Our journey through the Witcher saga meets a journey in the Witcher saga, in the third full novel (and currently the last one with an official English translation), Baptism of Fire.
If you’re mainly interested in reading the Witcher series for Geralt of Rivia, this might be the novel (excluding the short story collection) you enjoy the most. Where Blood of Elves focused on Ciri and Time of Contempt balanced its story between the major characters, the third Witcher novel centers around Geralt’s search for Ciri, with only a few deviations.
The Time of Contempt left Ciri in a bad situation, and Geralt knows he has to find her before it’s too late. Despite his initial attempts to go alone, he is joined by the ever-amusing bard Dandelion and the fierce archer Milva, along with other companions the pick up along the way.
Character interactions are the strongest part of this book, and that alone is reason enough to recommend it. They’re a weird, dysfunctional band of heroes, almost like a party you’d see in an RPG. Their differences, conflicts, and loyalties are what make the journey so interesting–more so than the plot itself.
To my dismay, Baptism of Fire is more like Blood of Elves in the sense that its plot feels too much like a part of something larger. The journey is the core of the story, and while subplots are resolved, the main plot is left for the next book to complete. While the novel ended with quite a striking scene, it didn’t feel as conclusive as it should have.
It also features some major mood whiplash, as the fairly dark story about war, corrupted innocence, and other grim topics transitions from a serious moral discussion on vampires’ right to exist to… a story that sounded more like it belonged in Discworld than The Witcher. Lines like “I finally began to do absolutely unacceptable things, the kind of things no vampire does. I flew under the influence” left me unsure if it was a parody of vampires, anti-alcohol PSAs, or both.
I mean, what was that scene? Why was it here?! Dandelion’s comic relief fits the universe, but this took the weird fairy tale retellings of The Last Wish and dove even further into the surreal.
With that said, as long as you don’t mind the sense that this is just part of the overarching story (and try not to think too hard about the vampire story), Baptism of Fire is a great dark fantasy book with entertaining characters and some intriguing developments.
So, as a quick recap, we have:
- The Last Wish, a collection of short stories that set up the earlier part of the overarching plot.
- Sword of Destiny (English release forthcoming), the second short story collection which provides key plot points and really gets Ciri’s story going.
- Blood of Elves
- Time of Contempt
- Baptism of Fire
The final two novels are The Swallow’s Tower and Lady of the Lake (as well as a newer book in the universe unconnected to the main saga), currently available in English only as fan translations. I’ll take a look, but the next time I talk to you about the Witcher, it should be about the first video game!
And speaking of video games, stay tuned for my upcoming review of Tales of Symphonia…---
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