“Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin. And a cold-blooded killer. His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.
A collection of short stories introducing Geralt of Rivia, to be followed by the first novel in the actual series, The Blood of Elves. ”
I first encountered The Witcher back in 2008, with the release of the first videogame. That’s also when I first read The Last Wish, which was one of the few Witcher novels that had been translated at that time. I have a lot of very fond memories of it, and along with other fans hungry for more of Geralt I eagerly lapped up fan translations coming out of Poland (those guys were incredibly generous and welcoming to us new fans and I’ll always be so grateful to that little community). These translations were largely quite good, and it will be very interesting to revisit the novels via the official translations now that the franchise has become so popular. Not to mention the upcoming TV show! It’s a great time to be a fan.
I’m pleased to say that my happy memories of this short story collection hold up – it’s not perfect by any means; the framing story is fairly weak, and it can be a little bit of a mixed bag, but it’s still very enjoyable to dip into. The people who will get the most out of it will likely be familiar with Germanic/Slavic folklore and mythical creatures – some of the shorts rely heavily on revealing which creature Geralt is dealing with, and the foreshadowing may be lost on those who aren’t aware of the surrounding mythology. Fans of fairy tales will recognize some clever interweaving of these traditional stories into Geralt’s journey – I particularly enjoyed one which touched on Hans, my Hedgehog, which was a great favorite of mine when I was little. There are fun subversions and embellishments that suggest the childhood fables that made it to our ears are rather different than the “true story”.
Geralt is a strong and charismatic lead character, weary of the evils of men and monsters and yet compassionate enough that he generally kills only when other options have been exhausted. His moral code is at the center of each story, and he is frequently faced with complex and difficult situations. Witchers are maligned in society – as monster killing mutant mercenaries for hire, they are feared and reviled. But they’re also needed, and the sense of tension between Witchers and humans is very well written and believable. Other main characters who appear in this collection are Dandilion (a foppish, womanizing bard, and an excellent foil for Geralt) and Yennefer of Vengerberg (a haughty sorceress who is having absolutely zero of Geralt’s shit). While the books were mostly written in the 1990s, there’s a definite old-school feel to them that’s reminiscent of sword and sorcery staples such as Conan the Barbarian and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. It’s a fun ride, the world is fascinating and the characters are entertaining. There are tropes that some may find a little eyeroll-inducing, but on the whole I really enjoyed it. I’m very interested to proceed to the longer stories and see how well the official translations work for me versus the fan ones I read a decade ago.
Bingo Squares 2018
- Reviewed on r/Fantasy
- Five Short Stories
- Adapted by Stage, Screen or Game