Articles tagged with: yennefer of vengerberg

Imaginary Heroes: Geralt of Rivia

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*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

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*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.

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

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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.