The Witcher: Baptism of Fire

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…

The Witcher: Time of Contempt

Earlier this week, I managed to finish the second novel in the Witcher series (the fourth book, confusingly!), Time of Contempt! And confusion is definitely the main order of the day, I think.

The book pretty much picks up directly from the first, and expands massively on one of the plot threads that emerged towards the end of Blood of Elves, as we have an element of politics coming into the fore with this one. The invasion by Nilfgaard has prompted many of the kings of the north to stop using their sorcerers and shift alliances, prompting a sorcerers convention on the isle of Thanedd to discuss the future. However, the convention ends in a bloodbath, as factional in-fighting takes over, during which Geralt is seriously wounded. He recovers in Brokilon, and misses out on the majority of the action, relying on Dandelion to fill him in. Yennefer appears to be missing, while Ciri escaped Thanedd through a magical portal that dumped her in the desert to the east, the so-called “frying pan”. Nilfgaard is desperate to find her and forge an alliance to legitimise their invasion of Cintra, and they almost get her, but she escapes and joins a band of highway robbers called the Rats.

It took me almost a fortnight to wade through this one, because a lot of the time I just couldn’t seem to bring myself to want to read it. Now, the story is actually really compelling, and I’m finding myself really intrigued by what is going on, etc, but I just struggled to follow it from around the second-third of the book onwards. I mentioned last time how I felt a bit lost by the references to political alliances and so forth, feeling the need for a map almost, and this feeling is expanded tenfold here. I think it doesn’t help that we’re introduced to what feels like 30 new characters who suddenly splinter into factions, and during the magical coup portion I was just really lost, trying to remember who is who, and who they’re allied to, etc. After a while, I just had to sit back and, to some extent, let it wash over me!

I have since googled a map of the Witcher world, which has been very helpful in working out where everything is in relation to other things.

I also had to google a synopsis of the book after I had finished, and it turns out that Philippa Eilhart, who we met in the last book as a powerful sorceress with questionable motives for helping then seemingly hindering Geralt’s pursuit of Rience, has instigated a coup against members of the Council of Mages for conspiring with Nilfgaard. Following the Battle of Sodden, where the kingdoms of the north were able to defeat the forces of Nilfgaard thanks to the devastating intervention of the mages, the Emperor Emhyr wants to neutralise the sorcerers. One of the senior enchantresses, Tissaia, causes further havoc, thinking Philippa to be a warmonger, and removes the magical protection of the conclave chamber, causing all hell to break loose. One of the mages, Vilgefortz, is indeed in the employ of Nilfgaard, and is responsible for wounding Geralt while Ciri escapes.

The final two chapters, which deal with the fate of Ciri, were almost traumatic, and I think the character of Ciri is firmly cemented in the firmament here. Up until now, she’s almost been relegated to a Macguffin, without any major purpose beyond how important it is to have her safe. Now, though, she becomes her own person, and I have definitely found myself caring more about her because of it. Over the course of the book, we learn that she is actually a descendant of the legendary witch Falka, and is prophesied to bring about the end of the old world, and the birth of the new. We see a bit of this, when Ciri awakens her magical ability in the desert through channelling the Power through fire, with disastrous consequences. Has she really now lost all magical ability? Surely if she is such a child of prophecy, she’ll get it back? Hm.

The chapters are still very long, and the book kinda suffers for this at times, because we’ve left the story almost in tatters, with no idea whether Yennefer in particular has survived, or what’s going on. It’s almost like people are being forgotten about while the spotlight is on someone else. But I’m sure the next book will help with this, so I suppose it’s not a massive problem.

I ended up giving this story 4 out of 5 on Goodreads, even though I don’t think I really enjoyed it at the time! I think it’s definitely a compelling tale, and I think I would like to re-read the main body of the novels again when I’ve finished them, to kinda gain a better understanding of what’s going on. After reading this book, for instance, I definitely think I need to re-read those passages from book one that were talking about the kings and the politics, etc.

So yeah, weird in that I felt like I was wading through treacle at the time, but now that I’ve finished, I think there’s a good story in there!

The Witcher: Blood of Elves

I finished reading book one in The Witcher series on Friday, Blood of Elves, and I have to say, I’m very impressed. It’s a series of books that has been around in the original Polish since the 90s of course (Blood of Elves dates from 1994), but has really only hit the mainstream with the video game from 2007, I believe. The games merely use the characters from the series, but I understand that they don’t otherwise adapt the book material. Could be wrong, though, as I’m not a video gamer!

