Baptism of Fire is the third novel in the Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski. I read the English translation by David French (not the playwright).
Finished on: 21.7.2022
[Here are my reviews of the other books in the series.]
Content Note: rape, sexualized violence, abortion, ableism
After what happened in Thanedd, Geralt is recovering in Brokilon. As soon as he has been nursed back to health (more or less) by the dryads, he wants to set out again to find Ciri. He keeps having strange dreams about her. Accompanied by Dandelion and guided by the archer Milva, they make their way south towards Nilfgaard where Ciri is supposedly held. The problem is that they are heading directly towards war.
Baptism of Fire feels very much like an in-between-book that treads narrative water as it positions its players. Hopefully that means that we get a bit more action in the next one. Feministically speaking, I can only say that these books constantly find new ways to annoy me.
This novel spends very little time with Ciri, and even less time with Yennefer and the other sorceresses. That means that the only woman in the book who isn’t simply a victim to be rescued by Geralt (or by the dwarves led by Zoltan), is Milva. I really like her, although she is a bit of the stereotypical tomboy, with the usual dynamic of the only woman allowed to play in the men’s club. (Nothing against tomboy, but it is this dynamic that really gets on my nerves.)
Since my expectations regarding the female characters in this series have become smaller and smaller with every novel, I was prepared to be content with that. And then he had to go ahead and make Milva pregnant (with the usual symbol for that with her puking her guts out). And when she asks for an abortion, a council of men comes together (two of which clearly state its her choice, and hers alone, an opinion that is immediately discarded) and Geralt goes to talk her out of it. And of course, she agrees and I just wanted to fucking scream. She then miscarries anyway in the most dramatic fashion, and I can’t wait for the emotional meltdown she will probably have about it in the next book.
There is also a young woman with a learning disability who gets abused (Geralt rescues her, too, of course), and then gets to be an ableist trope when she starts to make prophecies.
Apart from my issues regarding the women in the book, the book didn’t provoke much of a reaction in me. I mean, I quite liked Cahir and I hope that he gets a bit more narrative consideration. And I also liked Regis for the most part. But I missed Ciri and even Yennefer who is really growing on me, despite the narrative role she’s been assigned as the femme fatale. Actually, that’s not entirely fair – she’s growing on me particularly because she is leaving the male-gazey limitation of her introduction behind more and more.
Anyway, I’m in it for the long haul now. But after I’m done with the series, I may just forget everything about it except The Last Wish. We’ll see.
Summarizing: a slow moment in the series, and as usual not unproblematic.