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Andrzej Sapkowski II

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18 hours ago, AncalagonTheBlack said:

The Last Wish will be published in hardcover with a new cover on November 12 in the US:

https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/andrzej-sapkowski/the-last-wish/9780316497541/

The same edition is out in the UK on the 7th.

That puts the most likely release date for the TV show at November 8th or 15th, which is about when we were expecting. If anything, it might have been earlier but HBO's likely marketing blitz for His Dark Materials probably convinced them to drop back a couple of weeks.

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The Witcher #1: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Geralt is a witcher, a hunter of monsters in return for coin. He wanders the northern kingdoms with a trusty steed (always named Roach) and mingles with everyone from kings and generals to sorcerers and vagabonds. Several times Geralt's path crosses that of the powerful, from saving the daughter of King Foltest of Temeria who has been turned into a monstrous striga to resolving a delicate matter for Queen Calanthe of Cintra. But Geralt's destiny is changed when he demands a strange price from Queen Calanthe and makes the acquaintance of a powerful sorceress, Yennefer.

The Last Wish (1993, a re-edited version of The Witcher, 1990) is the first book in Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher series (which currently runs to eight volumes), although it is not a novel as such. Instead, it is a closely-linked series of short stories, related by Geralt as he recovers from a pitched battle with a striga. The stories work well as stand-alone adventures, but they are also useful in establishing Geralt's character and the tone and nature of the world he inhabits. There is also much scene-setting for the later books featuring the character.

Geralt's world is tough, cold and brutal, drawing more directly on European folklore, fairy tales and mythology than the norm. It's also a world of grudging honour, well-earned fellowship and occasional heroism. Geralt is an entertaining protagonist, being taciturn, cynical and world-weary but also has a wry sense of humour, an enjoyment of good ale and a well-hidden yearning for romance.

The stories themselves vary in tone but the quality is pretty consistent. There's an undercurrent of whimsical humour in the stories that is very reminiscent of Jack Vance. Like Vance, Sapkowski successfully creates a world where his characters feel totally at home. This world is a mix of the traditional Dungeon & Dragons landscape of elves, dwarves and evil wizards, and of darker fairy tales. In this manner the stories' tone and atmosphere is very similar to that of Vance's superb Lyonesse Trilogy, although Sapkowski is not as continuously and unrelentingly funny as Vance; he also lacks Vance's gift for intricate wordplay. That said, when the book is funny it's very funny indeed. The comic highlight comes when Geralt and his sometimes travelling troubadour companion Dandillion are confronted by some kind of bizarre goat-man entity whose preferred method of combat is to pelt attackers with iron balls. Under strict instructions not to kill anything in the area, Geralt has to engage the goat-man in a particularly preposterous wrestling match. Sapkowski also employs Vance's melancholy aspect, such as Geralt's musings on a world where the fantastical is dying and the mundane is taking over.

The translation appears to be adequate, although Polish commentators seem more dubious, and the general feeling is that David French (who translated the later books) does a better job than Danusia Stok (who translates The Last Wish and Blood of Elves, the first and third books in the series). There's occasional awkward moments (the noble Hereward's rank changes from Prince to Duke at random; sometimes words are repeated very close together) but the stories come through feeling very fresh and energetic. Sapkowski is very good at creating interesting, imaginative characters with unusual levels of depth to them, not least Geralt, whom people are consistently underestimating. Early stories feel slightly repetitive, with Geralt unleashing bloody mayhem to win the day, but in the second half of the book there is a shift in tone with Geralt employing more imaginative methods to overcome the obstacles in his path. There is a great deal left unsaid in the stories in the book: we see the start of Geralt's relationship with the sorceress Yennefer but not its later development, and have to put together what happened with the help of Geralt's thought processes in the framing story. This helps make the book more immersive and less reliant on exposition.

The Witcher series also consists of a trilogy of well-regarded and very high-selling video games. Players of the games will appreciate the background to the characters provided here (although Sapkowski does not consider the games to be canon).