Book One in the series takes all of the stuff we learnt across the two anthology books, particularly from Sword of Destiny, and begins the story in earnest. I’d say that it also begins to pull all of the fairly disparate stories into a more cohesive whole, but honestly, this novel still has an element of the short story anthology to it. There are just seven chapters in the book, but they’re long, and almost disjointed enough to feel like separate stories.

We begin with Dandelion being tortured by a man named Rience, for details of the real people upon whom one of his popular ballads is based – notably, Geralt and Ciri. Rience is very interested in where the child is, but fortunately Dandelion is saved by Yennefer before any serious damage is done.

Roughly the first half then sees us at the Witchers’ keep of Kaer Morhen, where the sorceress Triss Merigold has been asked to help them deal with Ciri, who is having some strange episodes. The witchers haven’t tried to give her any of their elixirs, in part because it seems their infrastructure is collapsing, but they also have next to no understanding of female biology. It’s clear that she possesses some form of magical potency, and during one of these she tries to delve into the girl’s mind, with fairly disastrous results. Triss informs Geralt that Ciri needs a stronger mentor, and to see more of the world.

With the spring, Geralt, Triss and Ciri set off for the Temple of Melitele in order for Ciri to gain some more mainstream education. On the road, however, Triss becomes ill, and Geralt is able to seek aid from his old friend, the dwarf Yarpen Zigrin, who is leading a caravan on the business of King Henselt of Kaedwen, one of the Four Kingdoms. We get to learn something about the political situation, and the caravan is attacked by eleven marauders. It turns out that the caravan was only a ruse, to work out if Henselt could trust Yarpen.

The story then fractures, as we get to see Geralt on the hunt for Rience, whom he tracks down with the help of Dandelion, but whom escapes from him. We end with Ciri receiving a magical education from Yennefer, before the two head off from the Temple, amid rumours of a new war.

I enjoyed this one, although the chapters sometimes ran a bit too long for my liking. The way the story is paced did take some getting used to, as well, but overall I think it didn’t take too long to get into.

While it perhaps isn’t compulsory to read the anthologies first, I think I got so much more out of the story for having done so. There are references both huge and trivial throughout the book, and while it would feel just like any kind of fantasy story that begins with the fallout from a historical war, having read all of the preamble in the earlier books, I think the setting does become all the richer for it.

I also really liked the way the story was buttressed by the two educational styles. To begin with, Ciri is learning almost entirely how to handle a sword, and she seems to be pretty good at that, to boot. We later see her come into her own magically, and it seems likely she will be a force to be reckoned with in that arena, as well. She’s a really well-developed character over the course of the novel, becoming beautifully rounded out, and I found myself really invested in her story by the end. Interesting that the book should be sold under the tagline of The Witcher, when this really seems to be Ciri’s story.

As we know, Geralt is a Witcher, meaning he has undergone training and mutations to kill the many monsters that plague the land. However, only once do we see him in his professional capacity, and that is a sideline to his hunt for Rience. There is an excellent battle sequence at the caravan, though, which I enjoyed tremendously, and he does get to kick some serious ass during his fight with Rience. I hate to think of the shape that guy will be in if and when he shows up for book two!

We also get to spend a lot of time with Yennefer, and while in many ways she is as inscrutable here as she ever was in the short stories, we do get to have some insight into her as a person, and I think it helps to round her out more as well, rather than just being the woman over whom Geralt painfully pines.

There is quite a bit of politics and power-plays later in the book, but I definitely feel as though we need a map because I do struggle to picture where all of these kingdoms and cities are in relation to one another. There are some really interesting bits about the Wizard Council as well, and in general I think the world-building is great. In particular, the history of the elves is explored, and I was almost overjoyed to see that here we have a credible reason for just why the elves are an ancient race that is dying out.

In short, I think the first book in the series (book three if we’re counting actual volumes, though, but the first novel) is really good, and I’m thoroughly invested in just what is going on. I would have preferred a more in-depth discussion of the politics, or a map, to help with the bigger picture, but the character drama that is playing out has really sucked me in!

I’m reading The Witcher series with Dave, Milou and Jenn, and will be linking their blog reviews here in the fullness of time, as well!!

The Witcher: Sword of Destiny

Hey everybody,
I’m still playing catch up with getting my thoughts on the Witcher books down on the blog here, so it’s time for book two already! I did read this back in March, so it’s been a while before I’ve put pen to paper, so to speak!

I want to say right off, that I really enjoyed this book, perhaps even more so than the last book. Now, the first Witcher anthology, The Last Wish, was a tremendous book, and I pretty much ran through it, lapping up all of the stories almost as quickly as possible. I also really liked the frame story that felt like it made the anthology something more. Starting on Sword of Destiny, I think I was initially hesitant, because it is a straight up collection of six stories that are loosely told in chronological order, but otherwise felt a bit like a step down from the earlier book.


