The Witcher Books Review
The Witcher Books Review
Whether or not you are a newcomer to The Witcher series or a veteran of the unofficial sequel story in the games by developer CD Projekt Red, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into with Polish author, Andrzej Sapkowski’s series of fantasy books. The books can be likened in some ways to Game of Thrones featuring mature themes such as war, sex, death and legacy. Unlike Game of Thrones, politics serves as more of a backdrop to an ongoing story that for the most part focuses on a few central characters. The series features several collections of short stories and five books in the main saga. The main story revolves around Ciri, a child of prophecy with very important powers who nearly everyone wants to use for their own gain while the short stories tend to focus on Geralt, the titular Witcher (monster hunter) and often his friend and travelling bard, Dandelion.
While the short stories – which are set before the main saga begins – give some context to events in the latter saga and are referenced at points they aren’t necessarily required reading. Nevertheless, fans of Geralt from the games may want to start here and they give a good flavour of the world and characters you can expect to read about in the main saga. As mentioned earlier these books are of Polish origin and have taken their time being translated for English audiences with one collection of short stories – Season of Storms – still coming next year. With a TV series in the works at Netflix, now is as a good a time as any to jump into the world of The Witcher.
The series features many tropes of the genre including elves, dwarves, magic and dangerous creatures. Partly influenced by Eastern European folklore, Sapkowski delivers beautiful descriptions of sweeping vistas one moment and war-torn, desolate countryside the next as the main characters are manoeuvred around the world. The series is named after the character of Geralt, a Witcher who hunts monsters for a living and who has an increasingly weary and cynical view of the world but especially of people as the series progresses. He, along with a sorceress named Yennefer, quickly take over the responsibility of looking after Ciri, a princess from Cintra, a country which is overrun by Nilfgaardians (the Southernmost invader) from which Ciri escapes. Ciri and her lineage though are destined for great and terrible things and consequently she is hunted for most of the series by various factions as Geralt and Yennefer do their best to keep her from harm.
The focus on these characters is well done and each has history and complexity of feelings and emotions that don’t always mesh together. For example, Geralt and Yennefer have had a tumultuous relationship but are brought together again because of the young girl. Ciri increasingly grapples with her destiny as someone who most people want dead or to use her for evil purposes. Other characters are more than part of the setting seeking to gain a promotion politically, earn fame for themselves or simply to survive in an increasingly scarred continent. The bard Dandelion is often the comic relief and loyal friend but even he has more to him than that. It was interesting playing the games first and then heading back to read the books seeing how the game developer took characters with strong identities and fleshed them out more fully.
The main saga has a scattershot approach in terms of structure often deviating from the path of the main characters to fill you in on what’s happening in other countries or areas. This works well for the most part but can be a little confusing at times as there’s a lot of characters and with the elves in particular blending together in the mind at times. When it comes to the different races there’s a lot of cultural differences and nuances to the different characters as Sapkowski makes interesting points about politics, race, gender and even climate change. The world described is often a harsh and sadistic place with Ciri often facing the brunt of this cruelty and the books are more than anything about Ciri growing up and taking charge of her own destiny. At times I found the series over-sexualised, particularly the sorceresses who although many of them are old they appear young and beautiful with most more than willing to use that to their advantage. Sapkowski is probably making a point here but I felt it went overboard at times which is a shame because the series features a lot of strong-willed and interesting female characters.
Overall, I would highly recommend The Witcher series if you enjoy fantasy books in the vein of George R. R. Martin or similar authors. Sapkowski does a great job of describing a complex and shifting world with as much splendour and joy as death and despair while putting across a self-contained story. If you’re a fan of the games you’ll certainly learn more about characters you’ve seen but especially Ciri. The series ends on a somewhat open-ended note although at this point it seems a pretty definitive ending and there’s always the games for those looking for more.
What do you think of The Witcher series, books or otherwise? Share your thoughts in the comments!