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The Witcher Books Review (Spoiler Free)

I started reading The Witcher books by Andrzej Sapkowski back in February, and last night I finally finished the last one! Overall I really enjoyed them. Lots of fantasy and adventure, lots of fun twists on traditional fantasy tropes, and absolutely excellent writing. They are definitely more literary than a lot of current genre fantasy, which made me love them even more. The gore is more intense than say Wheel of Time but less frequent than in any of the Game of Thrones books and usually serves a specific purpose so it doesn't feel gratuitous. It is definitely a series for mature readers. I probably wouldn't let my kids read them until they were in their upper teens like 16 or older. (Watch me look back at this review when Jack is 15 and asking to read them LOL.) I'd give these an 9/10 as a whole work and I would definitely reread them. I also hope that they make lots and lots and lots of seasons of the Netflix show so that I can see some of these amazing adventures come to life.

There was a lot of confusion on what order to read them in and what exactly the are, so here is my rundown;

The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny are collections of short stories about Geralt and other characters in the world. The Netflix series first season takes most of it's content from these two books, but there are definitely references and flashbacks from other books in the series, little seeds that I hope are being planted now to be developed in later seasons. What I didn't realize while watching the show is that many of these stories are retellings of classic fairy tale stories...for example, the episode in the show when he fights the striga is a version of "sleeping beauty and the character Renfri is the Witcher's version of Snow White. These stories range from short one-off conversations to full on D&D style encounters. They build up a lot of background for the world without any info dumping at all, and leave it up to the reader to put the pieces together.

The next 5 books consist of The Novels. These tell one continuous story, though at first they are still structured like short stories (each chapter has a beginning, middle, and end), which was disconcerting at first, but they got more novel-like as they went along. This is the main Witcher saga and tells the intertwined stories of Ciri, Yennefer, and Geralt. I wish I had reviewed each book individually as I went along because they are all kind of blending together in my head. The big positives: The writing and the descriptions are amazing. I can't imagine how much better it would be in the original Polish. The humor is surprising and refreshing. I love when stories have a good balance of comedy and tragedy to keep things interesting. And finally, the characters. You really get a deep dive into how they think and feel and change over time. This story does not pull it's punches and I laughed and cried through every book. The negatives: so many characters (mostly sorcerers) who I could NOT remember who was who. I'm bad about that in general when reading fantasy, but this was very difficult. Many characters had more than one name or epithet, and often were featured in asides well before being introduced to a main character, and often had entangled relationships with one another that didn't involve the main characters much at all. I just blew past all that and probably missed some connections and would probably get a lot more if I re-read it. A more detail-oriented reader might either enjoy or get frustrated by all these side characters depending on how good of a memory for names you have. The connections I did realize enhanced the story and felt very poetic. The gore might be a downside for some people as well, but as I mentioned above it was used purposefully for the most part and didn't dominate the books.

The themes in these novels are a bit meta. While the characters are dealing with ideas of destiny and purpose, the larger narrative is exploring history, legends, and mythology. Especially towards the end, the idea of what a story is and who tells it was very important, and the intertwining of Geralt and Ciri's story with the idea of the Arthurian legends was interesting. (There are also a lot of Arthurian references in Wheel of Time. It's a huge influence on many many fantasy authors, including me!)

The last book, Season of Storms, is a (hilarious and bizarre) standalone Witcher novel. It was written last but takes place chronologically before The Novels. However, it is recommended to read last because of some nods and spoilers that refer to the final book in the The Novels, The Lady of the Lake. This felt like the author celebrating having finished The Novels by writing an almost fanfiction-like side story that makes fun of most of the serious themes of the previous books. If you don't read the novels first, you won't really get as many of the jokes.

So that's The Witcher books! I do definitely recommend them if you like the show, or are looking for another solid fantasy series to occupy you. Next on my list: Reread the Dresden Files!