Ducking back in from my batshit life for a brief book rec.
I really, really loved this book. Also, whoever is responsible for the portrayal of Triss in the first game should be slapped.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. For me, the book had two problems.
The first was the conflation of beauty and female power. I don’t think this was malicious in intent — I actually think Sapkowski was trying to be progressive, but I felt it was a bit tone-deaf to talk about how makeup = confidence, since historically beauty standards, which we use makeup to enforce, are actually aimed at tearing women down and marginalizing women who look a certain way. This issue actually stood out more to me because the rest of the book was pretty amazing about women. (Though — the whole weirdness of BUT CIRI IS A GIIIIRL with the witchers struck me as odd. If the witcher transformation has such an abysmal success rate, and also the world is totally used to power women like Triss and Yennefer, why filter out 50% of the potential witchers by refusing girls? It reminded me of Trails in the Sky, where the bizarre insistence that it was weird to see powerful women despite them being everywhere made the setting feel incongruous with itself.)
The second issue is that Geralt is a massive sue. I don’t much mind since he’s likable and he actually doesn’t, like most sues, warp the world around himself, but the way Triss throws herself at him is a little much, and then the weird implication that Ciri is in love with him too is just comical. Plus also he’s the Most Badass to Ever Badass.
Plus, I like Geralt and Yennefer as a couple. Their love-hate is awesome and I want it to go on forever.
The weird part about it is that he actually doesn’t matter much to the story besides being the person who knows everyone who actually matters. He brings together Ciri, Triss and Yennefer so that they can plot, and the book even comes down on him for his own passivity in the face of their world’s conflicts. (I really liked that theme, by the by — that staying “impartial” in the face of evil is its own kind of evil . The scene where Ciri freaks out at him is really good.) But anyway, yeah, he doesn’t matter much and then BADASS ACTION SCENE SUPER SEXY BADASS and then he goes back to not mattered until next time.
But yeah, those are the sum total of my complaints. The books major themes of racism, impartiality, just war and such were are tackled really deftly, and Sapkowski has a really nice style that’s thick but easy to read. I particularly loved the scene where Yennefer chewed out the men for being whiny babies about Ciri getting her period; it was brilliant and it almost read as meta, as the author chewing out other writers who prefer to gloss over that kind of thing.
What else? The scene with the dwarf brothers was heartbreaking. The use of magic and manifestation of Ciri’s powers was really unique and well-done, I loved the actual descriptions of using and learning magic that are so rare to get in fantasy stories for some reason. Phillipa’s whole arc was one of those great things where I saw it coming but totally understood why the characters didn’t. I liked the focus on political intrigue. I liked that the book was realistic without being grimdark, that it stilled allowed for good as well as evil.
I wish I had more to say! I would totally rec this series to anyone who likes high fantasy but wants something fresh, though I’d recommend starting with the short story anthology as it serves as the backstory for the major relationships in this book.
The series makes me want to play the games, so I think I might go back and finish up the first one, especially since 3 was supposed to be an incredible wRPG. Plus, Yennfer’s character art is fucking awesome:
And look at Ciri! I want to be her.
Clearly a lot of my complaints about the first game are addressed and with elan.