Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Baptism of Fire by: Andrzej Sapkowski translated by: David French

There is something important to be said about writing dramatic fallout in one’s story after various events.  Building up to a tense moment and allowing everything to regroup and react is important, but in The Witcher Andrzej Sapkowski’s third book in the saga proper is dedicated almost entirely to the fallout from The Time of Contempt.  This makes Baptism of Fire an interesting novel as it doesn’t really have its own plot, but just deals with many of the dangling threads left by the destruction of the Chapter and Council and Vilgefortz’s machinations in the previous novel.  Geralt’s largest actions in this book are essentially searching for Ciri (eventually building a company and tagging along with another company) and getting himself knighted so his actual title would be Geralt of Rivia.  This is the first book where we get concrete confirmation that Geralt of Rivia was a title chosen by the witcher when he was young, one that was originally much longer and more pretentious, but shortened after Vesemir mentioned just how silly it sounded.  It’s this small little insight into Geralt’s youth which almost humanizes the rather inhuman character, showing that he initially had an almost smug sense of self-importance.

Baptism of Fire’s character development for Geralt is also interesting as Sapkowski once again reflects on what it means to be a monster and what it means to be evil in this universe.  Cahir aep Caellach is a somewhat minor supporting character who featured in the two previous novels where he was sent by the Nilfgaardian Empire to find Ciri, failed, was imprisoned, and given a second chance.  It is in this novel where he joins Geralt’s company and is spared a painful death due to Geralt’s mercy.  Cahir is a character whom Sapkowski attempts to give some sort of redemption, being forced to see the corruption of the Nilfgaardian Empire and reform his own ways.  The redemption begins here as he did have a large part in the destruction of Cintra and now almost wants to find Ciri in a way to repay his own debt.  It only took him being taken prisoner, tied, gagged, and carried around in a coffin for several days.  Yeah, this book somehow makes something as absurd as that sounds work incredibly well.  There is a large portion of the plot taken up in this village which believes that it is hunted by a vampire, yet as Geralt quickly deduces it is not.  The book is a travel book as Geralt is travelling with Milva (an archer from the previous novel who ended up following Geralt), Dandelion, and the company of dwarf Zoltan Chivay.  Chivay is this odd mixture of comic relief and dead seriousness which works incredibly well with Dandelion’s more permanent position as series comic relief.  His company also works as this ragtag band of humans and non-humans alike attempting to overcome the adversity of Nilfgaard’s invasion.

The most interesting character is Regis (full name Emiel Regis Rohellec Terzieff-Godefroy) who is a high vampire, one that does not need blood to survive and has sworn off consumption of blood.  He is characterized almost as a reformed addict, only becoming addicted due to social pressures of higher vampires believing themselves superior enough to partake in blood.  By every definition of the word, Regis should be considered a monster, yet throughout the book he is constantly showing a sense of nobility.  Regis rescues Geralt and Dandelion from their capture and tends to the wounds of the wounded characters.  Sapkowski uses him to expand on a theme which has often been explored in these types of stories, but adds to it by questioning if Regis can truly be redeemed.  He is not currently a monster, but he was one in the past and there is a question if he can ever truly make up for it.  The road to redemption could be under Regis’ feet, or he could be due for another relapse.  He and Geralt also interact at an interesting level, as Geralt attempts to make him flee (subtly promising that there wouldn’t be a contract for him that anyone could afford to pay).  Yet, he doesn’t stay away for long, coming back due to a sense of morality which binds him to this party.

Outside of this plotline, there is quite a bit happening in the background to build intrigue for future installments.  Ciri’s plotline, while not the most interesting, does further an idea of her losing her morality as she begins to taste killing, living up to the name of Falka given to her by the Rats.  She only appears a few times in the book, with more time spent on the false Ciri whom Emperor Emhyr var Emries planned to marry.  There are a lot of political machinations as var Emries attempts to find the real Ciri one final time as he demands an heir with the Elder Blood.  The political machinations increase with the surviving sorceresses including Yennifer and Triss Merigold setting themselves up as a new order, after the old order’s destruction in The Time of Contempt.  Overall, Baptism of Fire is very much a transitory novel, moving away from the status quo of the first two novels and towards what Sapkowski is attempting in the final two volumes.  Though transitory, it is an incredibly enjoyable through David French’s excellent translation and working as a moment for reflection on the series thus far.  9/10.

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