The OF Blog: Andrzej Sapkowski, The Lady of the Lake (La dama del lago, vol. 1 & 2)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Andrzej Sapkowski, The Lady of the Lake (La dama del lago, vol. 1 & 2)

Pasaron junto a un estanque vacío y triste.  Una carpa viejísima, traida por el emperador Torres, había muerto dos días antes.  Habrá que soltar un nuevo ejemplar, joven, fuerte y hermoso, de carpa espejo, pensó Emhyr var Emreis, mandaré que le prendan una medalla con mi retrato y con la fecha.  Vaesse deireadh aep eigean.  Algo ha terminado, algo comienza.  Es una nueva era.  Nuevos tiempos.  Una nueva vida.  Que haya también una carpa nueva, joder. (vol. II, p. 127)

 They passed next to an empty and sad pool.  An old carp, brought by the emperor Torres, had died two days before.  Will have to release a new one, young, strong and handsome, a mirror carp, thought Emhyr var Emreis, I will order that they strike a coin with my portrait and with the date.  Vaesse deireadh aep eigean.  Something has ended, something begins.  It is a new era.  New times.  A new life.  That there is also a new carp, fuck.

In my relatively limited experiences with completed multi-volume (particularly those stretching longer than 2000 pages or three volumes), too often the conclusion fails to realize the promises of its beginning.  Tales become bogged down with subplots; characterizations devolve into clichéd archetypes devoid of import; the prose becomes weaker and weaker with each passing page.  In many cases, the concluding volume is something endured rather than something to be celebrated.

Yet sometimes there are series that do reward a reader's faith in a satisfying denouement.  These fortunate few often redeem any misgivings the reader might have had earlier in the series regarding the author's ability to tie together disparate subplots, characters, and themes into something that makes the hours worthwhile that the reader has poured into digesting the story.  Andrzej Sapkowski's seventh (eighth in Spanish, since the concluding volume was divided in twain) Witcher book, The Lady of the Lake (read in Spanish translation as La dama del lago, vols. 1 & 2) is perhaps the best book in the series after the two introductory volumes of short stories, The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny.  It not only ties together the strands related to Geralt and Yennefer's search for Ciri (and Ciri's fate after her disappearance through the portal at the Swallow's Tower), but also the "background" events (such as the war with Nilfgaard, the guerrilla warfare waged by the Squirrels, the Lodge of the Sorceresses, etc.) are also resolved in neat and yet at times surprising fashions.

The story begins not with a direct resumption of the events of The Swallow's Tower, but with certain Arthurian characters seeking to know events of "the distant past" which involve Ciri, Geralt, and Yennefer.  Earlier in the series, there had been references to the Matter of Britain, often as clever asides uttered by the characters, but here is an interesting frame story introduced here late in the series that recasts those events.  Early on in the book, the jumping from the "literary present" to this framing tale was a bit odd, almost threatening to disjoint the narrative, yet by story's end, it works in a fashion that would be nigh impossible to describe without laying out the full course of events.

Speaking of events, they unfold at a brisk pace, particularly in the second half, where long-awaited confrontations, some of which date back to very early in the series, occur.  Not all of these, however, unfold in a fashion that those who expect long, drawn-out "fight scenes" might desire.  Sapkowski's characters do fight, but fighting has never been the point of the Witcher stories, and there are often clever asides that adapt 1960s-style anti-war slogans to suit the saga (one such example, has protesters holding up a sign that says, "Make love, not war," while another sign plays off of that (the wordplay revolving around "hacer/haz" does not translate into English) with a "take (make in the Spanish) a shit each day/").

