Articles tagged with: the witcher

Imaginary Heroes: Geralt of Rivia

geralt

*This essay may contain spoilers for those who have not read Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series

The witcher geralt

The first time I met Geralt of Rivia I was standing in the magazine aisle at the local grocery store. He was staring back at me from the cover of some PC gamer magazine I have long-since forgotten the title of, and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was set to launch for PC. The year was 2011. The cover drew me in, and I picked up that magazine, started reading and knew this was a game I HAD to play. Monster hunter, mercenary, mutant… hero. I was intrigued, but after putting that magazine back on the shelf I forgot about The Witcher until Steam had a big sale in 2012, just around the holidays.

geralt of rivia for blogI was immediately drawn into this world, more than just intrigued with the character, his back story, his companions and his future so I started to do a little digging and discovered something a lot of other nerds knew about LONG before I came along. The game series was inspired by a series of books by Polish fantasy author, Andrzej Sapkowski, and Geralt of Rivia had been a part of this world far longer than my own daughter had been alive. In fact, I was only eleven years old the year Sapkowski wrote the first Witcher story on a whim, and over the next twenty-eight years (mostly during the 1990s) Sapkowski expanded Geralt’s universe to include several short stories and five novels.

While the story between prose and game differs slightly, it takes place in the same world with similar political issues and problems. One thread remains true between both: Geralt of Rivia is a hero, though he rarely sees himself in that light. Mutated, scarred, and allegedly emotionless, Geralt often thinks himself a monster who kills monsters, someone unworthy of love, friendship and the honor that comes with heroics, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Geralt of Rivia is perhaps one of the few people in this world Sapkowski created who is not a monster.

To define the term monster in this series is a near impossible task, because monsters aren’t always what they seem. In The Last Wish, we meet King Foltest of Temeria for the first time and discover that while he is handsome and wise, he has peculiar romantic tendencies. King Foltest fell in love with his own sister, Adda, and got her with child. The child was born cursed, died shortly thereafter and rose again seven years later as a striga. Geralt was eventually called in to deal with the situation, as the foul striga was murdering people left and right and furthering the scandal caused by her incestuous father’s deeds. Geralt lifted the curse, reverting the striga back to a human girl, but one is left to question whether or not the striga was the real monster of the story, or if it was the father that begot her on his own sister?

Many of the stories in The Witcher series follow this same vein. Geralt is drawn into situations where he must deal with a monster, only to discover said monster is only doing what comes naturally. At times, provoked to action by the evils of society, we, as readers, find the people employing the Witcher are often far more horrific than the monster they’ve brought him in to slay.

geralt blogThe central storyline revolves around Geralt’s on-again/off-again relationship with a beautiful sorceress named Yennefer, who doesn’t know her own worth or believe she deserves to be loved, therefore making Geralt doubt his own worth as a man, and a child of destiny the two lovers come to raise together named Cirilla. Because Geralt is a mutant, he is sterile and will never father children. As a sorceress, Yennefer’s body is barren, and she cannot mother children, something she desperately wants. There is the barest possibility that through sorcery, she might find a way, but Geralt’s sterility would make that impossible. Her resentment for making this wish doubly impossible to attain is a source of tension and bitterness between the lovers, but often we have most difficulty seeing the gifts that lay right under our noses.

Geralt’s destiny is entwined with Ciri’s when she is still in her mother’s womb and he saves her father, Duny, from a curse. Invoking the Law of Surprise as payment for saving his life, Geralt asks Duny for “that which you already have, but do not know.” It is discovered shortly thereafter that Princess Pavetta is pregnant with Duny’s child and Geralt’s destiny is sealed.

He spends years arguing with himself over whether or not he should return and take the child he was promised and train her as a witcher. A witcher’s life is a cruel and lonely life, one he wouldn’t wish on anyone, but destiny cannot be thwarted. After deciding he won’t take her, destiny itself, in the guise of war, intervenes and pushes Ciri into his care time and time again. Finally he realizes he has no choice but to take her, raise her and teach her the ways of the witcher. The training he would have denied her if destiny had not poked its pointy, meddlesome nose into affairs, saves Cirilla’s life on numerous occasions, though at times we’re left to wonder if it is even a life worth living at all. Ciri faces obstacles so insurmountable at times, it is a wonder she makes it through to the end of the books at all, but because of the strength Geralt instilled in her, the unfailing devotion he offered, she never gives up and becomes a legendary hero and unstoppable force herself.

