Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski
Minor Spoilers May Follow
My adventure with The Witcher novels continues at a breakneck pace as, like the previous books, I devoured this story in two days. This series has shown moments of utter brilliance but with certain plodding and info-dumping sections, it's never quite ascended to the heights that it truly could have. Until now. So far this is the finest entry and it features everything I love from this series.
Following the finale of Time of Contempt Geralt is badly injured and was transported to Brokilon forest by the enchantress Triss. Under the watchful eyes of the Dryads he is slowly regaining his health. As soon as he feels anywhere near healthy enough he plans to rescue Ciri who everyone believes is in Nilfgaard. The truth is that Ciri has actually taken on the guise of a bandit with the pseudonym Falka operating in a Robin Hood-style posse. She's become quite a celebrity amongst the common folk but her temper and blade-prowess have become legendary in a short space of time.
As well as series favourites Geralt, Ciri and Dandelion we are introduced to a plethora of new characters here that are some of the greatest of Sapkowski's creations thus far. Milva the forest dwelling archer and Regis a barber-surgeon are two of the finest even though those descriptions give nothing away regarding what to expect from them in this narrative.
Unlike the last two books which have had a large amount of different point of view perspectives eighty-percent of this novel is following the Witcher on his mission to rescue Ciri. For the first time in these tales, which normally see Geralt on his own or with one companion completing missions, here, a fellowship/brotherhood is created with a very varied cast of players. Geralt is initially uninclined to let anyone share his burden but comradeship does succeed towards the finale. The conversation and banter between the members of this ensemble is excellently crafted as many of the characters are so different. Although his closest friend, Geralt, and Dandelion could not possibly be any more different and I often chuckled at their oddness reflected in their exchanges.
The other sections that we follow are what is happening to Ciri at the other end of the world. We also see a few scenes from the viewpoint of certain enchantresses who seem to have a scheme under development. A few moments feature Dijkstra who is the head of Redania's secret service.
The war is raging all over the world, mainly Nilgaardians verses everyone else but in politics, things are never that simple, and with all the names of factions, King's and noble houses I still occasionally get confused about who is fighting who, however; that actually suits the vibe in this book. As the fellowship are on their journey they come across many battles, fights, and skirmishes and Sapkowski's skillful writing accentuates the confusion and unpredictability of war but also heightens the fact that the brotherhood are so isolated in trying to achieve their objective.
There are so many standout moments and set-pieces, character development is sublime, and relationships that are frosty at best transcend any predicted outcome as the Brotherhood fight for their life and for Ciri. This series is finally reaching the lofty heights that it has always hinted at and I can't wait to start The Tower of the Swallow straight away. This entry is exceptional and as well as the finest story in The Witcher saga it is also probably in my top-20 books of all time.
‘What a company I ended up with,’ Geralt continued, shaking his head. ‘Brothers in arms! A team of heroes! What have I done to deserve it? A poetaster with a lute. A wild and lippy half-dryad, half-woman. A vampire, who’s about to notch up his fifth century. And a bloody Nilfgaardian who insists he isn’t a Nilfgaardian.’
This Baptism of Fire book review was written by James Tivendale
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