Another interesting departure from the expected epic crescendo of rising violence is that as the novel progresses, the action begins to shrink from the panoramic scope of multi-character struggles against those seeking to capture/kill/exploit Ciri/the northern kingdoms toward a smaller, more personal recounting of events.  By the final two chapters, the story in feel and focus resembles much more the early short stories than anything larger-scale.  This may not suit some readers, yet it fits perfectly with the themes that Sapkowski has explored throughout the series, in particular that of how fear and distrust can drive animosities to the point of senseless and horrific violence.  The ambiguous conclusion serves to drive this point home in a suitable and well-devised fashion.  The "coda," included in the Spanish edition (and also found in the collection Road Without Return/The Road of No Return (Camino sin retorno), "Something ends, something begins," is not exactly "canon" with the saga, yet it too provides an interesting interpretation of the characters' futures, albeit one that clashes with how the novel (and series) concludes.

There are few, minor flaws in the story.  As noted above, the framing tale took some times getting used to, as it felt at first like an unnecessary intrusion.  In addition, there were a few moments leading up to the penultimate conclusion that felt a bit underdeveloped, but these did not detract from my enjoyment of the book.  The Lady of the Lake fulfills the promise of the earlier volumes, not just in its plot or characterizations, but in how it further develops themes introduced earlier.  It is not a perfect series, but it certainly is one of the best epic fantasy conclusions that I have read.  It is a series that I will likely re-read again multiple times in the future, something that I rarely say about that particular literary subgenre.


3CityApache said...


Larry, and wasn't you disappointed like Hell that AS slaughtered almost literally all Witcher team (including Regis! How could he kill Regis)? ;)
On the Polish forum there was an ongoing discussion whether they (I mean Geralt and Yennefer) were alive or not at the end. Which side are you on? :D

And you didn't mention The Battle of Brenna in your review - does that mean you didn't like it or just found it not that important? Cos' it was the best battle scene I've ever read till very recently (now it is a battle scene from the latest Robert Wegner book).


Larry Nolen said...

I didn't mention those events simply because I'm reviewing it with Anglo-American readers in mind (thus, the relative lack of specific details compared to most of my reviews). Now as for what you said:

No, I wasn't disappointed, because I got the sense early on in the series that the ending would be close in some aspects to the final battle between Arthur and Mordred in Malory (and I believe Sapkowski quotes from La Morte d'Arthur at the beginning of Ch. 1). That being said, their deaths meant something because of how they were developed in Baptism of Fire and The Swallow's Tower.

As for whether or not they are alive or not, I think Ciri's tears as she recounts the tale gives a hint, but it too is meant to parallel Arthur's end, at least in that respect.

As for the Battle, I didn't mention it because my review focus was more on general impressions directed toward an audience that may not be able to read the books for 4-5 years more or longer. It was nicely-done, as such things go, but I'm not a "battle" type of reader (my paraphrasing of the quote about the make love, not war is related to my relative lack of interest in violent scenes), so it didn't have high priority for me as a reader (or reviewer).

3CityApache said...


Right, I was expecting such an ending as well, but it didn't change the fact that it did disappoint me anyway.

As to whether or not they are alive, I agree. But supporters of the other option point out, that Geralt had a bandage on in that boat. What for, then? ;)

By the way, one of my doubts about the ending was both Vilgefortz and Bonhart. I felt their actions were too much of a cliche of a typical villain. I was kinda hoping AS would deconstruct the obvious scheme.

By the way, as to the Hussits trilogy, I'm afraid the final book, Lux Perpetua, is definitely the poorest one. :(

And you really don't want to read AS's latest book - Viper. You just don't, believe me.

Larry Nolen said...

Well, like I said in the review, the ending is purposely ambiguous and I like it as such. As for Vilgefortz and Bonhart, I wasn't disappointed in their characters, perhaps because even in a nuanced, sometimes satirical story, there can still be a perceived need for "evil" characters.

As for Lux Perpetua, I guess I'll find out for myself in the next 2-3 years (or whenever the Spanish translation is released, since my German is too poor for reading novels unaided these days and my knowledge of Polish is near non-existent). Viper's premise does intrigue me, even though I've heard others say similar things about its quality. Also would like it if more stories, besides the titular "The Malady," would be translated from the recent Maladie collection, as I've enjoyed his short stories a lot.

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