(1994/2008) Andrzej Sapkowski, Gollancz, £12.99, pbk, 315pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08318-9
This book, originally published in 1994, has been translated from Polish. It is set after a hundred years of relative, slightly uneasy, peace between humans, dwarves, gnomes and elves, but now latent racisms surface and they are fighting both each other, and among themselves. Ciri, granddaughter of Queen Calanthe (Lioness of Cintra), has strange powers and a destiny in which there is a prophecy which names her 'the flame with the power to change the world for good or evil'. This 'world' has straightforward magicians/sorcerers and people called 'Witchers'. These are usually humans who have undergone intensive training and who ingest various substances, mutating themselves to hone supernatural skills. However, the process is believed to strip away most emotions and human sensitivities, and they are not generally liked by the rest of the population. The hero, of sorts, in this book is Geralt, the Witcher of Riva, who finds Ciri after she escapes from the ruins of Cintra. She is a traumatised 11-year-old and Geralt takes her to the Witchers' settlement, initially to train her and keep her safe. However, after some time, and with the help of a magician, Triss, who realises that Ciri is special, she needs escorting to a temple to continue her development. Ciri goes into 'trances' and makes garbled prophecies; she has also blocked out her experiences prior to her rescue.
First off, I was considerably miffed to realise that, despite no hints on the cover, this is not a complete story. In fact, who knows how many volumes it may run to, as the publishers disdain to tell us. This is obviously the work of an experienced author and I enjoyed the contemporary-style dialogue and characterisations. The girl is well-written and appealing. However, I had increasing difficulty with the narrative style as the book progressed. At fist it ran in an ordinary chronological and linear way, but started to skip forwards and backwards, with some long 'flashbacks' (for want of a better word). This happened in the middle of a conversation at one point! I am usually quite game for different forms of narrative, but got a bit irritated with this novel. Sometimes it was tricky working out just when things happened, and which bits were concurrent. Around this point I woke up to the fact that the book was not the complete story, and therefore finished up a bit frustrated. I will probably read the rest of the volumes, as and when they appear, and though the story is good, it did not quite 'grab me' fully.
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