The OF Blog: Andrzej Sapkowski, Baptism of Fire (Bautismo de fuego)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Andrzej Sapkowski, Baptism of Fire (Bautismo de fuego)

Entonces le dijo la profetisa al brujo: "Este consejo te doy: ponte botas de yerro, toma en la mano un bastón de yerro. Ve con tus botas de yerro hasta el fin del mundo y por el camino agita el bastón y riega todo con lágrimas. Ve a través de la agua y el fuego, no te detengas ni mires a tu alredor. Y cuando las almadreñas se te desgasten, cuando el bastón de yerro se deshaga, cuando el viento y el calor te sequen los ojos de tal forma que de ellos ni una lágrima acierte a escapar, entonces, en el fin del mundo, hallarás lo que buscas y lo que amas. Pudiera ser”.

Y el brujo cruzó la agua y el fuego, sin mirar a su alrededor. Pero no se puso botas de yerro ni tomó bastón. Sólo llevó su espada de brujo. No escuchó las palabras de la profetisa. Y bien que hizo, porque era una mala profetisa. (p.7)

Then the prophetess said to the Witcher:  "This counsel I give you:  put on boots of sin, take in hand a cane of sin.   See with your boots of sin until the end of the world and through the road the cane shakes and waters everything with tears.  See through the water and the fire, that you do not detain yourself nor look around you.  And when the clogs are worn away from you, when cane of sin is unmade, when the wind and the heat dry your eyes to such a form that from them not a happenstance tear escapes, then, at the end of the world, you will find what you look for and what you love. It could be.”

And the Witcher crossed the water and the fire, without looking around him.  But he did not put on boots of sin nor take a cane.  He only brought his Witcher's sword.  He didn't listen to the words of the prophetess.  And he did well, because she was a bad prophetess.
Andrzej Sapkowski's third novel (and fifth overall book) in the Witcher series, Baptism of Fire, perhaps is simultaneously the most bleak of the novels in this series and one that is full of those small moments that manage to redeem the despair and destruction that rages throughout its 256 pages.  Each of the main characters (Geralt, Yennefer, Ciri) endure their own "baptisms of fire" after each have been separated by the events at the end of the previous novel.  Ciri, transported within the southern realm of Nilfgaard, has fallen in with a group of rebels and killers known as the Rats.  Thinking that Geralt and Yennefer are dead at the hands of the coup that took place in the previous novel, she has resigned herself to a life of attacks and murders, a task she finds she enjoys all too well.  While Yennefer is preoccupied with quelling the mess caused by the sorcerous uprising, Geralt recovers in the woods of Brokilon from the wounds he suffered in the fighting at Thanedd Island.  There he encounters remnants of the Squirrels, as well as a sylvan guide and a doctor who is much more than what he appears to his patients.  It is in these crucibles that Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri discover some important answers to questions they had not even thought to pose to themselves before the Second Nilfgaarden War began.

Although the above paragraph perhaps gives more "spoilers" than I am usually inclined to give, it is necessary in this case to outline for English-language readers just what is transpiring in this multi-volume series that is slowly being translated into English.  Sapkowski in this series and especially here in the middle book of the five-novel series (and seven volume overall series set in the Witcher universe) takes great pains to reveal the consequences of death, destruction, and despite.  Due to the pride, arrogance, and machinations from multiple sides (there are no true "black" nor "white" characters here; each has their own good and bad qualities, similar to most any nations at war), cities are burning and whole populaces are being massacred to assuage the feelings of disgust and xenophobia between Men, Dwarves, and Elves.  Sapkowski reveals this mostly through his dialogues, which (at least in the Spanish translation; the English translation of the first two books left me feeling cold) contain a wealth of humor, sarcasm, concern, fear, and loathing all bound up in ways that are easily related to audiences of various languages.  

Sapkowski eschews simple characterizations.  Geralt, whom some might see as being a sort of Elric-like character with his white hair and wolfish nom-de-guerre, serves here (as well as elsewhere in the series) more as a facilitator of understanding and concord than he does as a violent solver of problems.  One highlight of this book (and in the entire series as a whole) is his interaction with Regis, whose very nature one might presume would induce the Witcher to slay him.  It is in their conversations on matters great and small where Sapkowski explores issues that might seem at first ancillary to readers but which later on in the series bears unexpected fruit.  Sapkowski is rarely heavy-handed in these discourses; their "naturalness" adds much to the Sword and Sorcery-style environs, creating an atmosphere that feels more "realistic" because the characters that do appear within are realistic, dynamic characters who have defined motives but yet aren't so rigidly constructed as to seem to be little more than pawns in the author's larger narrative game.

For those readers who enjoy quick, surprising plot developments, Baptism of Fire contains that as well.  Sapkowski covers battles and pogroms in the space of a few pages, while the consequences of these actions are often seen through the eyes of his protagonists.  Perhaps some might find themselves wanting to learn more about this battle or why this group decided to take a particular course of action over another, but for the most part, the scenes are fleshed out without feeling as though they were full of bloat.  The prose, at least in the Spanish translation done by José María Faraldo, flows at a quick clip, but yet never feels rushed or underdeveloped.  The characterizations, as I noted above, are developed primarily through interactions with other characters; there are relatively few internal monologues.  The overall effect is that of a fast-paced, meaningful sprint that covers a lot of narrative ground in a short amount of time.  Baptism of Fire is certainly a good middle volume in a secondary-world series that has become one of my all-time favorites to read. 

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