You’ve watched The Witcher on Netflix. You’ve played The Witcher games. Now stop stalling and read the damn books.
Listen, I’ll admit it: I can be a bit of a snob.
A few months ago, I had never heard of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher novels. I had vaguely heard of something called “Witcher 3,” which I assumed correctly was a video game.
I very incorrectly assumed that The Witcher series that came to Netflix was an adaptation of the game, until it became popular enough that the existence of the books finally slipped through my bubble.
I watched the show, enjoying it in a popcorn-pleasure kind of way. I still had no intention of reading the source material, much less learning how to spell Andrzej Sapkowski. After all, I (snobbishly and incorrectly) reasoned, if they were really good, they would surely already be wildly popular in the US of A.
As it turns out, I’m not just a bit of a snob, I can be a bit of an idiot. At the urging of friends, I reluctantly tossed a few Audible credits to The Witcher… and wound up on a breakneck journey through a series as delightful, intense, irreverent, and compelling as any I’ve ever read.
The Witcher books slap, guys. They slap hard.
And now, having been so thoroughly converted myself, I am turning proselyte: You gotta read The Witcher books, guys. Seriously. Right now.
4 reasons why you absolutely have to read ‘The Witcher’ books
It’s the fantasy you love with a tone you won’t expect
Andrezj Sapkowski’s approach to epic fantasy isn’t what you might expect from a swords-and-sorcery tale of monsters, monarchs, and war. While The Witcher universe can at times rival Game of Thrones for bleakness and violence, the overall tone of the story is surprisingly lighthearted.
Take Geralt of Rivia. Our romantic hero may be a super-badass, but he’s also hilariously socially awkward. The quirks of his profession allow him to brood on the monstrousness of humanity, as you might expect — but also to find unexpected and delightful connections with some of those very same monsters.
In The Witcher, characters crack jokes, not to alleviate the darkness, but because sometimes life is just genuinely funny. They take breaks from battle and travel to cook dinner, and bicker blithely about the best way to make stew.
Don’t get me wrong, The Witcher deals often with profound subjects, and occasionally debates issues like ethics, morality, prejudice, and autonomy at great length.
But ultimately, this is a story that uses fantasy to affirm mundane life, and celebrate the little, joyful things that make us human.
The characters are incredible
The first season of The Witcher series on Netflix did an admirable job of dimensionalizing the story’s central characters, who admittedly do begin their journeys from fairly trope-tastic launching points. But if you want to fast-forward on the heart, humor, and pathos that powers Sapkowski’s characters, you should turn to the books immediately.
There, you’ll find a Geralt equally as willing to slay a kikimora as he is to sing negotiations to a mermaid; a Geralt as capable of coldblooded killing as he is intense, overwhelming love and protectiveness. You’ll find Yennefer, not just an incredibly talented sorceress but a canny commentator on her world’s injustices, equally willing to manipulate as she is to defend and sacrifice profoundly for what she loves.
You’ll find Ciri blossoming from a precocious child into a sober, self-possessed young woman through a gauntlet of trials that would phase even Arya Stark.
And believe me, Sapkowski’s work with Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri is just the beginning of The Witcher books’ roster of knotty, delightful characters, many of whom haven’t yet appeared on the Netflix adaptation. Devious sorcerers, ambiguous emperors, paternal Witchers, and crews of delightfully unlikely companions abound throughout the series, creating an incredible cast that you’ll love… and sometimes, love to hate.
It’s all about the relationships
It’s not as though The Witcher books didn’t have plenty to offer to begin with, but Sapkowski’s flair for relationships is really what moves the series from the “recommended” to the “must read” category.
Obviously, I have to give particular attention to the romantic relationship between Geralt and Yennefer. As a general rule, romance isn’t my thing, but the bond between the Witcher and the sorceress is almost maddeningly shippable.
Geralt and Yennefer approach each other like equals, simultaneously deeply in love and also busy with their own very important lives. It’s passionate and tempestuous, but somehow also refreshingly mature, the depths of their feelings acknowledged even if they aren’t always bowed to.
But romance is only one of the relationship dynamics at which Sapkowksi excels. Enduring and unlikely friendships populate the series, chosen, complicated bonds between individuals of different races and nationalities, and even species that eventually engender powerful loyalty and heartbreaking sacrifice.
(And yes, Dandelion — Jaskier in the Netflix series — is a crucial player in many of these relationships.) There are also relationships of necessity, the intense connection between brilliantly scheming sorceresses, between Ciri and the friends and foes that populate her harrowing journey.
Above all though, it is the bonds of family that make The Witcher as brilliantly bittersweet as it is. Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri function as a seamless, loving unit, as natural and profound as any bonds of blood. If the Netflix series gave you a taste for this unlikely exercise in parenthood, the novels are positively clamoring for your attention; this family is as intense and earnest — and as fallow a field for incredible drama — as any in fiction.
Laughter! Tears! Shocking twists!
Finally, you have to read The Witcher books because they are rife with all of the elements that make you love fiction, and especially fantasy, in the first place.
The books are as deviously, light-heartedly funny as they are eventually profoundly emotional, and at points deeply tragic. Gasp-worthy character decisions culminate in shocking, protracted revelations that will change the way you view everything that came before.
In a word, The Witcher delivers. If you want an epic romance, it’s got one. If you want a merry fellowship on a worthy quest, it’s got that too. If you want intricate battles, subtle politics, cathartic meetings, and recipes for both soup and toxically magical concoctions — yep, The Witcher has got ‘em.
With respect to the long-time international fan community, the US, at least, has been sleeping on The Witcher for way too long. It’s time to catch up — you won’t regret it.