The war is still raging between the Nilfgaard Empire and the Northern Kingdoms, as the forces of the North begin to consolidate their defense and retaliation. Geralt has been recovering in Brokilon forest, but is intent on searching for Ciri. The dryads introduce him to the archer Milva, who accompanies Geralt and Dandelion on the first part of their journey. Along the way, they team up with a band of refugees led by a contingent of dwarves, headed up by Zoltan Chivay. The band is shadowed by Cahir, the Black Rider who had been haunting the dreams of Ciri in the aftermath of the fall of Cintra. Geralt is initially reluctant to allow him to join them, but Cahir befriends Milva and eventually joints the party. During their journey, they also befriend Regis, who is a vampire with medical talent.
While they are initially headed for the capital of Nilfgaard, due to the belief that the Emperor Emhyr is holding Ciri there pending a marriage alliance, Cahir and Geralt both have the same prophetic dreams about Ciri, clearly indicating that she is elsewhere in the world. As it happens, Ciri is happily a part of the Rats group of bandits, although as time goes on she begins to question her life choices.
Geralt and his party are continually trying to avoid the warring factions as they make their way along the river Yaruga, but eventually are caught up in the thick of things at a battle where they inadvertently save Queen Maeve, who knights the witcher, thereby making his claim to be from Rivia an official title.
Meanwhile, Phillipa Eilhart works with Francesca Findabair to found a new organisation, a Lodge of Sorceresses, pledging their allegiance to magic rather than to kings. The Lodge includes Nilfgaardian sorceresses, and we finally discover that Yennefer was indeed saved from Thanedd. The Lodge comes to the agreement that they are best served by unifying the northern kingdoms under Ciri, who possesses magical ability and the royal pedigree. Yennefer escapes from her sorceress companions to search for Ciri herself, although she believes by finding Vilgefortz she will find the girl.
There’s a lot going on in this book. While I still feel a bit like the narrative choice of telling the story through Geralt leaves a lot of the political aspect a mystery, this book was a great improvement on the second novel. I really enjoyed it, not least because we even get Geralt being a witcher once again! The dwarf party was a lot of fun, and both Milva and Cahir were interesting characters, and I enjoyed their inclusion. The Lodge of Sorceresses was a good way to try to catch up with what’s going on in the wider world, but somehow it does still feel like there is something missing from the overarching narrative here.
The war with Nilfgaard is treated a bit like a backdrop for the story, but it has such a huge impact that I think it needs to have some more attention given to it. It really felt like it came out of nowhere towards the end of the first book, then the second book was such a muddle because of it, and again it forms a large part of the setting of the book without really any big explanation. It’s a bit like reading a story about a group of people on a journey from Lyon to Prague at the height of World War II, but with no concept of why the Allies and the Axis are fighting, just knowing that they are.
I am quite a fan of Yennefer, so I was glad to find out what has happened to her following the events on the Isle of Thanedd. She’s absent for almost a book, really, between the second half of the second novel, and the first half of the third. Now that she’s on a quest to track down Ciri as well, and she’s out for revenge against Vilgefortz, I think book four is being set up as being pretty good! Ciri herself is almost an afterthought for the most part, although we do see how she doesn’t seem to be entirely happy with her lot. Given that she started out with such promise, magically-speaking, and is still seen as a real key to power in the world, I’m really intrigued to see where her story is going.
All in all, book three felt like a step-up from the last one, and I’m looking forward to seeing where we go in book four! As you may recall, I’m reading this with Jenn, Dave and Milou, and we’re pushing book four into January, so I’m back to the Horus Heresy for now…