Geralt, as a man, is as flawed as they come. He lives his life in blacks and whites, deigning to neutrality–as is the witcher’s way. He keeps his head down when nasty matters of a political nature crash down around him like unending waves smashing upon the shore, preferring to avoid them. Unfortunately, his world is so embroiled in such  matters, it is not always easy to stand in the center of an issue without leaning in one direction or the other. The complicated issue of humanity versus non-humanity that prevails in the story often tugs him toward other non-humans.

He is human, yes, but only in the barest sense of the word. He is a mutant, a freak of nature and an outcast. People seem to take little to no issue dropping a bag of gold in his palm when they need him to do away with a monster terrorizing their town, and though he claims it doesn’t bother him, those same people rarely welcome his presence in their town–even after he’s done away with their monster problem. He’s no stranger to scowls, stares, whispers and derision, and because of humanity’s treatment of that which it doesn’t understand, he’s rather cynical and dour about the world. Despite his often jaded worldview, he still sticks his neck out time and again to help people who very rarely, if ever, deserve his help.

And that is what makes him a hero. As a witcher, it is his job to help people, but in a changing world where the definition of the word monster is tenuous at best, it does become difficult for him to draw the line without occasionally it from time to time. As the war with Nilfgaard rages through the Northern Kingdoms, Geralt finds himself in company with other outcasts: dwarves, halflings, an archer known for aiding and leading Scoia’tael to safety, a Nilfgaardian knight who defected from his king’s cause, a vampire, a foul-mouthed thief and a self-absorbed, wandering minstrel/spy who also just so happens to be the witcher’s best friend. It is the friendship bond he forms with these people on the road to finding and saving Cirilla that inevitably define him.

geraltAll his life he’s stuck his neck out for others, and no one’s ever done it for him. Why would they? Why should they? Yet these people are willing to go with him to the very end, to sacrifice themselves for his cause, and as they fall for his cause one by onehe begins to see things differently for the first time in his life. The risk for those who do not appreciate it is no longer worth it. He gets nothing from it, and so long as his loved ones are safe, he sees no reason to go on being the hero. Unfortunately, once a hero, always a hero. When the proverbial shit hits the fan in Rivia literal moments after he’s decided to hang up his sword and live out the rest of his life in peace, the hero rises to the occasion again and sacrifices himself to keep his friends and loved ones safe.

I’m sure if we were to ask Geralt of Rivia if he thought himself a hero he would laugh in our faces. He would more than likely tell us he’s no hero at all, no champion worthy of praises, ballads and songs. He’s just a killer of monsters, a lover willing to die for the woman who holds his heart, a father willing to walk to the ends of the earth for his daughter and a friend who’ll take a pitchfork to the chest to defend the people who accept him for who he is.

A hero in the noblest sense of the word, whether he sees it or not.

 

The Lady of the Lake (Pani jeziora) by Andrzej Sapkowski

lady of the lake

*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.

All Quiet on the Eastern Front

Coming Soon Cover

I’ve been quieter than usual lately. I haven’t allowed much time for blogging and social media because I’ve been working a lot on editing the works of others while Sorrow’s Peak rests before I begin the next round of edits and rewrites.

I’m anxious to get back to work on it, though I know if I charge in too quickly I won’t be in the right frame of mind to make it all I know it can be. I miss my characters, especially Finn, who likes to nudge me when I’m busy with other things, asking when I’m going to come back and pay attention to him. He loves attention, craves it like stick-fingered children crave more candy, and if I’m not paying attention to him, he gets… wolfy. Starts threatening little rampage tantrums. Silly U’lfer…

I’ve been writing a lot, though. In the last two weeks I’ve written and completed four novelettes and a short story, all fanfiction set in The Witcher universe. I share those stories on my fanfiction site, and you’re welcome to check them out if you’re a fan of games like Skyrim and The Witcher. I don’t mind at all, in fact, I’d love it if you had time to join me over there.

I have said a thousand times how beneficial to my own writing fanfiction remains. There is so much to be learned writing in an already established world, about character establishment and the building of one’s own world. I tend struggle with politics all too often, I don’t feel comfortable writing them at times, and yet politics almost always play heavily into fantasy. Writing in the Elder Scrolls and Witcher universes gives me an opportunity to meddle with politics, which in turn benefits the strengthening of my own world’s politics.

