Audiobook Review: Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Series: Book 3 of The Witcher
Publisher: Hachette Audio (8/4/15)
Author Information: Website
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars
Narrator: Peter Kenny | Length: 11 hrs 59 min
Over the last two months, I’ve been working my way through all the available Witcher Saga novels in audiobook format. The series is surprisingly addictive, so much so that it feels like I was just listening to the first book Blood of Elves yesterday. And now that I’ve come to the end of book three, I find myself a bit lost and drifting. After all, the print version of the next book (The Swallow’s Tower) hasn’t even been translated in English yet, with the release date planned for 2016. So yep, unless I learn Polish in the next year (highly unlikely!), it’s going to be a looooong wait.
The fact that Baptism of Fire was perhaps my favorite book in the series so far isn’t helping my patience either. At first, I wasn’t sure that I liked where the story was going. This installment feels different from the others, shifting to a more traditional quest narrative while downplaying the political intrigue. We start the book off with an introduction to a new character, an expert archer and hunter named Milva. She meets Geralt in the forest, finding him badly injured from the events of the Thanedd coup. However, the Witcher only has his mind on recovering so that he can continue on to Nilfgaard to find Ciri, the young princess-turned-sorceress whom unbeknownst to everyone has settled into a life with a gang of rebels.
Despite his misgivings, Geralt gives in to Milva’s request to tag along. They are accompanied by Dandelion, the poet. And on their way, they also meet a dwarf named Zoltan. Further along their journey, they join up with a Nilggaardian named Cahir. Eventually, the party even gets a vampire named Regis. Far from the monster the group expected him to be, Regis actually proves quite invaluable thanks to his medical knowledge and skills.
I know what you’re thinking. Geralt and his fellow adventurers sound like they stepped straight out of a role-playing game. You even have your different races and classes. Not that I don’t enjoy this particular classic trope, but for a series that has thus far been all about the complexity and plot depth, I was surprised because this seemed like a step back. And indeed, I felt that the story in Baptism of Fire was much simpler when compared to the other books, and not a lot happened at the beginning while Sapkowski worked to introduce all the new faces and names. I also noticed a lot less of characters like Ciri, Yennefer, and Triss Merigold, given that most of the attention was on Geralt and his group. Don’t get me wrong; I always want more Geralt, but I can’t deny I was expecting more Ciri, especially in light of her prominent role in The Time of Contempt.
Around the halfway through the book though, something happened. Maybe the story finds its stride at this point, or maybe I finally got to appreciate the personalities of all the different characters, but I started really enjoying myself. Our adventurers make their way east, eventually running afoul of trouble caused by the ongoing war. Battling enemies and working together towards a singular goal – that’s my favorite part of these kinds of stories, after all. The dynamics between everyone in the group started to get a lot more interesting too, with Regis emerging as one of my favorites. Dandelion was a riot as always, and I got such a kick out of his conversations with the old vampire. Near the end, there was also a very good example of how far the characters have come as a group, when everyone got together to discuss what to do about a situation that would affect one of their members. A ragtag bunch of strangers become a family of sorts, which is what I love to see.
Something else to keep in mind: the original Baptism of Fire was published in 1996. And for a story that’s almost twenty years old, I think it has aged exceedingly well. Classic quest narrative or not, it still feels fresh, probably a testament to Sapkowski’s storytelling as well as the skills of the translator.
And don’t dismiss the audiobook and what it brings to the table. I maintain this is the best format to experience The Witcher Saga. Peter Kenny once again proves what a versatile narrator he is, delivering a superb performance as always. In fact, I feel this is probably his best work on this series so far. Kenny really knocked it out of the park, bringing the whole gang to life in this one, giving each group member a unique voice. He was absolutely fantastic.
So now I settle in for the wait. Heck, it may be even longer for the audio version. But it doesn’t matter; something tells me it will be worth it.