*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.

lady of the lakeI 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.

19 thoughts on “The Lady of the Lake (Pani jeziora) by Andrzej Sapkowski

  1. Mario

    I had finished to read the books and I was kind of trying to understand everything that had happened in last few pages and so I decided to found out what other readers had experienced, and I must admit that I felt somehow relieved when I read your article, as it seems I’m not the only one who enjoyed this great story and who noticed those small references of the books on the games :)…

    By the way I also started reading the books after playing the second game.

    1. Jennifer Melzer Post author

      Hi Mario. I loved the books. I’ve read mixed reviews, some people who didn’t seem to enjoy them very much, while others loved them as much as I did. I love how CD Projekt Red took those small elements and incorporated them into the game. It makes playing the games even more fun than before because I feel like I understand little jokes and references I didn’t completely get the first time I played through them. I’m so glad you stopped by, and thanks for leaving a comment. Which of the books was your favorite?

  2. fantasywind

    Lady of the Lake is really remarkable book (especially the motives of arthurian legends weaved in :) but as I remember Sapkowski wrote some other novels that heavily used this symbolism though I haven’t read them (and he rather likes historical fiction genre the Hussit trilogy if I remember right) his style and generally use of harsh pessimistic realism (well a bit cynical approach some could say). It’s really great in many ways, as I said earlier in my posts games rely heavily on book lore :) so the readers will find in them many familiar things :).

    1. Jennifer Melzer Post author

      The thing I love most about how he’s characterized Geralt is that despite the pessimism and cynicism he’s steeped in, he always does what he must. Even at the very end, after he hangs up his sword and says, “Nope, I’m done. Just you wait…” and then he’s needed again. He just sort of sighs, as if there was a part of him that actually believed he was finished with the fight for the briefest of moments, but then life happens again. So beautifully done. I think one of my favorite moments is when he and Ciri are coming through Toussaint, and he’s excited at the prospect of a peaceful visit with his friend Dandelion, only to discover its Dandelion up on the chopping block. And his thoughts as he realizes it, where he just can’t believe it, after everything now the world is going to take Dandelion too, and it’s just so unfair. I’ve said it many times in these reviews, but his friendship with Dandelion is quite possibly one of my favorite themes in the book. They are so excellent together, so opposite one another, and yet such perfect friends who aren’t afraid to tell each other the truth. A beautiful story, from start to finish, and I thank you again for steering me toward the fan translations. I know I’ll be reading these stories again and again for the rest of my days.

      I had heard there was another book coming in the series this year, but that it’s not connected to the overall story arc. I do hope American publishing houses aren’t stupid about it, and that they get the English translation rights.

      1. fantasywind

        Oh yes that scene was great haha Dandelion just will never change. Hehe as for this cynical approach to life well we can say it’s a bit of a polish thing, our troubled history easily made whole generation disillusioned with ideals (all the idealistic notions of the several uprisings in the time of partitions when we lost our independence quite like Cintra, and then world war II and it’s outcome when allies sold us out to the soviet for over fifty years of communism, basically a totalitarian rule where many of previous freedom fighters were persecuted just because they did not support commies, overwhelming amount of tragedy the nation faced throughout the years). Oh have you heard about comic book by Dark Horse? It’s always interesting to see something of a franchise in new media :).

        1. Jennifer Melzer Post author

          I think that’s why I love Dandelion so much as a character. He is the one constant in the story from beginning to end. The only thing you can always rely on to never change. He is exactly what he presents himself as, and it made me cling to him. Later on, when the severity of what they were up against started to sink in, I really was so relieved he didn’t go with them to face Vilgefortz.

          I did get the first two Dark Horse comics in the series. I’m really hoping they continue with it beyond a single story-arc.

          1. fantasywind

            Well in Poland there are already several comic books about our monster slayer :) some were adaptations of short stories others were unique new storylines, but I doubt they were ever translated to english, there was even a tabletop rpg Witcher: Game of Imagination :) and there was (unfortunately very low quality) tv series of 13 episodes :) on youtube there are english subtitles heheh, of course as always there are certain…creative liberties in the adaptation ;).