I am also working hard to finish the second Wanderer’s Tale, Things Worse Than Death, which I hope to be able to start sharing very soon. In the meantime, you can catch the first chapter, if you’re interested. The entire first tale, Rusted Memory, is available for sale, just $.99 right now, and includes the whole first chapter of Things Worse Than Death. It’s available on Amazon, Smashwords, iTunes and Barnes and Noble. Eventually it will be offered here for free, but if you don’t like waiting you can get started now!

Soon, I will be revealing the cover for Sorrow’s Peak, so for those of you looking forward to that, stay tuned!

 

The Tower of the Swallow (Wieża Jaskółki) by Andrzej Sapkowski

Wieza_jaskolki_2

Wieza_jaskolki_2The fourth full-length novel in Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series, The Tower of the Swallow was a dark and gripping read, revolving almost entirely around Ciri and the events that took place on her journey to Tor Zireael (The Tower of the Swallow.) Much of the story seems to be told second-hand, through accounts of people who were there to witness events as they unfolded. This method of storytelling isn’t a favorite of mine, but for the most part it worked. There were several moments I wanted to skip because I just wanted to get back to the action and the characters I cared about and those minor deviations frustrated me.

Ciri is broken, weary and half-dead when an old philosopher named Vysogota finds her in the swamps near his hermitage. Vysogota takes her in, nurses her wounds and brings her back to health, scarred and filled with sorrow and the kind of rage born of abuse and suffering. After healing her, she tells him her story, how she came to be where he found her and of the men who will certainly find her if given enough time.

The things Ciri endures in this story are absolutely soul-crushing. She’s come to believe everyone she ever loved is dead, they would have to be dead not to have come to her aid, wouldn’t they? But Geralt is not dead, he travels with Cahir, Dandelion, Milva and Regis toward the Druids he hopes can tell him where to find Ciri. Yennefer, returns, accused of treason and guilty of crimes that will be judged far worse by those who love her.

There were moments in the scenes with Yennefer that tore me to shreds emotionally because she is a hard woman to love, but when you fall in love with her you’re hooked in the same way Geralt is. You may not know why, or even how, but you love her and you can’t stop. She is a callous and often complicated character whose motives are called into question as her frigid and occasionally heartless approach to her relationship with Geralt feels like nails on a chalkboard. However, there are moments every once in a while where Sapkowski brings the core of her being into the light, and we see who she really is and it breaks my heart.

One of the things I love about this series is how each book, though different than the last, simply flows into the next, building toward an epic ending to a phenomenal story.

The relationships between the characters are brilliantly woven, making each and every central character to the plot grip the heart. The supernatural elements are fantastic in that way fills me with wonder. The politics are despicable, but they are politics and really, what more would you expect.

Even though some of the distancing from the story by minor character, secondhand accounts really got under my skin, overall I loved the book and would gladly give it five stars and here is why: Once you’ve invested yourself in this story there is no turning back. You are drawn in, you love these people so much you must know what happens, and yet you don’t ever want their story to end at all. I’ve been slacking through the final book, Lady of the Lake, because I just don’t want to ever finish this story. That’s how much I love it.

So there you have it: 5 out of 5 stars for filling me with such emotion I get teary-eyed at the prospect of finishing the series. I recommend this series (if you can find all books in your language,) to anyone who loves fantasy.

Stuff and Things and Things and Stuff

stuff and things

I have been slacking on the blog posts over here since last week, I know. The truth is I’ve been really busy writing and sharing some fanfiction on my other site this last week.

After finishing Sorrow’s Peak, which is now safely tucked away until I’m ready to dive back in and start tearing it apart, I wanted to keep writing but on a slightly lighter level. As it turns out, I can turn out fanfiction like nobody’s business. From Thursday through Monday I wrote a grand total of about 35,000 words. I started and finished a little novella in The Witcher universe, finished one of my Skyrim novellas and made progress on another Skyrim piece I hadn’t touched since last summer. It felt pretty good to keep writing on a lighter note, and by the time March said it’s final farewell, I’d put in a total of 102,690 words for the month.

All in all, it was a grand and productive few days, and this year has been great for getting things done. From January 1 through March 31, I wrote 259,556 words. that’s practically a George R.R. Martin novel in just three months. Some of it was fanfiction, most of it was not, and I’m really proud of myself. I’ve stayed committed, set reasonable goals and managed to surpass them each month. I kept writing even on the days I really didn’t want to look at a single word

Now, however, it’s time to get back down to business. I have some really exciting things coming up  over the next few weeks, including an announcement about The Wanderer’s Tale, the cover reveal for Sorrow’s Peak and a few other nifty little tidbits I can’t wait to share.

