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.
Every chapter in a story has a responsibility to the overall narrative. This is most evident in trilogies, where the first novel sets up the stakes and the characters, the second builds upon the threat, and the finale contains the climax of all that came before. The saga of the Witcher is atypical in its structure and how each novel contributes to the narrative. On top of that, the story began long before the novels were written, in the world crafted by the original series of short stories. Despite its odd nature as a five-novel story, the fourth book, The Tower of the Swallow, still has a responsibility as the penultimate chapter in the tale of Ciri, Geralt, and Yennefer. It must continue the adventure that has come before, while escalating the stakes. Some characters begin the lead up to the finale, while others are brought to their lowest point in preparation for their eventual rise.
A “baptism of fire” can be defined in several different ways. Classically, and for most of literary history, it referred to a specific passage from the Gospel according to Matthew in the Catholic Bible. According to John the Baptist, who baptized Catholics with water, God would come after and baptize their followers with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The phrase also appears in the Gospel according to Luke and Dante’s Inferno referring to a fiery trial of faith which would purify those who looked upon God. It was not until the 19th century that “baptism of fire” finished its transformation and gained the meaning Andrzej Sapkowski hints at. First used secularly to mean a soldier’s first time in battle, a baptism of fire is now any toil or hardship which strengthens you through the challenge.
In writing the Witcher saga of novels, Andrzej Sapkowski took on the task of transitioning the world and characters of the short stories to something more longform. In retrospect, it seems obvious that the short stories set up the novels, but that was not always the case, despite there only being two years between the publication of Sword of Destiny and Blood of Elves. Where Blood of Elves served as a reintroduction to the characters, world, and tone of the series, The Time of Contempt moves the plot forward at a rapid pace, setting the stage for a story spanning three more novels and three video games. Do not think that The Time of Contempt is devoid of character growth, however. The story of the Witcher is, and has always been, the story of Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri.
While Andrzej Sapkowski published his first Witcher short story in 1986, the series certainly did not end there. After a couple years and two collections of short stories later, Sapkowski introduced the world to what would come to be his magnum opus; the saga. Beginning with the first fill novel set in the Witcher universe, Blood of Elves, the saga would occur across a series of five lengthy novels, all following the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, Yennefer of Vengerberg, and Ciri as they navigated a dangerous world. While introduced in the short stories, we spend much more time with these characters in the novels and see new sides of them. Hinted in the final two short stories, Sword of Destiny and Something More, the saga confirms that the tale belonged to Ciri all along, and she shares equal page time as Geralt.
In honor of the recent release of Netflix’s new fantasy series, The Witcher, I have decided to revisit one of my favorite fantasy series and its amazing stories. The Witcher franchise began in 1986 when Andrzej Sapkowski released a short story titled Wiedźmin, or, The Witcher. This story introduced audiences to Geralt of Rivia, the world of the Continent, the monster hunters called witchers, and the monsters they face. After publishing several more short stories expanding the world and characters, Sapkowski released the tales in three collections. This led into a five-novel saga, a standalone novel, a trilogy of video games set after the books, multiple comic books, one movie, two television adaptations, a card game, a tabletop roleplaying game, a board game, and more. What was once a local Polish series has now become a worldwide phenomenon.
Once upon a time, the stories we told were different. Meant to frighten children and teach important life lessons, these stories took on the shape of fairy tales. Stories warning us away from the monsters in the woods or training us to be wary of strangers riding into town with ill intent. These stories flourished in the darker reaches of Europe, where civilization was small and the lands were relatively lawless. But then, something happened. Time progressed, civilization grew. Suddenly, the forests were not quite so dark. The wolves were tamed and caged. The strangers could be identified with a picture or a fingerprint. Fairy tales faded and became sanitized, even if their essence remains relevant to this day.
The Witcher world, created by Andrzej Sapkowski, spans two collections of short stories, a five novel series, and a trilogy of video games. To even the most avid reader and gamer, this is a lot of story to consume. The series follows Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is a witcher, a type of human mutant, enhanced through magic and medicine to fight the monsters that plague the continent on which the tales take place. He is friends with a world-renowned poet and bar, the lover of a powerful sorceress, and adopted father of a princess without a kingdom.
I’m getting closer to finishing Time Pratt’s The Wrong Stars, and I expect to have my review up on the site by the beginning of next week, so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, I thought it’d be fun to write a little bit about the books I’ve read so far this year. I’ve put together a list of the twenty-six books I can remember reading this year, minus Artemis, which will be broken up into five posts over the course of the next five days. My 2017 reading ranged from Russian science-fiction to Polish fantasy, history to self-published, a breakdown of the video game industry to a fan guide for a long-running web series. These won’t be full reviews of the books, just brief thoughts meant to give a general idea of my reading experience and, hopefully, help you to find that next novel. Today, I’ll be focusing on some great works out of Russia, Poland, and France. Read the Rest!