Title: The Lady of the Lake
Series: # 7 in The Witcher Saga
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Published: 1999 (English translation from 2017)
For more information about The Witcher Series, and my review of previous books, you can find my introductory post HERE.
After walking through the portal in the Tower of Swallows while narrowly escaping death, Ciri finds herself in a completely different world… an Elven world. She is trapped with no way out. Time does not seem to exist and there are no obvious borders or portals to cross back into her homeworld.
But this is Ciri, the child of prophecy, and she will not be defeated. She knows she must escape to finally rejoin the Witcher and his companions – and also to try to conquer her worst nightmare. Leo Bonhart, the man who chased, wounded and tortured Ciri, is still on her trail. And the world is still at war.
The Lady of the Lake, the last book in The Witcher Saga, is a novel focused on concluding this intricate story. It’s one of the things I genuinely love about this series: The End isn’t hastily handled in a few short pages: it’s an entire book. All of the conflicts, schemes, confrontations, battles, and fights that have been plotted and foreshadowed will come to a close.
What’s more, they’re given ample time to run their course satisfyingly. Nothing is rushed, skipped over or quickly “handled” to wrap things up. If there’s a prophecy, you can be damn sure it will be explained, and it will have a purpose. If a fight has been foreshadowed, it will happen. And, if a scheme is set in motion, it will run its course before this book comes to a close.
Because this book essentially is one extended ending, I won’t discuss the plot; doing so would be almost impossible without spoiling at least some parts of the story. Instead, I want to encourage you to read the short stories or to freshen up your memory of them. One in particular.
There are plot twists about to be revealed that are tied directly to the short story, A Matter of Price featured in The Last Wish. You will understand what is happening without having read it, but the twists and revelations will be more impactful if you have.
Speaking of conclusions.
It’s impossible to review The Lady of the Lake without discussing the ending. The internet is filled to the brim with discussions about the end to Geralt and Ciri’s story: an ending much debated. Personally, I don’t understand why.
This world, existing inside an infinite grayscale, will not suddenly become a simplistic black and white just because the end is nigh. It’s not even subtle. If you somehow missed the clues in the previous books, the very first chapter in this one warns us that The Tale of The Witcher Geralt and The Witcher Girl has a sad ending. Personally, I prefer the term ambiguous or perhaps, bittersweet.
In short, just because it isn’t a fairy-tale ending doesn’t mean it’s a bad one.
When the dust settles, there’s still plenty of pages left to tackle the aftermath, wrap up all the political scheming, and show us it’s consequences. Despite not awarding every character a “good” conclusion to their story, it’s still a solid, thoughtful ending that ties up any remaining loose plot threads, giving these characters a solid sendoff.
If any part of this book should be singled out as weak, it’s the beginning; to be precise, the first fifty pages or so.
In The Lady of the Lake Sapkowski reverts to using a frame narrative, something he hasn’t done since the very first book, The Last Wish. This part of the story is set several hundred years in the feature where Geralt, Ciri, and their story have become a myth; a fairy-tale.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t confuse the timeline, and further into the story it’s used quite effectively. But it is expository and slow. Considering how we left Geralt, Ciri, and Yennifer at the end of The Tower of the Swallow, it feels too slow.
This feeling is amplified by how Ciri’s POV is structured. Like in The Tower of the Swallow, Ciri has two POVs, one set in the present time, and one in an undefined future: this time, incorporating the Arthurian Legend into this already complicated world.
All this makes the opening act of this book feel drawn out. It’s like Sapkowski’s trying to prepare us for the emotional carnage he’s about to put us through. While it’s a sweet sentiment, I don’t think it’s necessary.
As for the overall writing, the narrative isn’t difficult, but it is segmented.
With all the twist, turns, scheming, and plots that need to be neatly tied-up, there is a feeling that no one really gets one long, fluid point-of-view. On the other hand, as the conclusion draws near paths begin to converge, and the need for separate points-of-view becomes redundant.
This series has, up to this point, been character-focused, introspective, and dialogue-heavy. In The Lady of the Lake, Sapkowski’s writing becomes quite plot focused. This change gives the reader a birds-eye view of events. Not only in regards to the characters but the world at large.
For example, the big final battle between the Northern Kingdoms and the Empire of Nilfgaard happens without the main characters being anywhere near the action. Instead, this vital part of the plot, the end of the conflict that has been ongoing since the beginning, is told through the perspective of several minor characters we’ve met in previous books.
This does not mean that there is no character focus or introspection. Both Ciri and Geralt get a fair amount, and they will, at last, reach the point they’ve been heading towards all along. This is also true for many of the minor characters like Cahir, Regis, and Triss, who will see their individual journeys come full circle. For better and worse.
The Lady of the Lake is a definite conclusion to a series that’s been consistently fantastic.
That being said, not all of the character’s personal endings are satisfying on an emotional level, but they are consistent with where they’ve been headed throughout the entire story. Sapkowski has been brutally realistic and unsentimental about war, violence, and it’s cost during the whole series. He’s not going to stop now just because it might break our hearts.
As for how this individual book stands against the others in the series, for me, it ranks relatively low. There are some issues with pacing in the beginning, and personally, I would have liked a little more insight into Geralt and Yennefer’s thoughts and feelings.
I’m also a little conflicted about the strong presence of the Arthurian Legend. There have been hints and references earlier in the series, but not so apparent. There is an abundance of Slavic and Nordic folklore and myth in these books, and I love it. They fit, they’re as rugged and brutal as this world. But, everything else is so brutal and non-fairy-tale-like that the parts dealing with the Arthur Legend feel too shiny and out-of-place.
All that being said, this is me being nit-picky.
The things that I love about this book far, far out way the things that bother or annoy me. But, I can’t write about them because it would spoil the book.
In conclusion, seen as an individual novel, The Lady of the Lake is not the strongest book in The Witcher Saga, but it is a well-written and thorough conclusion to this series. As you close the cover you might not feel that warm sense of satisfaction you get from a happily ever after, but you will have experienced a thoughtful and well-executed ending to an incredible story.
And there you have it. On the last day of 2019, I deliver the last review in The Witcher Series.
For those of you now saying, hold up, you haven’t reviewed Season of Storms, that true. However, I don’t consider it to be part of The Witcher Saga. Apart from a few references to the other books, it is completely self-contained. I might review it someday, but I don’t think it’s relevant to this series.