This post was updated in December 2019.
This post serves as an introduction to my review of The Witcher Saga, meaning the original book series, not the video-games nor the Netflix adaptation.
My intention with this post is to introduce new readers to The Witcher series, tackle common questions, critique, reading order, writing style, etc.
This post is not a review of the series as a whole. Instead, it’s meant as a companion piece to my book reviews. You’ll find links to the reviews at the end of this post.
The Witcher Saga is a fantasy series made up of several short stories and novels written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski.
It was written during the 1990s and translated to English from 2008 and onwards. The series has won several awards both in Poland and internationally and is consistently given high ratings.
According to the author, the story reached its conclusion with the end of “The Saga” (see below). Since then he has revisited the world in one stand-alone novel. Rumor has it he’s working on a new one.
However, those rumors have been floating around for a few years now. What’s more, Sapkowski will release the first novel in a new trilogy in July 2020. So, if those rumors are true, it probably won’t publish any time soon.
Regardless, Spakowski has been adamant that any new books released will be set during the already established timeline, or they’ll follow different characters; he’ll not continue the story beyond the events of the last novel in the series.
THE WITCHER WORLD
The story takes place on the Continent; a world heavily influenced by Eastern European and Scandinavian culture, geography, mythology, and folklore. It was initially inhabited by dwarfs, then came the elves, finally, it was colonized by humans. After a devastating war with the non-humans, they are now the dominant race and an oppressive, racist one at that.
The Continent is technologically and politically (European) medieval. However, like most fantasy worlds there are aspects of this world that are out of place were it to be a historically correct interpretation of a medieval world.
There are several competing fractions, Kingdoms, and Empires all fighting for power. As well as religious sects and sorcerers and sorceresses who are major political players.
Fifteen-hundred years ago a cataclysm called the Conjunction of the Spheres occurred in which several parallel universes collided. This lead to creatures, sentient beings, and monsters being forced from their native world and trapped in this one.
This is a deep and complex world. It’s rich in history, culture, mythology, and folklore and the creatures that come with it. Basilisk, vampires, trolls, dryads, werewolves and all manner of creatures roam the continent. However, in this world, they are part of a mythology that is entirely it’s own.
A Witcher is a monster slayer for hire.
Taken as children, these boys, are put though rigorous training, alchemical treatments, and genetic mutation to become skilled and powerful killers. Their mutations give them superhuman abilities, including increased strength, speed and reflexes, regenerative powers, a prolonged lifespan, resistance to disease, and some magic skills.
However, like most things in this world, power comes with a price. The training and treatments are arduous and dangerous, this leads to only a handful surviving to adulthood.
The Witchers, due to the abundance of monsters, are necessary and highly sought after, but regarded with mistrust and prejudice.
I strongly advise you to approach this series in its chronological order, which is as follows:
Short Story Collections
In these collections, you get an understanding of the world and get to know a few of the recurring and/or central characters. Some events in these short stories will later weave into the following full-length novels. You’ll understand the events better if you’ve read these first.
The Witcher Saga
These five books are full-length novels that together form what is usually referred to as The Witcher Saga; they follow one cohesive story and need to be read in order.
- Season of Storms
I don’t consider this book part of The Witcher Saga. It’s set during the timeline of the first two short story collections, but is entirely self-contained. It was written after the completion of The Witcher Saga. Therefore, it hints at, references and somewhat spoils the end of The Lady of the Lake, so read this one last.
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE READING
The Continent, although a fantasy world, is grounded in European medieval history; it’s countries, cultures, and geography are heavily influenced by the same. Even though the world is filled with magic, monsters, and fantastical creatures, the real conflict stems from human (and non-human) nature and all its flaws.
Geral of Rivia, the “hero” is a world-weary, jaded old cynic. He’s sarcastic, grumpy, rough around the edges and although he has someone he genuinely loves their romance is complicated and Geralt often… interacts with other women.
Likewise, the other characters are deeply flawed.
They make mistakes, betray friends out of self-interest, make some very questionable moral choices, and at times they’re pretty awful; which is the very reason they’re so likable, they’re people, not heroes.
This is not a simple world where things are black or white, good or bad, right or wrong; it’s gray, gritty, and filthy. War is bloody and soldiers rape, murder, and pillage. People get tortured, persecuted and oppressed, and kings will order the execution of an entire village to make a point. Society is feudal, profoundly unjust, racist, and misogynistic.
Only the elite can read, only the rich have a voice, and only women with influence have a choice.
There are many well-written female characters in these books, especially in the full-length novels. However, they’re not flawless people with unbelievable abilities and no unflattering traits.
They can be just as greedy, amoral, and repulsive as the men, and like for men, their actions have consequences. In a game of power, some will win, and some will lose; losing in this world is very unpleasant.
The characters are not diverse in color, but throughout the books, questions about racism, gender equality, and social injustice are not only prevalent but major themes. Sapkowski writes about all forms of discrimination and inequality with a sharp tongue and raw social realism.
In conclusion, if you like your fantasy more fantastical, diverse and shiny, and less heavy on moral grayscales and philosophy this is not a book series for you.
The Witcher books are highly character-driven stories. The plot is important, but it’s slow-moving and not the main focus. The short story collections are told from Geralt’s point of view, but the novels follow multiple POVs.
There are a few major players, but it’s not uncommon for minor characters, previously only mentioned in previous books, to suddenly get a few chapters worth of POV. They can also change unexpectedly with time-jumps happening between them.
It’s also not uncommon for the story to suddenly shift to short interludes, where, for example, a university professor is giving a history lecture or to a speech given by a general preparing for a battle. This is usually used to highlight certain significant events that impact the story but that the major characters are not part of.
This type of expository writing will not appeal to all readers, but if you enjoy getting immersed in a world, it’s very effective.
The stories are filled with history, philosophy, and social commentary that are most often portrayed though lengthy conversations between characters. The writing is wordy, and there is a particular style to Spakowsky use of language that won’t suit everyone; he’s not the type of writer who scales back or trims his dialogue to make it concise and to-the-point.
Simply put, this series can be a challenge even for experienced readers and is not suitable for skim readers.
Unfortunately, for readers outside of Eastern Europe where this series has had a cult following since the 90s’, there’s not much to choose from; you’re limited to paperback and a handful of versions.
I prefer the UK Gollancz editions simply because they don’t use imagery from the video games on the covers.
The US version of these books is published by Orion Publishing Group and is priced similarly to the UK versions. Both the UK and the US editions are priced at roughly 8$ (US), but you can get a box set of the first seven books for around 30$.
The Audiobooks are, as usual, a lot more pricey. I suggest you use a subscription service. I got mine though my Audible membership.
However, the narrator, Peter Kenney, is excellent! He effortlessly switches between several accents, voices, and the made-up languages in the book; he’s tremendously talented. I say this as someone who’s a little bit in love with the voice of Doug Cockle who voiced Geralt in the video games. I never thought I’d take to someone else’s version of Geralt, but I enjoyed this one immensely.
One quick note for people who’s played the video games: they pronounce Dandelions name differently than in the games, initially it really bothered me, but after half a book I didn’t notice it anymore.
ONE LAST THING
It’s now December 31st 2019. I have finished my second read-through of this series and just posted my review of The Lady of the Lake, the final book in The Witcher Saga.
When I began my second read-through of the series, I was prepared to be a little more nit-picky than I was the first time. But, honestly, this series is even better the second time around.
Like many others before me, I found this series, and this world utterly compelling. It’s very complex, and not for everyone. But, if you like your fantasy worlds adult, realistic, sarcastic, and rough around the edges, it’s perfect.