Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Series: The Witcher
Introducing Geralt the Witcher – revered and hated – who holds the line against the monsters plaguing humanity in this first book in the Witcher series that inspired a bestselling game and is soon to be a major Netflix series. Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, a man whose magic powers and lifelong training have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary killer: he hunts the vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil; not everything fair is good . . . and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.
I have the impressive (and these days completely impossible) achievement of having spent over 350 hours playing The Witcher 3 video game a few years back. I fell in love with the characters and although the game isn’t based specifically on any of the books, it captured the essence of what Andrzej Sapkowski’s world is all about – the moral choices, the medieval Polish influences, the action, humour, the adventure, the nature of people and the notion that “not everything monstrous-looking is evil; not everything fair is good” – sometimes the worst monsters are human beings themselves.
So – I was either predisposed to being a fan before even opening the book and therefore more likely to enjoy the story OR I’d come into it very expectant, holding it to high standards. Both in fact are true, and I wasn’t let down.
Geralt is a Witcher – a hunter of monsters. Largely it’s a thankless task, moving from village to village completing contracts for money, getting rid of troublesome fiends. Most of the already superstitious village folk see witchers as vile mutants or untrustworthy folk not to socialise with – witchers were human once, before their training and a series of tests. The ordeal has such a high mortality rate most don’t come through the other side. Those that do are changed forever; possessing augmented abilities, faster reactions and natural resistances amongst their strengths, but sterile and devoid of many of the human emotions, and certainly any chance of a normal life. Geralt’s training was so intense it turned his hair permanently white.
Despite the after effects of the training, Geralt is in fact a highly likeable character with principles, a dry sense of humour and a good heart.
There are thousands of reviews for this book, so I’m not going to make it a super detailed, in depth analysis. For the remainder, I’m going to list why I really enjoyed it and then you’ll have a better idea of knowing whether it’s something you’d probably enjoy too. So, what made this book a great read for me?
- The moral dilemmas and philosophical questions – as mentioned, humans often turn out to be the most despicable monsters which is certainly a theme within this series. Being a blade for hire of sorts gives people the impression that if anything needs killing, Geralt (or other witchers) will be available for a price. There are a number of moral dilemmas for Geralt, and sometimes he has to make the moral choice over the easy choice (or sometimes even the favourable choice). This isn’t a man that you can hire to kill a harmless creature or to have someone murdered – even if they’re obviously a ‘bad guy’. He lives by a code and he sticks to his principles, which I like.
- The humour. This isn’t a humorous book by definition or a satirical one. It’s a really enjoyable fantasy that happens to have flashes of tongue in cheek humour scattered throughout. I’m told that in its original Polish it’s even better, but I still loved it. I liked the references to traditional fairy tales with a twist – events that have happened elsewhere etc. There is one story I enjoyed that has quite a few elements from Beauty and the Beast too and I enjoyed how it was done!
- The storytelling. The Witcher series is translated from Polish and you can sort of tell the style is slightly different from many fantasy books. It is not massively noticeable – only a phrase here and there. I actually really like that though as it makes the writing feel nuanced and unique, adding to the overall feel of escape.
- Geralt. I just really enjoy Geralt as a main character. I love how he knows he is a complete badass but doesn’t let the power go to his head. Even the lowest criminals or brigands he would prefer to give a chance to. There was one part in which he was challenged to a duel by someone far less skilled and Geralt still tried to settle it by offering an apology first. He may kill monsters but he doesn’t particularly enjoy the actual killing
- The Short Story Format. It works really well to introduce us to the world and the characters without giving us too much to handle all at once.
Was there anything I’d change? Sure, nothing is perfect. I’d have liked more monster contracts – I really like the whole riding into a village and working out what has been causing their misfortunes and how to solve it the right way. There was still some of this though. I’m not so incredibly fond of the Geralt-Dandilion bromance either as some other readers seem to be at this stage; I find Dandilion kind of annoying if I’m honest!
Overall, I just can’t wait to start the next book and experience more Witcher. I’ll be breaking my own habit of leaving the next book in a series a few weeks after finishing its prequel. The world is amazingly magical, the characters fantastic and the storytelling gripping as well as funny at times. I think I’ve found the start of one of my new favourite ever series!