Book Review: The Witcher - an engaging fantasy series

Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series is coming to Netflix starring Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia, so now is the time to get caught up with the books.

The Witcher’s world is a collision of ancient European history and a fantasy world filled with monsters and magic. Literally so, humans have somehow crossed into the magical world and have to contend with beasts and magic all rooted in eastern European myth.  Our hero, Geralt of Rivia, is the product of this collision.  A ritual performed on select young men mutates them and gives them special magical abilities.  These men are called “witchers”, and their job is to battle creatures and protect those who need protecting, but only if they can pay.  They are a sort of mercenaries, shunned and reviled by the same communities that hire them for protection, a sort of necessary evil.

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Blood of Elves is the first full-length novel and comes after the lead character, Geralt of Rivia, has already been established in a previous series of short stories. Those stories are a great setup for an epic like Game of Thrones, but really reveals itself to be a much smaller and more personal story. This isn’t an action story despite being filled with magic and grand conflicts. The appeal really lies in the characters themselves. Geralt is a pragmatic man, a mercenary who tries not to get too involved in other people’s trouble.  Ciri is young girl stuggling to cope with a life thrown into chaos when her parents are killed and falls into the care of an unprepared Geralt.  She’s young but shows potential to be a major disruptive force, both magically and politically. 

Blood of Elves has two action scenes in its 400-page run.  Everything else is conversation.  The writing, the characters, and the translation all make it worth while.  This is a deep, complicated world, but its story is told by the individuals and the setting as much as any action that does or doesn’t happen in it.   

Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series was well-established in his native Poland when a Polish video game company created a game to follow up on the novels.  The game’s popularity propelled the series to great heights with 2015’s The Witcher 3, a gaming masterpiece.  But make no mistake, the books came first and deserve their acclaim in their own right. 

Steven McCreedy is a library technician at the Cambie Branch of the Richmond Public Library

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