The Last Wish (****) is an enjoyable book full of stories both melancholy and comic, establishing a world and cast of characters that is very intriguing. The novel is available now in the UK and USA. A Netflix TV series based on the books is expected to debut in November 2019.

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The Witcher #2: Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Quote

Geralt, the witcher, continues his journey through the Northern Kingdoms. He kills dangerous monsters for coin but also finds his path entwining with that of the mighty, of powerful sorceresses, generals and kings. But his journey is also a circle, leading him back to a promise he exacted six years ago from the Queen of Cintra and a price he demanded, but is no longer sure he wants paid.

Sword of Destiny is the second book in the Witcher series, following on from The Last Wish. Like that book, this is a collection of short stories and novellas linked by Geralt and several other recurring characters, such as the bard Dandelion and the sorceress Yennefer, and also by a thematic element: the growth of Geralt as a character and the realisation that he has a destiny he is unsure he wants fulfilled but may not have any control over.

Several of the stories are concerned with Geralt's relationship with Yennefer, and the fact they love one another but also cannot be together, and how they both handle the issue. "A Shard of Ice" at first appears to be an amusing love triangle story, with Geralt and a sorcerer squaring off over Yennefer's favour, but it soon becomes powerfully bittersweet and even a little tragic. The opening story, "The Bounds of Reason," feels more like a traditional Geralt romp with the witcher called in to help neutralise the threat of a dragon, only to find matters complicated by politics.

"Eternal Flame" may be the most fun story in the collection and sees Geralt visit the great city of Novigrad and have to deal with a doppelganger. A smart and funny story, this is the one that arguably feels the closest to the video games, particularly The Witcher 3, which has a quest which is a direct sequel to this story. "A Little Sacrifice" is a story about mermaids and thwarted romance which takes an interesting turn towards the Lovecraftian and becomes one of the more foreboding stories in the series. "The Sword of Destiny" takes the witcher into Brokilon Forest and a confrontation with his destiny, the child Ciri who will become so important in the remaining books.

Arguably the highlight of the collection is the concluding story, "Something More," a disjointed story which unfolds in different time periods as Geralt recovers from a serious wound. The story jumps back and forth in time, revisits numerous characters, hints at Geralt's parents and history, and introduces the threat of the Empire of Nilfgaard and its first invasion of the Northern Kingdoms. A surprisingly lyrical and effective mood piece, this may be the best narrative Sapkowski has written to date, remarkable for its effectiveness despite its brevity.

The result is an extremely strong collection which develops the characters and world in tandem. There aren't many negatives, except that Sapkowski hails from the "make it up as you go along" school of worldbuilding, so the failure by anyone to mention the Nilfgaardians or their devastating war before the final story feels a bit odd. There are also issues with the translation: David French feels a lot stronger a translator than Danusia Stok (who translated the first and third books in the series), but there's occasional awkward phrasing, such as the use of the word "jacket" rather than a more era-appropriate alternative ("gambeson" seems to be a better choice), although this may also be seen as reflecting Sapkowski's preference for modern terms and language.

This is more than answered by the book's successful exploration of the overall themes of war, loss, romance and hope. Sword of Destiny (****½) is a surprisingly melancholy and thoughtful work which is a very rewarding read, and represents a big improvement over The Last Wish. It is available now in the UK and USA.

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11 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

I think everyone prefers Essi to Yennefer.

I always picture Yennefer as the witch in the adverts for Black Magic chocolates in the mid 1980's.

 

Edited by SeanF

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The Witcher #3: Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Northern Kingdoms are flush from their great victory at Sodden Hill, when they defeated the Empire of Nilfgaard after it had conquered the nation of Cintra. The allied rulers now scheme to liberate Cintra, and to this end attention has fallen on the missing princess of that nation, Ciri. Agents scour the land for Ciri, for purposes noble and nefarious, unaware that she is in safekeeping in the great witcher stronghold of Kaer Morhen, where Geralt the White Wolf attends to her training. The arrival of an old friend, Triss Merigold, spurs Geralt into taking Ciri to another place of safety, but brings him face to face with those searching for her.

