The Lady of the Lake (English translation, 2017) is the final (maybe) WITCHER novel by Andrzej Sapkowski. Don’t bother to start it until you’ve read the previous novels. I’ll assume you’re caught up with the series, so this review will have mild spoilers for the previous books.
The story starts where the last one, The Tower of Swallows, left off. Ciri has disappeared into the Tower of Swallows, Yennefer has been captured by Vilgefortz and is being tortured, and Geralt has no idea if Yennefer and Ciri are still alive. He is wasting his time fighting monsters in a sleepy town that seems to have cast a spell over him. Meanwhile the war between the elves and humans rages on. The Emperor of Nilfgaard is still hunting Ciri; for some reason (which we will learn about at the end of The Lady of the Lake) he realizes that the girl who’s been brought to him is a fake and he is determined to find and marry the real Ciri.
As I keep mentioning in my reviews of the WITCHER series, Sapkowski is always experimenting with his narrative techniques and I admire that. He uses several storytelling methods in The Lady of the Lake, some more successful than others. The nonlinear plot jumps around all over the place and it contains two frame stories plus multiple parallel storylines that take place at different times and include flashbacks and flashforwards. The flashbacks are brilliantly used to show us endearing intimate moments of some of the minor characters right before they die (a lot of characters die in this novel). The flashforwards serve to quickly close some individual plotlines and are often touching or funny. For example, we see a future scribe writing about the final battle in his memoirs and we drop in on some future school children reciting history lessons to their instructor.
The frame stories didn’t fit as well. One of them takes place in the far future when a couple of women (one is called The Lady of the Lake and one is her apprentice) are studying the mythology that has developed around Ciri’s history. They hope to extract the truth from the legends (similar to what we do with the Arthurian legends) and it turns out that these ladies have a role to play, too. Unfortunately, they’re just not very interesting and when I was reading their parts, I was eager to get back to Ciri and Geralt. I think most readers will feel the same way. The technique was clever, but not appreciated.
The other frame story is set in our own world and stars Sir Galahad (another Arthur allusion!). This is strange and I think some readers will love Sapkowski’s refusal to bend to traditional storytelling rules while others may balk at the sudden rule changes which (1) introduce parallel worlds, including our own and (2) give Ciri a magical power that had never been mentioned before. Sapkowski gets a little too bizarre here, but he valiantly attempts to tie it all together with allusions to the Arthurian legend sprinkled throughout the text (e.g., the lady of the lake, a broken sword, a stone, even an incestuous relationship) and some good-natured mocking of medieval quest stories (one of these hilariously features a succubus). Another related theme with which Sapkowski attempts to unite the somewhat disjointed plot and make it come full circle is the ouroboros motif.
Though some of the plot lacked cohesion and there were more than a couple of ridiculous scenes (e.g., Geralt accidentally overhearing a secret meeting which gave him exactly the information he needed), I enjoyed The Lady of the Lake. The WITCHER series is completely aware of its clichés and tropes and makes fun of itself at times. Sapkowski is a wonderful storyteller and any new or seasoned author would benefit from studying his techniques.
Hachette Audio’s versions of the WITCHER books are so good! Peter Kenny, the reader, is extremely entertaining. He’s become one of my favorite narrators. The Lady of the Lake is 20.25 hours long in audio format. Oh, and I love the cover of this novel.