Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: August 12 to 20, 2016
Recommended by: Milda
A fast fairytale-filled book of short stories that’s just right for anyone looking for subversive retellings with a wry humorous undertone. A big thanks to Milda for the rec.
Last summer, I had an odd, several-month long fairytale craving and just had to read my fill. The odd thing about it was I was specifically looking for Beauty & the Beast retellings, which led me to that boring Court of Thorns and Roses thing. Fortunately, I branched out after that and found Beauty by Robin McKinley, which was a nice pleasant read and a throwback to the days when I used to read Robin McKinley for fun–Beauty & the Beast retellings are Ms. McKinley’s specialty; then there was Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, which was another pleasant read and a huge surprise because it’s got the same look and feel and marketing as ACoTaR but the writing was so much better; and finally Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier which was so lovely and amazing and easily the best of the bunch.
In the midst of that fairytale-filled summer, there was this Witcher book that a friend recommended. Fun fact: it’s actually the inspiration for the video games, not the other way around. I didn’t know that at the start, so I think I went in expecting something similar to Assassin’s Greed but with magic and magical creatures, and that’s basically what it is. But to my surprise, there was a lot of depth to the world and characters and an assortment of mythological and fairytale creatures, and the writing was good. I’m not a fan of short stories, unless they’re part of a series I’m currently following, but I enjoyed these short episodic adventures of the Witcher’s and found that they work really well for this particular character and the life he’s led.
A witcher is a magically trained and transformed exterminator of the supernaturally wicked. He travels alone from town to town getting rid of monsters, many of which are straight from fairytales and folklore. But the world is a different place now than it once was in the time of previous witchers, and these “monsters” are no longer a threat to everyday life like they once were, some of them even live among people.
Geralt is a witcher going through an existential crisis because he is one of the last of his kind in a world that no longer needs his expertise or services. We follow him through six stories in which he has to face down and defeat something supernatural, as well as confront himself and his dwindling place in the world. Each monster makes him question the purpose of his job and life. Sounds like a downer, but it’s not. It’s a fast, adventurous read, interspersed by unsettling bouts of an existential crisis, but you know, minor details.
I don’t remember what I expected–Assassin’s Creed with magic maybe–but I know I didn’t expect the writing to have any depth or to be a lot of fun, while at the same time quietly poignant. Existential crises in a high fantasy setting can
ruin everything run the risk of being too maudlin or comical or both. It wasn’t the case here. I found both the short stories and Geralt to be engaging and strangely realistic, within the context of his world but also outside of it. There’s something about him that rings true.
“I manage because I have to. Because I’ve no other way out. Because I’ve overcome the vanity and pride of being different, I’ve understood that they are a pitiful defense against being different. Because I’ve understood that the sun shines differently when something changes.”
“Justice will be done!”
“I shit on justice!” yelled the mayor, not caring if there were any voters under the window.
“The demand for poetry and the sound of lute strings will never decline. It’s worse with your trade. You witchers, after all, deprive yourselves of work, slowly but surely. The better and the more conscientiously you work, the less work there is for you. After all, your goal is a world without monsters, a world which is peaceful and safe. A world where witchers are unnecessary. A paradox, isn’t it?”
Like Geralt, I too had to spend a lot of time questioning my job and purpose in life and whatnot, etc etc. So I empathize with him on many levels. And if I had to kill monsters to make ends meet but the rest of the world no longer needed to have that done, then I’d probably empathize more.