Blood of Elves is the third book in the Witcher series (following on from The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny) but also the first full-length novel, the first of five which collectively tell the story of Geralt, Ciri, Yennefer and the destiny of the Northern Kingdoms.

For those used to Sapkowski's tight and economical writing in the two story collections, Blood of Elves is something of a surprise. The novel sprawls almost indulgently, with much of the book being taken up by conversations, a lot of which consist of rather unsubtle exposition about the state of the world and politics. This stuff is interesting but overdone. The storyline itself should have a lot more tension, as Geralt takes Ciri from one potential refuge to another, staying ahead of pursuit, but the lengthy infodumping tends to dissipate the effect.

The book does come alive in its latter part, as Geralt does some traditional Witcher stuff (fighting off a sea monster, getting embroiled in intrigue with Dandilion and some sorcerers, fighting off assassins on the streets of Oxenfurt), and it's fun to meet a bunch of important new characters, such as Triss, Vesemir, Dijkstra,  and Lambert. Players of the Witcher video games will particularly find a lot of things to enjoy here, as The Witcher 3 in particular has a lot of callbacks and nods towards this book.

The book's key weakness is that not a huge amount happens: it's mostly set-up. Well-written, enjoyable set-up, but nevertheless an extended prologue for a much longer narrative. It does feel like it might have been better to combine this book with the following one, Time of Contempt, to create a more complete narrative. As it stands, Blood of Elves whets the appetite but cannot satisfy it on its own.

Blood of Elves (***½) is a solid instalment of the Witcher series, but is not as tight and varied as the two story collections. It does leave the reader keen to read on, but it feels a bit too slight in itself. It is available now in the UK and USA.

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The Witcher #4: Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski

A new war is threatening to erupt between the Northern Kingdoms and the Empire of Nilfgaard. Sorcerers are gathering on the island of Thanedd to decide on their position. A young woman guarding a power she cannot control is in the care of a sorceress, whilst the Witcher, Geralt, is fighting off threats to her life. These are perilous times for the Continent.

Time of Contempt is the fourth book (and second full-length novel) in the Witcher series by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Following directly on from the events of Blood of Elves, the novel follows several storylines in close parallel. Numerous factions are still trying to capture or kill Ciri, the princess and only heir of fallen Cintra. Ciri is in the protection of the sorceress Yennefer, who is also trying to navigate the perils of both international and sorcerous politics. The situation also draws in Geralt, who has been trying to protect Ciri from afar, and puts all three of our protagonists in jeopardy when all-out chaos erupts.

Time of Contempt is an improvement over Blood of Elves, which felt like a very long prologue for the rest of the story. That story really gets underway in Time of Contempt, which mixes character development (particularly Ciri becoming less impetuous), international politics, war and action. If Blood of Elves didn't feel complete as a novel, Time of Contempt is more successful in that area, with a distinct battery of storylines and subplots which further the overall narrative.

There are some issues. In order for the chaos at Thanedd to really land, the reader should already be familiar with many of the wizards involved from their (oft-brief) appearances in the opening two short stories collections, The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny. In fact, several more events during the story only really landed with the appropriate emotional weight because I was familiar with the characters from their chronologically later appearances in The Witcher 3 video game. In the absence of that familiarity, I think the events of this storyline might be much less effective.

Once the book straightens itself out it does get more compelling, and the concluding section which is effectively a solo adventure for Ciri as she crosses a desert and finds a new band of companions feels like the opening of a bold new storyline for her, one that is cut short by the novel not so much concluding in a thematic or dramatically appropriate way, but just ending as if Sapkowski was working to a strict page count deadline. The storyline continues fairly directly into Baptism of Fire.

Time of Contempt (****) is an improvement over the previous Witcher novel and features some very good plot and character development. If it has a weakness, it's that it feels a bit too short and in fact I think the series may have benefited from being released as four fat omnibuses rather than eight shorter novels. Nevertheless, it is another solid installment in the series. It is available now in the UK and USA.

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