The Bounds of Reason
What better way to kick off this collection than with a dragon hunt?!
Witchers do not hunt dragons. Strange, isn’t it, that these genetically engineered monster-hunters make such a jarring exception when it comes to what the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg calls “the natural, greatest enemies of man.” I found her explanation as to why dragons are so dangerous, quite an intriguing one:
…Only a woman safe and secure behind town walls or in a stronghold can bear children according to the proper rhythm, which means once a year. Fecundity, Dorregaray, is growth, is the condition for survival and domination. And now we come to dragons. Only a dragon, and no other monster, can threaten a town or stronghold. Were dragons not to be wiped out, people would–for their own safety–disperse, instead of cleaving together, because dragon’s fire in a densely populated settlement is a nightmare, means hundreds of victims, and terrible destruction.
Not that this has any effect on Geralt; not that Yennefer expects it to. It’s not for his benefit that she delivers it, for she knows as well as we readers do, Geralt is an obstinate fellow whose moral code is no more changeable than hard earth itself.
There are plenty of other dragon-hunters to be had in this one, some of them valiant, knightly fellows, while others disgusting and downright rapey. Ugh. Beyond these are dozens of pages of conversations about dragons and their role in the struggle between Order and Chaos, which comes across as downright Moorcock-ish once or twice. Overall, this was a strong, enjoyable opening…though perhaps it’s somewhat longer than it needs to be. My score - 4/5 stars.
Oh, and Dandelion was in the story. I’m as surprised as you are.
A Shard of Ice
This one goes in-depth into the relationship between Geralt and Yennefer, between Yennefer and a sorcerous lover she’s had since before the whole genie incident from The Last Wish, and it’s…a study of fate, intertwined; of love and free will; and of the idiocy of witchers and mages alike.
This one is difficult to talk about – what I can say as way of criticism is, I wasn’t quite certain of what Geralt and Yennefer were speaking about at one point or another, and I’m not sure if it’s my own lack of understanding or if the author was trying to create interesting references between the characters which simply fall flat. Again, I felt 3.75/5
Hands down the funniest story of the lot. In a case of stolen identities, mimicked halflings and an economic boom, Geralt is so far out of his comfort zone, it’s ridiculous. He’s just an observer, a visitor in Novigrad, one of the biggest cities in the North. While reading this, I couldn’t help but think, time and again, Gods, it sure would suck to have your identity stolen by a doppler, to only see that doppler do better at all you’ve worked your life towards, in a matter of three days. And that’s much of what the plot is about. But in this case, it’s not about plot as much as interactions, dialogue and showing how being seen as an evil monster does not necessarily correspond to the reality of a creature’s nature.
Seeing Novigrad in written form for the first time was also pretty great, I won’t lie – I’d been looking forward to seeing how it would look outside of the Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. If there’s anything I can say for sure about Eternal Flame, it’s that this is my favourite Witcher feel-good story; with its light mood, and a sense of humour that keeps on giving, this was a great place to switch gears after two emotionally heavy stories, and as a result, it worked out quite well.
Oh, and Dandelion is here. Starving artist and whatnot, wot, wot. 5/5
A Little Sacrifice
This is it. This is The Story. The one that affected me the most, one of the emotionally heaviest tales I’ve read in recent memory, a heart-tearing, gut-wrenching punch in the teeth that left me wiping away a single, manly tear from my eye.
It started off funny – but oh, Andrzej, this is the last time you bamboozle me, I can promise you that. The funny bits have to do with riffing on The Little Mermaid, with a duke and a mermaid obviously in love with one another but neither of them willing to compromise, to make a little sacrifice in order to be with the one they love. It’s all played for laughs until the duke refuses to pay Geralt on grounds of expecting results; results which Geralt has failed to deliver. Penniless, Geralt and Dandelion are forced to move on, despite their empty stomachs. As luck would have it, a rich villager runs across them and recognizes Dandelion and invites him to a wedding. The invitation is accepted, of course, and our Witcher is all too happy to tag along, if it’ll mean a belly filled with food and a night’s rest spent in-doors. In the wedding, the pair of travellers come across Essi.
A newly introduced character, the troubadour Essi, also known as Little Eye, is the catalyst of this story. Her relationship with Geralt is fascinating and not only this but it also kicks open the doors for the witcher to reflect on his relationship with the sorceress Yennefer. To say anymore would be to take away from this excellent story, which hit especially close to home.
This one also shows the depth of Dandelion’s character. Dandelion, to you lot that do not remember wot’s wot, is Geralt’s closest friend and frequent travel companion. This one is the first story I’d recommend to anyone who doubts that the Witcher might not be packing a heavy enough emotional punch. A full 10/10, 5/5, and so on and so forth.
The Sword of Destiny
At long last, we meet Ciri! The Sword of Destiny showed me a side to the Witcher’s world I knew nothing about, a forest filled with dryads, a woodland realm so utterly alien to humans that it gave me some downright Tolkien vibes. I quite liked this one for what it did to build up the roots of the affection between the Witcher and Cirilla, who will grow up to be his adopted daughter. I loved her in Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt but I’ve heard she can get somewhat annoying in a few of the novels; I’m looking forward to seeing if I’ll find her so myself. 4/5
Gods, but this one felt like a drug-induced fever dream! A fragmentary story that begins well enough, this one explores Geralt’s psyche, his conflicted relationship with himself, his coming across a woman I never thought we’d see him meet, some more Yennefer crap and plenty of fallback after the events of The Sword of Destiny. We’re lucky to have the Witcher’s life so close to being snuffed out time and again, else we’d never get any of these stories, I swear – it’s thanks to fever raging throughout Geralt’s body that we relive all these memories alongside him.
It ends on a truly strong note, with an embrace I knew was coming but that made the ending no less special. With an ending such as this, I am looking forward to exploring the first proper Witcher novel, Blood of Elves. My score for this final story is a 4/5.
This has been a solid anthology, filled with:
- excellent dialogue
- some fantastic reflections on love, romance and fate
- and not nearly enough monster hunting.
- But then again, isn't the greatest monster of all the human being?
- Not in a Witcher book, no.
I score this anthology 4/5 on Goodreads, a solid 8 out of 10!