhart and the Nilfgaardian spy Skellen by riding with her trusty steed Kelpie into the magical Tower of Swallows. This ancient ruin transported her to an elven kingdom where the elves essentially want Ciri for the same reason earthly kings and the sorceresses of The Lodge want her: Ciri is the subject of an elven prophecy that says her offspring will dominate and remake the world. Ciri, a fierce, independent and understandably angry young woman, is pissed and refuses to play along but begins to think that her only way back to her world, and to Geralt and Yennefer, is to give the elves what they want. With help from an unexpected quarter, Ciri is able to escape and with Kelpie makes a number of leaps across time in her search for Geralt and Yennefer.
Geralt and his crew are still in Toussaint, a beautiful wine producing duchy ruled by a lovely widow who has a past with Dandelion and makes all of his friends welcome. In fact, the sorceress Fringilla Vigo makes Geralt especially welcome. Fringilla is a member of The Lodge and as such is tasked with getting information regarding Ciri and with keeping Geralt from moving forward. I have no doubt that the sex scenes between these two will somehow find their way into the Netflix series. Geralt and Dandelion are the only members of the party who seem content to stay in Toussaint, until Geralt experiences the double whammy of pangs of conscience and the discovery of the whereabouts of Yennefer. As a captive of the evil sorcerer Vilgefortz, Yennefer has been tortured in the hopes of extracting from her information on the location of Ciri. The final showdown at Vilgefortz’s castle is bloody and thrilling as Ciri arrives and all of our main characters get to pull out all the stops in daring, bloody and heartbreaking battle.
Meanwhile, the war between Nilfgaard and its neighbors to the north continues to rage, and the sorceresses of the Lodge are still eager to bring Ciri into the fold. The business of the war is not the most interesting thing to read and I felt like it was not exactly necessary to the overall story. Sapkowski introduces a cloaked stranger and wandering elf who hook up on the road with a deserter, and through these characters tells the story of the peace negotiations at the end of the war. It’s here that the author really get into history, politics, injustice, and the victors determining the “truth” of what happened even though it’s false.
The actual ending of the story is, I think, well done if bittersweet. History and politics aside, it’s the story of Ciri, Geralt and Yennefer as a family that resonates. I am impressed that Sapkowski throughout his books has emphasized strong women making their own decisions, particularly when it comes to reproduction, and the men who are truly heroic recognize the intelligence, strength and independence of these women. Ciri, Yennefer and Geralt show both love and respect for each other. It’s their story arc that I found myself coming back for, novel after novel. While this particular book has some weak points, overall I found it to be a good ending for the series.