The Lady of the Lake (Andrzej Sapkowski)

The Lady of the Lake is the fifth and final novel in the Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski. I read the English translation by David French (not the playwright).
Finished on: 2.11.2022
[Here are my reviews of the other books.]

Geralt and his traveling companions are still in Toussaint where Dandelion has an affair with the duchess. He doesn’t know where Ciri is, or where Yennefer is, but he suspects that Yennefer betrayed them. Meanwhile, Ciri finds herself in the world of the elves who finally explain to her why she is so very important: she is supposed to have a child with the elf king Auberon. But Ciri is uncertain whether she can trust the elves and their promises of letting her go afterwards.

I have enjoyed the series less and less the longer it lasted and The Lady of the Lake really cannot reverse the trend. It also keeps up the tradition of the other novels in that Sapkowski has found yet another way to piss my feminist self off in this one. Ultimately, I’m kind of glad that the series is over for me (I am still deciding if I want to read the standalone that comes after. It sits in my bookshelf already, so maybe).

The book cover showing the silhouette of a howling wolf's head, inside of which is a tower that is getting hit by lightning.

Let’s start with the easy part: how The Lady of the Lake pissed my feminist sensibilities off in a fresh way. In this one, it is revealed why Ciri is so sought after. I mean, we’ve already heard in the other novels that her genes are superspecial in ye old eugenics-bloodline story that is so very popular in fantasy novels, it is quite disconcerting. But this book takes it one step further. You see, Ciri is not special herself because of that gene, but she can produce the most important and powerful children. A-ha!, my bitter heart cried out after this reveal, now I know why the chosen one in these novels is actually female. It’s because she is the chosen womb and not the chosen one.

But quite apart from this enraging turn of events, the novel didn’t work for me for the most part either. I did like some of the narrative tricks that Sapkowski uses – he is really creative with the way he includes different perspectives on the events, and has been throughout the series. In this case, I particularly liked Nimue and Condwiramurs, and their studies of the legend of Geralt and Ciri. I also enjoyed the time travel and multiverse angle.

Trouble is, the book itself doesn’t seem interested all that much in either Geralt or Ciri or Yennefer. It spends such a long time with other characters, like Jarre, apparently assuming that we would be interested in getting updates on and endings for all of them. And maybe I would have wanted that if I had been more invested in the story, but with me already half checked-out because I found what came before this book so exhausting, I did not give a damn. I wanted to read what happened to the central three, and it feels like the book only spends about a third of its time with them. Additionally, some of the characters that are much closer to the reader – like Regis, Cahir and Milva – get absolutely shit endings that are almost afterthoughts.

Plus, I had long since lost track of the politics of the conflict and all of the players in it, and it didn’t help that Sapkowski often just hints at events (or I wasn’t reading closely enough, a possibility I cannot discard). So a lot of times I was a little confused about what exactly was going on. Like with Auberon, for example. Apparently I was to guess from his behavior that he couldn’t get it up, but to me, he was just behaving strangely.

When we finally get to the dramatic reunion of Yennefer, Geralt and Ciri, and their ending, it’s like the book loses all tension. I got the distinct impression that Sapkowski wanted to have his cake and eat it, too, wanted to give us simultaneously happy and sad endings. What he achieved is confusion and me wondering whether that’s it? That’s what we’ve been fighting for for five novels? (And I am consciously saying we here, because I fought my way through these books just as much as the characters in it.) Are you kidding me?

It’s a disappointing ending to an exhausting series. The best thing about it is that it’s over now.

Summarizing: don’t expect too much.

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