The Wizards Guild has been shattered by a coup and, in the uproar, Geralt was seriously injured. The Witcher is supposed to be a guardian of the innocent, a protector of those in need, a defender against powerful and dangerous monsters that prey on men in dark times.
But now that dark times have fallen upon the world, Geralt is helpless until he has recovered from his injuries. While war rages across all of the lands, the future of magic is under threat and those sorcerers who survive are determined to protect it. It’s an impossible situation in which to find one girl – Ciri, the heiress to the throne of Cintra, has vanished – until a rumour places her in the Nilfgaard court, preparing to marry the Emperor.
Injured or not, Geralt has a rescue mission on his hands.
“The risks, dangers, hardships and constant struggle with doubt must only burden you. For, after all, they are components of the penance, the expiation of guilt you want to earn. A baptism of fire, I’d say. You’ll pass through fire, which burns, but also purges. And you’ll do it alone. For were someone to support you in this, help you, take on even a scrap of that baptism of fire, that pain, that penance, they would, by the same token, impoverish you.” – Regis, Baptism of Fire
Andrzej Sapkowski’s Baptism of Fire is by far one of my favourite fantasy books, not to mention, the Witcher series. Not only does it have a fantastic array of well developed characters, but it starts to reveal racism and prejudices, elitisms, political conquests, and feminism within the world. It briefly nods to the ‘Uncanny Valley Effect’ as well, which I thoroughly enjoy in any concept, but I’ll explain that later.
Interestingly, as I read it this time I had a culmination of images and voices from both the games and tv series going through my head, which I didn’t have happen for the last three. Henry’s Geralt managed to take over for the funny, sarcastic, lighter moments more than CD Projects’, because I think that’s something he surpasses the games in. He communicates Geralts’s humour far better, which is great because Geralt really has his moments of underrated comedic relief. I still see Yen as CD’s, yet Triss is now the Netflix version which was unexpected but welcome in my mind’s eye.
Along with the Witcher’s pov we see a great deal through the eyes of Milva (featured on the cover in all her gloriousness), who, like most female characters in the series, is a strong, independent woman any little girl could look up to. I would really love to see more girls read this series just to read something with realistic portrayals of strong women. There are so many strong female characters that I’m surprised more haven’t picked it up. I’m eternally grateful that Lauren Schmidt Hissrich did. It’s repetitive and tiring when books feature strong women who all fit into this one mold in their appearance and personality (I’m looking at you YA). Whereas, there isn’t that issue with Sapkowski. His female characters all have their unique flaws, unique styles, morals, trials, agendas, political views, capabilities and bad habits. This book oozes so much healthy feminism that when the sorceresses create their women’s only conclave it doesn’t even come across as gynocentric.
I love this book for introducing us to so many of my favourite characters, like Milva, Regis and Zoltan, who all help out Geralt for their own reasons. The character development is strong throughout and (again) realistic for the circumstances and is often done through small details given to us here and there. We see how Ciri has changed without needing to see massive scenes with her; we see Milva’s gradual shift in priorities; Cahir has a bit of an existential crisis, and makes you love him like a stray kitten caught in the rain, all covered in muck, that won’t leave you alone and you’re torn between keeping it and the amount of vet bills and effort it’s going to cost you, but you keep it anyway because you’re not a monster… where was I? Ah, yes. Dandelion stands up to Geralt and makes some practical, reasonable decisions (I know, shocking); Assire and Fringilla wake up to some of Nilfgaard’s oppressiveness; and most impressively Geralt accepts help. The quote provided above is in relation to Geralt’s progression in learning to accept help and the reasons he often denies it. It’s one of my favourite scenes… but then any scene with Regis is my favourite scene if we’re being honest.
Swinging back to the Uncanny Valley Effect, typically associated with science and robotics/artificial intelligence etc., is what they call our emotional response to an object that bears resemblance to a human. The premise is that the more human a thing becomes, the more we tend to like it. However, when that thing becomes too human or almost-but-not-quite human, not only do we no longer like it, but we also fear it. Regis, who is a higher vampire, says that human fear towards vampires is “a result of egotism and a conviction in your own perfection. Anything that is more than you must be a repulsive aberration.” There are other obvious factors that come into play besides this one, but I enjoyed the observation that humans don’t necessarily hate something or fear it because they are given cause to; but because of the uncanny resemblance to humans amidst the differences. The comment is even better because Geralt can relate to observing the uncanny valley effect applied to himself.
If you haven’t read the books, I encourage you to. If you haven’t seen the show, I encourage you to. If you haven’t played the game, I encourage you to. This is one of those series that has maintained the same spirit across each platform thus far and will hopefully continue to do so.
RATING – 5/5 stars
Author – Andrzej Sapkowski
Translated by – David French
Publisher – Orion Publishing Group
ISBN – 978 0 575 09097 2
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