I started on the Witcher Saga by Andrzej Sapkowski a while ago, after hearing that it was going to be adapted into a Netflix series. After watching (and enjoying!) the first season, I thought I would get around to finishing the series eventually, but it took watching (and enjoying!) the second season before I really got my act together to work my way through the rest of the books.
Overall, I enjoyed each of these books. I thought that the balance of humor and action was very fun, and the epic scale of events was satisfying. I loved the ways Sapkowski played with storytelling, exploring how events pass through word of mouth and become distorted and fictionalized, before eventually passing into the realm of myth. That said, after the first couple of books I didn’t find them to be can’t-put-down, stay-up-too-late compulsive reads. I found I needed to work at it to get through them. Some of this can be chalked up to listening to them as audiobooks rather than reading them, which makes it harder for me to keep track of the elaborate royal bloodlines and politics at play. I also spaced out the time between reading each book (and read quite a few other books in between), which interrupted the flow of the story.
Blood of Elves
Blood of Elves is technically the first book of the Witcher Saga, although it is also a sequel to Sapkowski’s short story collections following the adventures of Geralt, the titular witcher. A witcher is a human who has undergone a series magical and genetic transformations, making them ideal monster hunters and slayers – and, incidentally, making much of humanity view the witchers themselves as monstrous mutants.
Blood of Elves sets up the conflicts that will run throughout the series: Geralt’s efforst to protect his royal-in-exile ward, Ciri, from the politicians and magic-users who seek to either kill or use her for their own ends. The tension between humans and magical races. Geralt’s tumultuous love affair with the powerful sorceress, Yennefer. Ciri’s training in warrior/witcher skills as well as magical arts.
If you haven’t read at least one of the short story collections (The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny) I highly recommend starting with them before diving into the series proper – they provide a lot of valuable context for the relationships you’ll see continue to develop in this book. Throughout the series, Sapkowski heavily utilizes flashbacks and framing devices, which can be interesting but can also be quite confusing (especially if listening to an audiobook). That said, despite any pacing weirdness caused by these storytelling devices, I found Blood of Elves to be a very fun adventure story and my cold heart was frequently warmed by Geralt and Yennever each separately discovering their parental bonds to Ciri.
The Time of Contempt
Geralt seeks to learn more about the Ciri’s bloodline, as well as the identity of the unknown party who is hunting her. Meanwhile, Ciri is traveling with the sorceress Yennefer to continue her education at Aretuza, the school of magic. Geralt and Yennefer’s perpetual on-again/off-again relationship has been in an “off” period, but they reunite at Aretuza in time to attend a reception together. In a somewhat hilarious but also pretty stressful turn of events, Geralt wakes up early in the morning to go to the bathroom and walks right into an attempted coup. In the ensuing chaos, Ciri accidentally triggers a magical portal to who-knows-where, Geralt is badly wounded, and Yennefer disappears. Scattered to the wind, Geralt and Yennefer each struggle to locate their adopted daughter while Ciri must learn to survive without the assistance of her powerful guardians.
While I enjoyed the twists and turns of this book, I particularly enjoyed getting to see the characters have a brief period of contentment before the coup hit.
Baptism of Fire
Geralt has gathered a misfit band of warriors and explorers to aid him in his hunt for Ciri. He wanders in the vaguely direction he thinks Ciri is maybe possibly perhaps in, and hijinks ensue. Ciri, meanwhile, has fallen in with a group of young bandits in an occasionally toxic (but often fiercely affectionate) “found family” situation. Yennefer, meanwhile, must contend with magicians’ political intrigues while utilizing her magic to try to locate Ciri. Meanwhile, a big ‘ol war is happening, which complicates everyone’s plans.
Again, the characters shone for me more through this book than the plot. The side characters and the more comic-relief-type characters brought richness and levity to a series that, at this point, has started to get a bit plodding for me.
The Tower of the Swallows
The war continues to rage! Geralt’s misfit band continues to get into hijinks! Ciri is still separated from him! Yennefer continues to take bigger magical risks to attempt to figure out Ciri’s location!
It’s difficult to review this particular book, because so much of it feels like a continuation of Baptism of Fire. I continue to be very fond of all of the characters, in particular Ciri, and it was nice to see her character continue to develop – and she gets a chance to heal up a bit emotionally in this novel, even as she has to relive the harrowing events that have carried her so far from Geralt and Yennefer. Also, I very much enjoyed seeing how the relationships continued to develop amongst Geralt’s comrades.
The Lady of the Lake
In the final book, Sapkowski doubles down on the theme of storytelling and myth-building he’s played with throughout the series. There are not one, but two framing stories – both involving characters from Arthurian legends! The Lady of the Lake ties up the loose ends of the rest of the stories – the ongoing war between the southern empire and the northern kingdoms, Ciri’s mysterious bloodline and magical powers, Yennefer and Geralt’s separate journeys to try to reunite with Ciri (and, incidentally, each other).
In many ways, I felt this final chapter of the saga actually wrapped up the plot a little too neatly in some ways – I like to have a bit more left to the imagination. The previous books also had created soooo many mysteries that it sometimes felt like Sapkowski was having to do endless exposition to check all of the boxes he’d created! It was lovely to get closure for all of the characters, though.
I go back and forth about whether or not to recommend these books. I have enjoyed many aspects of them, and I think that some of the plot drag that I experienced was due to taking so long to work through them and reading so many books between them. That said, I can’t claim to have enjoyed every page of these books! I’d say that I recommend starting the series, but don’t feel pressured to stick with it if you start to feel that it’s dragging. If nothing else, you’ll be able to have the satisfaction of having a good idea of what’s coming next in the Netflix series!
Bingo Square: Series