While I was reading it, maybe halfway through, maybe not even that far, and my opinion just totally changed and I really got into it. I think it helps that the stories are, on the whole, longer than those in the previous volume, so they have a bit more time to evolve. Plus, I suppose, we’ve already met most of the characters by the time we get to this book, so when, for example, we meet Dandelion again, I did give a little cheer to see these familiar faces.

(Interestingly, this was the first book published for the Witcher series, back in 1992, though I think that’s probably because The Last Wish collects stories that were published in magazines etc).

The anthology is interesting, though, as while we know that Geralt is a Witcher, that is he hunts monsters for a living, he does very little of that throughout this book. In the very first book, he pointedly refuses to take part in a dragon hunt, as dragons are not a threat to humanity. The monster hunting comes second in the next story, which is something of an exploration of Geralt and Yennefer’s relationship. I thought this one was a really interesting character story, and tells us a lot about the two of them (although it’s actually three, as the story is a love triangle with another sorcerer, Istredd, who I believe shows up in the main novels too).

The third story, Eternal Flame, was a nice little story that features halflings and changelings, amid the theocratic city of Novigrad, which is I believe an important place within the lore. I found it interesting because it made for a very different type of fantasy story – one of the main plot points was the mercantile activities of the halfling (or, should I say, the shapeshifter). Dandelion is also back, which is always a pleasure!

He’s also in the fourth tale, A Little Sacrifice, which was both my least favourite, but also one that I still managed to enjoy a great deal. The “main” story involves Duke Agloval’s pursuit of a mermaid, and his hiring Geralt to investigate the deaths of some pearl divers purported to be the work of a sea monster. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with it, I just wasn’t really into the story all that much. However, intertwining this is the story of Dandelion’s fellow minstrel Essi “Little Eye” and her relationship with Geralt. It was kinda cute, and I think much more down to earth than Geralt and Yennefer, which is the kind of tempestuous love story from a drama or something. In sharp contrast, Geralt and Essi is like the sort of thing you would see happening every day, and there was just something really quite lovely about it all – which makes the ending really quite heart-rending.

The last two stories are somewhat strongly connected. Sword of Destiny introduces Ciri to the lore, as Geralt comes across the girl while travelling through the Last Forest in an attempt to deliver a message to the dryad queen, Eithne. The dryads attempt to take Ciri as one of their own, giving her the waters of Brokilon to drink and forget her former life. However, the water has no effect on her. It later transpires that Ciri is the granddaughter of Queen Calanthe, from the previous book, and is the Child of Destiny that Geralt had originally claimed under the Law of Surprise. Geralt, however, refuses to take her as is his right, and claims to have only invoked the law to look destiny in the eye.

Finally, we have Something More, where Geralt is injured when saving a merchant from undead monsters, and hallucinates memories from his past. While the merchant is able to take Geralt to safety, he offers anything in return, and so the old Law of Surprise makes another appearance, as Geralt asks as payment that which he was not expecting upon his return home. Along the way, we learn that Cintre, the kingdom of Calanthe, has fallen and the royal family has committed mass suicide. Geralt mourns for Ciri, only to find that the merchant’s wife has taken in a refugee fleeing the attack – and of course, it is Ciri. Wonderful!

These stories were almost more mature than the last volume, with much more of a focus on the human drama between the characters than we had last time. We do still have the world-building, as we get to explore more of the setting, and we get some very interesting new characters to add to the development of those we know from The Last Wish, but I feel like it was a definite step-up from the last book.

I have no real idea as to the chronology of the stories, or how they are supposed to link in to the main novel series yet, but that almost doesn’t matter, really. I mean, each story was self-contained enough that you don’t feel that you’re missing out on anything, but I still get the impression that they’re setting up more important relationships (particularly with Ciri) for later down the line. I found it interesting that I was able to enjoy these stories almost in isolation, therefore, although I suppose having read the first book, that has provided enough grounding?

At any rate, I really enjoyed this one, which is weird, because both Jenn and Dave, with whom I’m going to be reading the main series, were pretty ambivalent about it, at best! I wonder how our opinions will turn out after reading the next one, Blood of Elves…?

The Last Wish

Hey everybody,
It’s time for something different on the blog today, as I finally get round to my write up of the first Witcher anthology – the first book? Not sure, it seems like trying to work out when the books all take place is an industry all of its own. At any rate, The Last Wish is a collections of short stories from 1993 that serves to introduce us to the Witcher, Geralt of Rivia. There are seven stories, around which is entwined a continuing narrative that serves to bind everything together.