The day has just begun, and I have a lot of work to do today. I hope wherever you are, you’re doing exactly what you want to do.

Baptism of Fire (Chrzest ognia) by Andrzej Sapkowski

baptism of fire

baptism of fireBaptism of Fire, the third full-length novel in the Witcher Saga, picks up directly where The Time of Contempt left off. The sorcerer’s coup at Thanedd left Geralt deeply wounded, bodily and emotionally, and the story begins with him recovering from his injuries at Brokilon, among the Dryads.

A human huntswoman/archer named Milva (Maria Barring), who is known to help Scoia’tael commandos who’ve been injured and lead them to Brokilon to be healed and cared for, is tasked by Lady Eithne with heading out into the warring world to learn news of the witcher’s loved ones while he recovers from his injuries. The character of Milva feels almost immediately like an old friend, as her first meetings with Geralt are fraught with tension and scolding. Geralt feels instantly guilty for asking her to take on the dangerous task on his behalf, to which Milva replies, “You idiot! You should not be worrying about me, but for yourself. The sooner the better!” And by the time she returns a second time from finding news for him, he feels healed enough to head back out into the world to retrieve Ciri, whom he believes is in Nilfgaard, preparing to be married to Emperor Emhyr.

Only we already know that Cirilla is not in Niflgaard, but that she’s joined a band of thieves called The Rats, and is calling herself Falka. From time to time throughout this story we see Ciri’s journey through Geralt’s dark, prophetic dreams, and we know she is not only headed toward grave danger, but already so deeply embroiled within it, she’s lucky to still be alive. We also discover that she’s developed an unquenchable appetite for violence and mayhem, taking lives without second thought simply to watch the blood the run.

Sewn between the threads of the main story line, we are also given insight into the sorceress’ plot to band their power together to gain a political advantage unlike any those who wield magic have seen before. As Philippa Eilhart draws together a secret council under the guise of protecting and strengthening magic, it is through this thread that we learn what happened to Yennefer after Thanedd. While I won’t give anything away, I will say that the events offered in these little side threads were an excellent addition to the story, as were the occasional glimpses we were offered of Sigismund Djikstra, head of the Redanian secret service.

But the real meat and potatoes of the story revolves around Geralt, Dandelion and Milva and their dangerous journey to Nilfgaard where Geralt still believes early on he will somehow find and save Ciri.

Through battle destroyed lands, they travel until they join with a band of dwarves (and a gnome) headed by Zoltan Chivay. The dwarves are leading a group of refugees, women and children, to safety. They combine efforts for quite a time, providing plenty of comedy relief, while continuing to strengthen the relationships between the heroes we have all come to know and love throughout the story, as well as introducing a few new friends.

Early on, we learn the party is being followed by a Nilfgaardian soldier who haunted Ciri’s dreams when she was a child. The man with the winged helmet who pursued her and filled her with fear, Geralt threatens on more than one occasion to kill the Nilfgaardian (who says he is not a Nilfgaardian,) but Cahir refuses to go away, and eventually becomes a part of their company after saving Milva. They are also joined by a vampire named Regis, and after being separated from the dwarves, the five of them become a company, and their purpose is to reach Ciri.

A company… The concept is something Geralt dos not fully understand, for he is a solitary warrior, a long wolf. He struggles with the very notion that anyone would ever feel obligated to help him, much less stick their neck out for him. It’s somewhat funny that he struggled with this so much because since the beginning of their relationship, Dandelion has followed Geralt into all manner of dangerous places, even though he’s a poet, not a warrior, and Milva couldn’t be deterred from accompanying them on their fool’s errand even though she knew from the very start it was just that: a fool’s errand.

Chrzest_ognia_2And yet it puzzles him that they would take up his quest with him and refuse to leave him when the road seems darkest.  His puzzlement offends them, these people who have risked life and limb, sustained injury and made sacrifice to join him, but they stubbornly refuse to leave him to his own devices.

