*This post may contain spoilers, though I tried very hard to keep them at a minimum for those who’ve not yet had the pleasure of finishing the series.
I am a relatively fast reader, and I always have been. If I’m really into a book, I can sit down and finish it in a day or two, but if I’m really, really, really into a book, I won’t do that. I’ll take my time because I want to savor it. It took me three weeks to read The Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski because I was heartbroken by the prospect of this story coming to an end. I would like to promise that this review will be coherent and thorough, but the emotional level of my attachment may make it difficult to form intelligible thoughts.
If you’ve been following my reviews of the Witcher books, you already know I discovered this series after I started playing The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings in 2012. The series that inspired the video games began in 1986, when Andrzej Sapkowski submitted a short story he wrote about a Witcher on a whim to a Polish sci-fi/fantasy magazine called Fantastyka. Through the years he spun several yarns about Geralt of Rivia, spanning across multiple short stories and five full-length novels. Not all of these books are available in the U.S., which I’ve mentioned before, but fortunately some avid fans have taken time to translate for those of us who might have otherwise been forced to wait until the sun burns out to finish the story we’ve started.
After the Tower of the Swallow, I could not imagine how this story was going to end and after a while, I didn’t even try to imagine it. I just let the story carry me where I needed to go.
There is so much darkness in this book. Rape, abuse, incest, murder, betrayal, death. I don’t want to talk about too many of the details of the story because I know too many people who haven’t had the opportunity to read this book yet, but there are some points I absolutely cannot keep under wraps, so be warned (again).
What I will say is that through everything, and by the time we start reaching major climaxes in the story, my emotions were at an all time high. I have never cried so much reading a series of books. I felt such an emotional connection to just about everyone who traveled with me from the beginning, that by the end of it all they felt like old friends. And sometimes friends die… especially when the world is darkened by war.
The relationship between Geralt and Yennefer is so well done. I’ve said before that Yennefer doesn’t seem to believe she deserves to be loved, and as the books progress we come to understand why. We see some of the darkness that’s tainted her life and the sorrow she still carries with her from it. Geralt, a mutant who is not supposed to even feel emotions, feels them so deep at times, he is more human than most of the humans that surround him. He and Yen are so perfect for each other, but circumstance, stubbornness and fear keep them apart. But Ciri brings them together in the way they are meant to be, and they become a family.
When Ciri saw Yennefer being tortured in the Tower of the Swallow, it destroyed me. There were so many times during all the awful things she endured that Ciri just wanted her surrogate parents, especially the comfort of her mother’s arms. When they were finally reunited, and she ran into Yennefer’s arms crying, “Mama!” it nearly shattered me. Which is funny because Geralt reuniting withYen a few pages before had already beaten me into a sobbing pulp, as she called out to him, “I knew you’d come!”
All of the characters evolved beautifully through the story, except for Dandelion, who is spirited enough that his inability to evolve is forgiven to the point that you’d actually rather he didn’t change and grow. Dandelion is the only reliable constant in the story. No matter what, you can always count on him to be ridiculous. His friendship with Geralt is incredible, the kind of friendship many long for, but don’t always have the luxury of enjoying. At one point in the story, Dandelion decides he’s done with the adventure and wants to stay behind with his lady love, the Duchess of Toussaint. At the time I was a little miffed at him because you don’t bail on your friends, but later I found myself gasping with relief because Dandelion would have been the first to fall if he’d accompanied them to the end of their journey. Being one of my absolute favorite characters in the series, I don’t think I could have stomached Dandelion’s death.
I find myself reevaluating the definition of the word monster. Mutated and transformed during their youth, witchers were brought about and trained in the art of swordsmanship to battle the onslaught of monsters that arrived in the world after the Conjunction of the Spheres, but all too often some of the most brutal monsters in these stories are people. And believe me when I tell you this story is chock full of monsters. The bounty-hunter Bonhart, Vilgefortz, Eredin Bréacc Glas, Emhyr Var Emries… the list goes on and on, and there is no mistaking how monstrous these people were. Between the war with Nilfgaard and non-human intolerance, it’s a theme that carries well through the books. As Geralt comes to the conclusion at the end of all things that he’s done with monsters altogether, it feels right, but you also know it just won’t work. He washes his hands of the monster business, but only moments after handing his gifted sword back to the dwarf who gave it to him, he’s drawn right back into the fray as the Rivian Pogrom erupts beyond the tavern. To keep his friends safe, he dives back into battle one last time and gets stabbed to death by a pitchfork…
Of course, he doesn’t really “die”. Ciri saves both Geralt and Yen, who drains herself entirely and dies beside him while trying to heal him, and sails them away to an island, where she leaves them to live out the rest of their days in each other’s arms… Of course, until the games tear them both from their Avalon and the Wild Hunt begins.
One of the most interesting things about finally being able to read these books after playing through both games, is I can see how much CD Projekt Red drew from the books. I appreciate little moments and memories that appear in the games, old stories Dandelion, Zoltan, Yarpin and Triss mention from time to time. Characters we were only briefly introduced to appear in the games, given larger roles, like Shani, the red-haired physician from the Battle of Brenna, as do Yaevinn and Toruviel and a few other familiar faces.
I have to say I will also never look at Triss Merigold in-game in the same way again. Despite some heroics she pulled out of thin air near the end, I have a hard time forgiving her for taking advantage of Geralt’s memory loss and carrying on her affair with him after everything that happened with Yennefer. Sorceresses, man, sorceresses! They are an infuriating bunch of people.
Needless to say, there is a list of books in my life that have emotionally scarred me in the most beautiful way. The Witcher Saga is at the very top of that list. While the storytelling techniques sometimes veer away from the traditional in ways that might put some readers off, I found that if I just stuck with those strange moments they all made delightful sense as everything came back together again. I am anxious for the day when all of these books are professionally translated so I can read through again.
Five out of five stars without hesitation. In fact, I’d give it infinite stars, but then you’d probably think I was just being silly.