  3. Malia

    Jennifer, do you know the best chronological order for the books? I noticed several were available in English translation from publishers now (Time of Contempt, Blood of Elves, The Last Wish, and Baptism of Fire due out in late June 2014), but I am getting conflicting info on the interwebs about which comes before another as far as the storyline goes. I haven’t read any of them yet. What would you recommend?

    1. Jennifer Melzer Post author

      Hey, Malia! Nice to hear from you. The best order to read them in is:

      The Last Wish
      The Sword of Destiny
      Blood of Elves
      Times of Contempt
      Baptism of Fire
      Tower of the Swallow
      Lady of the Lake

      There are English fan-translations available for the books in the series that haven’t come out yet on the CDPR forums, and as far as I know there are no plans at this time for English publishers to release The Sword of Destiny at all, which is a shame. The Sword of Destiny has essential short stories to understand later plot points, and without it so much is just missing. If you read on Kindle, drop me an email jennybeanses@gmail.com, and I can send you the .mobi file for the English translation for The Sword of Destiny. I have the published versions of all the currently available books, and will definitely buy the others as they are published traditionally, but having to wait years to finish a story that was finished over a decade ago just seems evil.

      1. Malia

        Thank you kindly! I’ve got The Last Wish on the way (I prefer reading in print – call me old fashioned 😉 and can’t wait to get started on it! I’ll shoot you an email for The Sword of Destiny.

        On a related note, did you watch the newest trailer for The Witcher 3, released today? I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t. Tell us what you think! :)

        1. Jennifer Melzer Post author

          Yes! I did. I watched the GOG.com conference on livestream and squealed several times with delight. It looks absolutely stunning and I cannot wait! Without spoilers, I’m pleased to see that elements of the books will play much heavier in this final game, that the story itself will finally come full-circle, it seems. Geralt looks so much older, so weathered and amazing, and i was hopeful that in the one scene, it was Yennefer standing on his right. I’ve been dying to see her in one of these games since the first one.

          Though, I must say, I am a little scared of Dandelion’s new mustache, but I think it’ll grow on me.

          I am so excited. I really want to pre-order so I can get one of those keys for the IOS game, but I can’t afford it right now.

          1. Malia

            It has to be Yen, it just HAS to be! :)

            And the ‘stache scared you too, eh? I think I had a very visceral reaction and went “Ewwwww” immediately. But I suppose it is meant to show passage of time, the weathering and what not you mentioned for Geralt.

            The whole thing simply looks fantastic. The scenery, the characters…ahhlksjdlfkahh! The only good thing about February being so far away is that it will give me time to read everything that’s been translated into English so far. And your own Witcher tales – I’m gonna go read them all again. 😉

          2. Jennifer Melzer Post author

            If it’s not Yen, I’ll scream. I’ve been waiting to see a representation of her forever. I think the mustache terrified me so because I have that little heart-patter for Dandelion. I know he’s a complete and utter scoundrel, but I swoon over him in the worst possible ways. Especially after reading the books, The Sword of Destiny most prominently.

            I am going to be passing the time with Dragon Age Inquisition come October. I have high hopes that will keep me busier than busy until February. Almost busy enough to get me through without too much twitching. Now I just have to get through until October. LOL

  4. L

    Hello Jennifer :)
    I have found Your website accidentally. I just finished Your reviews of the last two Sapkowski`s books and believe me or not, bu it is really pleasant moment, when You see, that someone shares the same passion :)
    Reading Your reviews I saw myself years ago, when I read those books for the first time. Since then I just regret, I can`t get amnesia for a moment to read it once again with the same feelings and emotions as You have described.
    Your Sapkowski`s reviews are great and perhaps You may be interested, that You`ll have possibility to write another one. Last year another Witcher`s book was published. The title is “Storms` season” (or maybe “Season of the storms” – I`m not sure, which version is better). Sooner or later someone should prepare fan translation.
    Best regards from one Geralt`s fan to another :)
    P.S. Sorry for my English, but obviously I`m not a linguist :)

    1. Jennifer Melzer Post author

      Hi L,
      Thank you so much for taking a moment to leave a comment. It is always such a wonderful thing for me to meet other fans of these books. I, too, wish I could go back in time and read these books again for the first time because of the impact they had on my life. such a wonderful story.

