Robert Girard | Poland's most beloved fantasy series returns

Robert Girard | Poland's most beloved fantasy series returns

By ROBERT GIRARD

An afternoon thunderstorm rolls overhead as I write this, hammering Champaign-Urbana with relentless rain and the rolling drumbeat of thunder. I can't help but think of how there's no better time to discuss Andrzej Sapkowski's new book, "Season of Storms."

The latest entry to the Witcher series was originally published in Poland in 2013, but first became available to English readers in May 2018. Whether or not you're familiar with Poland's Sapkowski and his internationally acclaimed Witcher series, "Season of Storms" is sure to hook you from its humble beginnings and carry you to its imaginative conclusion.

First, let's back up: Who is Sapkowski? In my opinion, he is a true pioneer spirit, joining the ranks of such authors as Rebecca Skloot and J.K. Rowling by proving you don't need a writing background to tell a convincing and captivating story.

Sapkowski was born in Poland in 1948 and majored in economics. Writing was a side hobby for him until he bounded into instant national acclaim with his first published short story, "Wiedzmin" ("The Witcher").

Since Sapkowski's initial success, the Witcher series has revitalized fantasy with its font of gray moralities, intriguing world building, connections to Slavic and European folklore and cast of memorable, powerful characters. These stories center on the same protagonist you'll follow in "Season of Storms"; his name is Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf.

Geralt is a breath of fresh air in the fantasy genre because he's everything your traditional "heroic journey" protagonist isn't: He's old (about a century due to mutations) and well-informed about the nature of the world he lives in. He's a cynic with a strong code of ethics who often curses himself for diving into chivalrous deeds when the smallfolk suffer. He is intelligent and an expert of his field but wholly imperfect in affairs not his own. Geralt is human and prone to human error. To top it all? He's already known across all of the Northern Realms despite actively avoiding fame and recognition.

Joining Geralt in "Season of Storms" is a colorful cast of characters whose introductions are abrupt, memorable and set the sort of tone the narrative relies on to keep readers hooked. From Dandelion's world-renown and self-idolization to the posh and proper Febus Ravenga, the characters are core to "Season of Storm's" narrative charm.

The narrative feels meandering at times, but it highlights the nature of Geralt's life as a Witcher by doing so. A Witcher is a bounty hunter for monsters, and as such they often roam far and wide. What starts as a simple check-in at the small kingdom of Kerack turns into a robbery, a murder mystery and royal plots of intrigue all wrapped around one tantalizing question: Who stole the Witcher's swords? The colorful contentions of cynicism and optimism, of monsters and humans who act as monsters, of implied guilt and actual guilt, of superstition and science, and many other dualities make "Season of Storms" a fun, provoking read.

Robert Girard is an information assistant at the Urbana Free Library.

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