Regis puts it beautifully when he tells Geralt, “I’d almost forgotten. You do not need advice, you do not need allies or companions. The objective of your journey is, after all, a personal and private objective, the nature of which requires you to complete it alone, personally. The risks, danger, troubles and struggles with doubt should only affect you and no one else. Because they are, in the end, elements of your penance, your redemption, of the guilt that you are trying to alleviate. A certain, as they say, baptism of fire. Through the fire, that burns, but also purifies. Solo, alone. Because if you accept someone’s support, their help, then they take upon themselves a bit of the baptism of fire, that pain, that penance, and it would lessen it for you. So you deprive them of participating in that part of the atonement that is exclusively your atonement. It is only you who has to pay off this debt and you do not want to pay this debt at the same time with other creditors.” (Sapkowski, Baptism of Fire, Chapter Five)

It’s a difficult truth for Geralt to hear. He has been the martyr for so long, the lone white wolf, and he does not know how to accept the love or help of others because he does not feel as though he deserves it. If the burden is shared, some of the pain is lifted as well, and Geralt thrives in some strange way on the pain that is his life. It is one of the reasons he is repeatedly drawn back to Yennefer throughout the story. For him, Yennefer is both love and pain, and while I do not question this, at times even Yennefer seems to believe he deserves so much more than she can give him and this is why she sets him free. His emotional attachment to Ciri has become almost the same: a father’s love fraught with guilt and wrapped so tight around his heart it is impossible for him to breath.

The symbolic Baptism of Fire is repeated throughout much of the second half of the story, as beliefs are challenged, paths reforged and it becomes certain that through the fire one must trek if he wishes to be born anew, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

There were so many delightful parts of this story, clever and witty moments that made me laugh out loud, as well as emotionally gripping instances that touched my heart in ways that will surely linger long after the entire story is finished.

Now I move swiftly into The Tower of the Swallow, and with only two books left in the series I can already feel my heart growing heavy. These books have resonated with me in the most beautiful way, and will long be etched high atop the list of stories that touched my life and my heart. Sapkowski is a brilliant storyteller, and his wit is not lost in translation. He crafts rich characters, thrusts them into the darkest and most terrifying of situations and still manages to lighten the mood with a few laughs now and again.

Five of five stars without hesitation, if you have not read these books I highly recommend them if you can find them.

The Sword of Destiny (Miecz przeznaczenia) by Andrzej Sapkowski

the witcher

the witcher

If you’ve been following any of the blogs I post on for any length of time at all, you already know I am a huge Andrzej Sapkowski fan. Unfortunately, while the rest of the world has been enjoying Sapkowski’s Witcher series of books for well over fifteen years, publishers in the United States are a little… slow. In fact, they aren’t just slow; they’re downright silly about this series.

After publication of The Last Wish, a series of short stories introducing the main character, Geralt of Rivia, U.S. publishers skipped the next short story collection, The Sword of Destiny, and went straight on to Blood of Elves, the first full-length novel in the series without ever looking back. Fortunately, die hard fans of the series on the CD Projekt Red Witcher gaming forum were kind enough to put together an English fan translation of all the books in the series that aren’t yet (or probably won’t ever,) be available for sale in the States.

Praise be to Melitele for that. I knew there was story missing between The Last Wish and Blood of Elves, but with no way to sink into that story until now, I simply sucked it up and pretended it didn’t break my heart to know I was missing out on some seriously awesome bits of story.

To sum up the major details of the plot, the entire series of stories revolve around the Law of Surprise and the persistence of Destiny. The Law of Surprise, for those who may not know, is usually an offering of payment for services, either in the guise of “the first thing that comes to greet you upon returning home,” or “what you find at home, yet don’t expect.” The second instance often becomes “The Child Surprise” and when Geralt accepted such payment to lift a curse from a young man named Duny. The story that explains how Geralt became the recipient of such a gift is in The Last Wish, in the short story: A Question of Price, and so we know in some small way how Geralt’s destiny became intertwined with that of a little girl named Ciri, but alas, between The Last Wish and Blood of Elves, there is so much missing.

The six stories in The Sword of Destiny give readers a broader history of their entwined destiny, its importance and how stubborn Destiny is about making sure it is achieved. On more than one occasion, Geralt tried to give up his claim to Ciri, but Destiny refused him, weaving their paths together at every turn. Along the way, we are given further insight into the complicated romantic relationship between Geralt and the sorceress Yennefer,  as well as the depth of the friendship bond between the witcher and his best friend, Dandelion.

I have become so emotionally attached to these characters over the last few years. By the time I got to the end of the last story in the Sword of Destiny I had a pile of tissues on the table beside me. I felt both empty and full at the same time.

It saddens me a great deal that these stories were missing, little bits and pieces of memory somewhere lost in the fog, but wow… Just wow. Filling in those empty spaces with these stories was like coming home through memories you almost forgot were the greatest part of who you were, are and will one day be.

