The conclusion to the epic of Geralt, Ciri, Yennefer and all the rest of it comes in the longest novel of the series, as we see pretty much all of the plot threads going right back to the short story anthologies being tied up. Here be spoilers!
Similar to the last book, in fact more so than the last book, the timeline is pretty much all over the place, as Sapkowski appears to delight in using all manner of framing stories-within framing stories, so we start off with Ciri arriving in the time of King Arthur and telling her story to Sir Galahad, but then we go off on tangents with the sorceress Nimue and her protégé Condwiramurs (more Arthurian nods) trying to work out the end of the Ciri legend, based on the wealth of material that had sprung up since.
We jump to see what Geralt and co are up to, as they spend the winter in the Duchy of Toussaint, and we actually get Geralt being a witcher once more in these portions, which is nice because he hasn’t done his actual job since the very first anthology, as far as I recall. We also get to see what happened when Ciri went through the portal in the Tower of the Swallow at the end of the last book – in short, it wasn’t good. She was effectively held by a race of elves who wanted her to produce a child, who was prophesied to become the most powerful magic user of all time, and who would prevent the end of the world. Or something. Ciri eventually escapes, but is forced to rove through time and space as she attempts to undo the magical barrier holding her beyond the Tower, and is only able to make it back to her own time thanks to the intervention of Nimue and Condwiramurs.
Everything comes to a head when Ciri willingly goes to confront Vilgefortz, and attempts to sell herself in place of Yennefer. However, Vilgefortz’s magic is too strong, and he then attempts to impregnate her to get the prophesied child. Geralt and co are able to rescue her, however, with Regis, Cahir and Angouleme all perishing in the task. Geralt frees Yennefer, and together they are able to defeat Vilgefortz while Ciri is finally able to reach the calm centre within herself to best Leo Bonhart. With the arrival of the Emperor Emhyr, all of the rogue elements under Vilgefortz are defeated, and Geralt is finally able to put all the pieces together. Emhyr is none other than Duny, Ciri’s father, and we learn the torrid backstory of how he came to be cursed, and why he wants to marry his own daughter. When Geralt and Yennefer are asked to commit suicide to keep the secret, however, Ciri is able to intervene and Emhyr renounces his plans, marching back to Nilfgaard with his troops.
We then have an epilogue, of sorts, as we learn of the Peace of Cintra, where the northern kings gather to celebrate the end of the war. A lot of loose ends begin to get tied up, including one where Ciri was said to have brought about the end of the world back in book two. During her jumping around space and time, she brought with her a flea from a plague-infested port, which jumps from her and lands on a rat, which in turn arrives on a boat in the Cintran harbour and is eaten by a cat, and so it goes. The Sorceress’ Lodge basically forces Ciri to agree to their plan for her future, where she will bear a child with one of the northern princes, but before going through with it she goes to meet with Geralt in Rivia. In the wake of the war, Rivia is a bit of a powder-keg, and while Geralt and Dandelion wait for Ciri to arrive, they meet up with Yarpen Zigrin shortly before all hell breaks loose, and the town erupts in a huge riot. Geralt, in a final effort to stand up for good against evil, is mortally wounded and dies just as Ciri and Yennefer arrive. Yennefer expends all of her strength trying to save Geralt, but in vain.
In a quasi-mystical ending, a boat appears on the nearby lake, and Ciri rows the bodies of Geralt and Yennefer out into the mist. We then return to Ciri and Sir Galahad, where she finishes her story with a fabricated happy ending, and the two ride off into the sunset.
This is one hell of a ride, and I have to say, I’m glad to have been part of a buddy read doing this, because I don’t think I would have stuck with it otherwise. Jenn gave up after Time of Contempt, and I think I would probably have done so at that point, as well. I think, overall, there is a fairly decent story in here. Having only the most basic of ideas of what it was all about thanks to my buddy Tony telling me all about him years ago (and we played the board game that one time, as well), I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for. However, I didn’t necessarily have the high hopes that Dave had, from playing the video games. I was very impressed with the first anthology, I thought there was some very interesting ideas that I was excited to explore as we got into the full novels.
However, in the end it seemed that the novels’ main premise was to abuse Ciri as much as possible, and have Geralt and his party spend three full books wandering around trying to find her. We seemed to have a random international war thrown into the mix as well, and a very confusing coup within the sorcerers’ community that I think it has taken the full five-novel series to make sense of. Bad writing? Maybe. I sometimes wonder if I had read these books back to back, maybe they’d make more sense? I often wonder as well whether it would make more sense to re-read them, knowing how everything now works out, but I don’t think I’m quite ready for that yet. As it stands, it felt like a pretty jumbled mess, and I’ve made the point before about the war seeming to come out of nowhere, with little to no explanation given other than to have it provide the backdrop.
I think that’s because of the pacing of the narrative. I think the story could have been told in at most a trilogy, if there had been a tighter focus and without the padding. There’s a lot that happens, politically, in book two, but book three just seems to be the tale of how Geralt hooked up with Milva, Cahir and Regis, but it’s long. Book four is almost a study in the art of the novel, and I think the narrative suffers for it, as Sapkowski almost seems to be showing off with his multiple layers of framing stories. If it was told as a simple linear story, albeit with all of the threads still present, it could perhaps have been a lot shorter. Book five has a real issue with the timeline, and which frame we’re currently looking through, and so on. I’ve read reviews from people who really enjoyed it, but it felt to me too much like it was trying to be difficult to have sense made of it.
As I have read my previous blogs on the earlier books to gain some sort of perspective for this, I’m quite surprised that I seemed to enjoy them individually, even if I wasn’t entirely sure about what was going on, particularly because of the broad-strokes politics and geography.
While I was able to enjoy the individual books for what they were at the time, I think when you look at this as a series, it does suffer, particularly because there are so many ways in which I think it could have been better. Even the inclusion of a map would have been helpful, to see where all these places are that are being talked about. I think it was particularly disappointing for book three, which is so much a travelogue but without any idea of where all these places are, it becomes less an epic journey through the war-torn landscape, and just a mass of confusing place-names.
I’m flip-flopping a lot here with whether I actually enjoyed this series or not, aren’t I? I think I’m just confused by the whole thing. While I had no preconceptions for the series, I think the short stories led me to think the main novels would go in a certain way, but then things turned out wildly different. I am glad to have read them, of course, as it’s one of the oft-talked-about book series within the general geek-type circles, but I have definitely struggled through the whole thing, if I’m honest.
I’m glad that I’ve read it, but I’m glad that it’s over. I guess there’s not a lot more that I can say.