      I haven’t yet had the chance to read Season of Storms because I don’t know if it’s been fan-translated into English yet. I wish I was fluent in Polish so I could read them as they were intended to be read, but sadly I don’t know any Polish at all. I really feel like so much is lost in translation. Still, I don’t think there has ever been a series of books that impacted me more than that collection of stories.

      Thanks again for stopping by! It was so nice to hear from you.
      Best,
      Jennifer

  5. Laurie

    Jennifer: I played Witcher 2 long after it came out and then played witcher 1 (and 2 again) in preparation for 3. And then I began to read the books up to and during my playthroughs of 3. Anyway, I was wondering about something and found your website and thought I would ask you. In Time of Contempt during the Mage’s coup, what was Yennefers role in all of it? Djikstra (I think) makes a comment to Geralt that only guilty traitors are in bed fast asleep (referring to Yennefer’s whereabouts when Geralt says he left her in bed sleeping). And then later, yen brings Ciri into the room and after Ciri prophesies and wakes up and asks yennefer what happened, yen says: “I made a mistake. Nobody is perfect.” Was Yen with Vilgefortz/Nilfgard? Did she change her mind because the parameters of the coup changed? I’d like your take on this.

    Also, I sooo can’t forgive Triss either. I romanced her before I read the books and now I shudder to think about it. If u read the books her behavior is unacceptable. But even so, I think Geralt would forgive her. I just don’t. :-)

    1. Jennifer Melzer Post author

      Hi Laurie. I don’t think Yennefer realized the full extent of Ciri’s importance and power, or how badly it would go if they did get their hands on her. I also think that during that time she was grooming Ciri, she tried desperately to harden herself and her heart because of her bitterness about not being able to have children of her own. Especially as she’s seen how much Geralt loves Ciri. It reflects back on Yen what they could have had if circumstances had been different. Then as things start to go south, Yen comes to realize how soft her heart has become, and her motherly instincts sort of kick in. Hence, the making of her mistake and her acceptance that fate has given her the child she could never have, and she nearly destroyed that child.

  6. Roy

    I just finished the final book Lady of the Lake…. and have to say that I am disappointed with this last book. I absolutely loved and adored the rest of the series, but there are to major components of the last novel that kinda tarnished the series for me. I should add that up until now I haven’t played a single of the witcher games and look forward of how the games will weave in with the strange ending. But back to the two components that annoyed me greatly. The first was the sudden weird and strange addition of whole journeying between parallel worlds. It was in my opinion a strange distraction from the fantastic and very alive world A.S. had created. The second was the ending which left me dissatisfied and annoyed.

    (SPOILER WARNING)

    I mean after all this time of Ciri having to avoid all these people trying to use her as a broodmare, the story ends with her suddenly happily deciding to go and have sex and possibly conceive…. seriously?

    1. Jennifer Melzer Post author

      Hi Roy,
      I struggled with the first half of that book, and wasn’t really sure how I felt about it. Diving in with the addition of dimensional travel threw me for a loop, and I was so afraid I was going to finish out the story unsatisfied. However, when Geralt, Yen and Ciri all reunited for the big battle in which a good portion of the characters were hopelessly slaughtered, I realized how emotional the entire journey had been. There is a huge plague that gets mentioned in the games, and I thought it was really interesting that Ciri brought that plague to their world from the world we live in.

      I didn’t interpret the ending the same way. It seemed more to me like she’d gone away from a world that wanted nothing but to control her and force her into things she did not want. In a way, it was almost anticlimactic because Geralt gets pitchforked, Yen nearly dies trying to save him, then we’re back in Camelot and she’s recounting the tale to Galahad, a symbol of divine purity in Arthurian legend. In her own way, Ciri then becomes sort of symbolic of the Lady of the Lake, rising out of the water and offering power to the legend of the Grail.

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