While only a fan translation, the cleverness and wit were captured perfectly, the society and its woes feel so very real and the depth in which we explore the heart of a man who does not think of himself as a man, but a monster, is so emotionally riveting it is difficult to finish a book in this series because I never want them to end.

It’s a shame these stories are so hard to come by, that they are missing from the greater picture, but praise be to all the gods they are no longer missing from my version of the story. Thank you, fantasywind, for steering me on the right path to finding these translations! I will always be grateful.

5 of 5 stars, in fact, I’ll give it 10 of 5 stars. Extra stars, it was that good.

Best Books of 2013

best-books

When I sat down this morning to write this blog, I realized that even though I read thirty-four books during the last year, not many of them were released in 2013. I reread the last five books in the Harry Potter collection over the summer, and then I read all three books in The Hunger Games trilogy, so right there eight of the books I read were disqualified from the great books of 2013 list. I read the first four books in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, also written nearly twenty years ago. I also read a lot of Liane Moriarty books, many of which were written in the last ten years, but one of Moriarty’s books that I read was actually released this year.

husband's secretThe Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty definitely makes it into my best books of 2013 list. Classified as contemporary women’s fiction, The Husband’s Secret wove together the lives of three families in brilliant fashion, connecting them to one another with a dark secret that’s been kept hidden for over twenty years. One of the things I discovered during my binge on Moriarty’s book collection is that she does day to day life really well, reeling the reader in with this sticky little web of strings all leading to the same place before all is said and done. She captures moments and people and memories that at first glance might seem a little mundane, and she makes them shine. I don’t often cry while reading books, but Moriarty’s ability to stir emotion with words is done with expert precision. And as I said, they may classify these books as contemporary women’s fiction, but to me this was a great glimpse at life in general. Maybe because I’m a woman, I don’t know, but I do recommend this book to anyone who appreciates a glimpse at life that’ll make you feel like you’re on the inside of the moment.

ocean at the end of the laneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman made my year. I have been a Gaiman fan for as long as I can remember, and now that he’s got his hands in a lot of different projects, it’s a good year for me when he has time to actually finish and get a novel out into the world.The Ocean at the End of the Lane was rather short, but it still qualified as a novel and it had all the elements of a Neil Gaiman novel that continue to remind me why I love the stories this man tells. Suspenseful, magical and chock full of hope, I finish every Neil Gaiman story feeling like even though life is full of dark and terrifying things that may very well overwhelm us, the journey through those dark things is the only way into the light again.

time of contemptThe Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski  is not a new novel in the traditional sense of the word new, as Sapkowski wrote the entire Witcher series of stories forever ago, but it was only recently they were translated into English and released in the U.S. The Time of Contempt came to Amazon for the Kindle in August, and I devoured every word like a shameless glutton even though I knew the next book wouldn’t be released in the U.S. until early 2014. Having discovered the books after playing The Witcher: Assassins of Kings video game, I am so glad I read them. Sapkowski has created this dark, politically corrupt world in which the actual monster Geralt of Rivia is often hired to fight seem like child’s play when compared to the people in his world, people who are far more terrifying than monsters. Sapkowski views the human condition through a dark lens colored by all those things we often overlook or simply pretend not to exist. The thing about that is you can only pretend the monster in the room isn’t there for so long before it opens its ugly, needle-teethed maw and takes a bite out of you.

S.G.-Browne-Big-EgosBig Egos by S.G. Browne was another great book from 2013.  If you haven’t read Big Egos yet, I highly recommend it because not only is Browne comical and clever from page one straight through to the end, the messages in his social satires are incredibly poignant. I say it every time I read and review an S.G. Browne book, but only because I really see his stories lingering on for centuries to come: the stories he tells will become the literature taught in college classrooms of the future, as students analyze the past to look for the passages that led them to where they are. Maybe there won’t be companies offering a drug-like hallucinogenic experience that allows us to become someone else, but the overall message is one that will never die: BE YOURSELF! S.G. Browne sits you right down in the muck of the world with a magnifying glass and a Groucho Marks mustache and says, “Look at us. Aren’t we absurd?”

Those are my best books of the last year. Of course, many of the other books I read were also great, but as I said above they didn’t come out this year so they can’t be counted among this year’s great books. I am really looking forward to a lot of the books coming out in 2014, and can’t wait to see where the imaginative authors of the world take me in the next year.

What are some of the great books of 2013 you’ve read, and what was so great about them? I’d love your recommendations because truth is, I’m always looking for another great book to read.