I was first introduced to the Witcher by my buddy Tony, who is a huge fan of the video games, and had read all of the books. We have played the boardgame, of course, but I never really made much of an effort to learn more about the whole thing. I then read Dave’s review over on his site, and I decided that the time was right – in fact, it was right now, because within a day or two I had got myself a copy of the book from the local library and was merrily reading away!

I was instantly hooked with this, and pretty much devoured it as quickly as I could. The premise is that Geralt, a Witcher by trade, was wounded by one of the monsters he is paid to hunt, and so is recuperating at a monastery. The subsequent stories are a bit like Geralt remembering his past deeds, each time coming back to the “present” as this frame story advances. I think the stories were originally published in magazines and stuff, so it’s a nice way to bind them all together in a book.

The first story, The Witcher, is one of my favourites, I think because it sets the tone for the world. There are elements from Slavic folklore interspersed here, which is both familiar and strange to me. Geralt is a man who hunts monsters, and as part of his training he had undergone a kind of super soldier transformation. In order to hunt these beasts, he takes a variety of potions that enhance his speed, or his reactions, or his strength; enhancing his already enhanced body (he has excellent night vision, like a cat). We see this when he is tasked with lifting a curse on a king’s daughter (the result of an incestuous relationship with the king’s sister). The girl was born a striga, but Geralt thinks he has what it takes. The tale is vaguely creepy, which I really liked, and there is a political element that I enjoyed – making these not merely generic sword-and-sorcery fantasy stories.

All of the stories seem to be leading to the last of the seven, the eponymous The Last Wish. This is the story that tells how Geralt meets Yennefer, a sorceress and his great love interest. Somehow, even knowing so very little of the whole world, I knew about these two. Geralt’s bard friend Dandelion is injured by a genie he discovers in a sealed bottle while fishing, so Geralt takes him to the nearest city and asks Yennefer for aid. She heals Dandelion, but uses her magic to avenge herself on her detractors in the city by bewitching Geralt into running rampant. Yennefer further attempts to harness the power of the genie for herself, causing untold destruction in the attempt.

While all of the stories are, to some extent, Geralt on an adventure, it really doesn’t feel like some kind of by the numbers thing, where we have Geralt on the hunt of some kind of monster of the week. While each story does to some degree showcase some particular kind of gribbly, they nevertheless seem to be more about the people, and less just a series of sword fights and the like. There are a few elements that did make me feel just a little bit lost, however, such as the geography of the stories, and stuff like the political landscape. I think, when reading this as an introduction to the whole Witcher phenomenon, however, it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride – Geralt making the sign of Aard is just a thing he does, you don’t need a massive two-page explanation of the lore and so on to understand its purpose right there in the story. I realise that some people might not like that, but I’m choosing to just go along with it, and I suppose I’m expecting a lot of these sorts of things to be more fully fleshed out in the novels, where space is more affordable.

There is a whole lot to enjoy here, though, and while I have no idea how important to the ongoing narrative some of the story elements are (one of my least favourite stories, A Question of Price, appears to loom large already by being a direct prequel to one of the stories in the second anthology), I was nevertheless thoroughly entertained by this book. The allusions to fairy tales, while providing original spins thereon, is quite nice, and despite being a fantasy series, it somehow feels quite modern in its outlook, without the characters seeming to overly subvert the established norms for such stories. I think the storytelling flows quite well, and there isn’t that kind of annoying effort to try and be something other than Tolkien that some fantasy writers often fall into. It genuinely feels like something new and fresh, but also it doesn’t need a lot of laborious exposition for us to “get” the kind of story that we’re reading. We get details filled in about the world-building as we go, rather than all up front – the penultimate story, Edge of the World, gives us a lot of background to the elves who originally populated the continent on which the action takes place, for example.

I really enjoyed this book, and I thought it was a really good introduction to the world and the characters, having a bunch of short stories to serve as short and punchy introductions. If you’ve been on the fence like me about this series, then it’s really about time that you got yourself a copy and gave it a read!

As I said at the start, I was inspired to actually pick this book up following Dave’s review, and while I’ve also now read the second book in the series, Sword of Destiny, we’re now poised to read the first novel, Blood of Elves, with Jenn from Eternal Bookcase (you can read Jenn’s review of The Last Wish here!) and Dave’s better half, Milou. So stay tuned as we all dive into these books together, with cross-pollination across the sphere of WordPress!