This is the first novel in the saga, and Sapkowski swiftly moves from the dynamic but focused short stories to equally dynamic but a lot more developed plot lines. We meet all our main characters again: Geralt, Ciri, Yennefer, and Dandelion. But also a cast of new helpers that bring their own stories into the mix. It is a riveting adventure, but also a tale of war that never ends and politics that makes everything so much more complicated.
As we know from the stories in Sword of Destiny Geralt and Ciri met after the siege of Cintra. To protect her Geralt takes her to Kaer Morhen, the place where he was raised (or created if we account for the mutations). Ciri undergoes training as a witcher, but without undergoing the mutation procedure, called the Trial of the Grasses. She enjoys her training and the company of other witchers. But her behavior is sometimes very unnerving even to them, so they request a sorceress Triss Merigold to join them and help explain Ciri’s attacks.
At the same time, the war with Nilfgaard is now ended, after the Battle of Sodden Hill. Nilfgaard lost, but their power remains largely intact and Cintra is still in their grip. Also, they exert increased economic pressure on the kingdoms of the north, as Nilfgaard’s production and economy are heavily based on slavery. That combined with the constant work of Nilfgaard spies causes growing dissent among the citizens of the north. It doesn’t help that many years of persecutions of other races (elves, dwarfs etc) have caused them to group into armed guerrilla commandos called Scoia’tael (Squirrels). The northern kings consider reigniting the war to regain Cintra, while also fighting in their own backyard with relentless Scoia’tael.
This is where Ciri as the sole rightful heiress of Cintra’s throne becomes pivotal. To add to this she does seem to have elven blood which grants her huge powers but also makes her subject of a long-known prophecy regarding the end of the world. Both sides want to get their hands on her, some to marry her others to kill her. Either way, she is not safe. A sorcerer named Rience also enters the chase too, clearly working for someone more powerful.
The plot is full of twists and turns. The pace is great. We learn a lot more about the background of the political situation and the current balance of power between Nilfgaard, the northern kings and sorcerers. And it is not a stable situation.
The novel gave Sapkowski a lot more space to analyze the bigger picture and delve into topics of racism, politics, economy, but also the overall impact the growing power of the human race exerts over the world. While we breathlessly follow the adventures of Geralt and Ciri, we are also forced to realize their problems are minor in the grand scheme of things, and they are only pawns in the game that is larger than anyone.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and a great transition from short stories to a fully-fledged novel where the plot gains scale and the breathing space it could not before.
Links to previous reviews in the series: