Throwback Thursday: The Lady of the Lake, by Andrzej Sapkowski: Book 5 of the Witcher Saga

It is difficult to finish a series, regardless of genre.  There is great pressure on creators to create the perfect finale, wrap up every storyline, and provide every character with a satisfying conclusion.  Sometimes the fans are satisfied, other times they are far from it.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is an emotional and filling conclusion to one of the most popular book franchises to exist, while Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker is altogether disappointing, undoing so much of what made its predecessors great.  With The Lady of the Lake, the fifth and final novel in the Witcher series, Andrzej Sapkowski had to provide a conclusion to a series spanning two collections of short stories and five novels.  A series following several main characters, a multitude of side characters, and major political upheaval.  In The Lady of the Lake, however, something does not just end, something begins.

When the Witcher series first began in the first short stories, the main character was indisputably Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf.  Every story followed his adventure, introducing side characters which would alter play vital roles in novels.  When those novels began, the narrative branched out from Geralt.  We followed side characters as they built out the world and set up events which would later affect Geralt.  Most importantly, however, was providing Ciri with her own voice.  Geralt’s child of surprise, his reward for a previous quest, Ciri’s journey through the novels has been tumultuous.  Surviving a war, training in magic with Yennefer, learning to fight from the Geralt and the other witchers, going on the run, joining a gang, suffering through extreme circumstances, and finally escaping on her own.  With each new book, we learned more about Ciri and her Elder Blood, sough after by all.  By the time The Lady of the Lake begins, it is clear this has been Ciri’s story all along, now clearly demonstrated by the fact that the entire novel is a frame narrative as looked back upon by Ciri.

Up until this point in the series, there had been three main villains present.  Emyr var Emreis, the emperor of Nilfgaard, who launched war after war to obtain Ciri and conquer the North.  Vilgefortz, a treacherous sorcerer allied with Nilfgaard for his own goals involving Ciri’s magic.  Leo Bonhart, a ruthless bounty hunter who captured Ciri and had killed several witchers in his past.  In The Lady of the Lake, Vilgefortz, Bonhart, and dissatisfied agents of Nilfgaard finally join forces to capture Ciri.  However, unbeknownst to all, another threat, more powerful than anything else, had yet to be introduced.  Ciri, trying to escape from Bonhart in the previous novel, leapt through a port to the world of the Aen Elle, a kingdom of advanced and powerful elves.  Led by King Auberon, served by the magus Avallac’h and the general Eredin Bréacc Glas, the Aen Elle seek to return the power of Ciri’s blood to their kingdom.  By impregnating her with their king, they plan on reintroducing her Elder Blood to their society and regaining its magic.  The power to travel through time and space at will.  While able to do so within limits, the Aen Elle desire nothing more than to conquer reality, believing themselves to be supreme.  But, try as they might to rewrite Ciri’s destiny, her destiny has always lain with Geralt.

With some help, Ciri does eventually escape from the world of the elves, knowing that her destiny does not lie with them.  She eventually learns to travel on her own, although she does not always control the destination.  She sees various times and places on her own world, and travels to worlds she does not recognize.  More than once, she visits our own planet earth in various time periods.  During one trip to another time of her world, she almost perishes at the hands of a deranged serial killer.  In a brief journey to our world, she becomes exposed to the Bubonic plague and brings a diseased flea back with her.  Meanwhile, Geralt, without any clue to her whereabouts, spends months in the fairy tale duchy of Toussaint within the Nilfgaardian empire, hunting monsters for coin and entering a relationship with a sorceress.  Just when his companions feel like its time to leave, just when he is at his most dissatisfied, destiny intervenes.  By pure chance, by the will of destiny, Geralt happens to overhear a conversation leading him to Vilgefortz’s exact location.  It may have taken him multiple short stories and novels, but Geralt finally accepts his destiny fully and immediately leaves to resume his quest.

While Ciri and Geralt are on their respective journeys, travelling in parallel, events set in motion play out.  In an effort to locate Ciri, Nilfgaard invaded the kingdoms of the North, a conflict that does not just disappear because the major players are elsewhere.  War is too big for individuals.  The conflicts of the previous novels lead to a massive battle between South and North, resulting in Nilfgaard’s defeat.  None of the main characters we have followed are involved, although many side characters are swept into the conflict.  Sapkowski even brings back side characters not seen since the first novel to show us how the world has moved on since then, without her heroes.  While this battle is important to the world, it is not the climax for our heroes.  Rather, that is the final battle at Vilgefortz’s castle, with Geralt and his companions storming the gates to rescue Yennefer.  Ciri, in her own foolish attempt to rescue her adopted mother, also requires rescuing, but her and Yennefer quickly prove themselves to still be forces to reckon with.  Ciri, with a little help and her witcher training, finally defeats Bonhart, while Yennefer and Geralt put an end to Vilgefortz.  While a footnote in the history of the world, this battle between good and evil is infinitely more important to our heroes.

Although The Lady of the Lake is the final novel, that does not mean the world of the witcher stops moving.  As Sapkowski has shown the world he created is not just populated by main characters.  The events that take place affect everyone, with some chapters dedicated to following side characters.  There are even occasional flashforwards or short documents discussing the events of the novels as historical record.  The world changes and evolves, never sitting still even though the story’s plot has ended.  Despite being the final novel, Sapkowski even sows new potential plot threads, and leaves others open.  The storyline with the Aen Elle is not completed here, leaving a threat for Ciri in her future.  Ultimately, Sapkowski shows that the story is never truly over, it only changes.  While Geralt and Yennefer get to have an ending to their story, Ciri’s story is just beginning.

The Lady of the Lake can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold

And so ends our return to the Witcher stories.  For more tales of the Witcher, check out the excellent Netflix series, which adapts the short story collections, and the excellent video game trilogy, which continues the story from The Lady of the Lake

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