Today, Kyle and Claudia sit down and thoroughly discuss Baptism of Fire, the fifth book in The Witcher Saga. If you missed the previous part where we analyze the themes, arcs, and plot of the book, please check it out. As well as our previous ones.
Convening The Conclave On Baptism of Fire
CLAUDIA: Can I just start by saying that I preferred this book over the previous one.
KYLE: I kinda figured you were going to like this book over the rest of The Witcher Saga.
CLAUDIA: How did you like all the new characters he introduced? There weren’t that many but for once this was actually an ensemble piece. As opposed to everything else which had kind of been sort of not ensemble-y. This was a very good ensemble adventure story, which I personally really like. I’m not a huge ensemble cast kind of person but this one was really good.
KYLE: I love the new cast. Obviously, the focus is still on Geralt.
CLAUDIA: Oh yeah. An ensemble cast works best when there is a focus on a single character in some ways. It can also be the downfall
KYLE:Yeah, that can be the downfall. I’ve been watching Star Trek for years. The good thing about Trek is that it’s not hyper-focused on anyone, it’s a nice ensemble. Every character gets several episodes to themselves, so you get them both in the group and then them alone. You get to know them as people. That’s what a good ensemble should do. I love Regis, he’s my second favorite character in the entire saga.
CLAUDIA: He’s very strong.
KYLE: I’ve been waiting to get to him for so long. Because Yen is my favorite but then it’s Regis, then Milva, then Ciri. And I love that he’s there to make fun of every vampire trope. And he’s also the voice of reason type character, which fits because he’s old. He’s also incredibly sassy and is also not helpless he’s the most powerful of the group. The mandrake chapter, chapter 3, is one of my favorite chapters in the entire book.
Kyle’s Opinon On The New Additions To The Witcher Saga
KYLE: Milva, I just adore. She’s my third favorite in The Witcher Saga. I like this other side of what does a human look like when they are interacting with Scoia’tael. She’s working with the Scoia’tael, but she isn’t a Hawker, she’s literally just getting them to safety. She’s got a debt to Lady Eithne, but she is not a dryad. And we saw that the dryads are very particular about stealing girls and giving them the sap of the tree of life and going “You are a dryad. Have fun!” She’s avoided that. I really like her as a character, she’s no-nonsense, she tells Geralt how things are and how things are going to be. She’s the kind of character that can get Geralt to open up when at this point in the story he was being very closed off and not wanting to interact with anyone.
We talked a lot about Cahir last time, and I said he was going to become one of the main characters. Cahir is just a lot of fun. What I love about him is that he starts out as the villain and then he becomes this really dorky ordinary guy. What I love about Zoltan is that he’s the eternal optimist, he’s an incredibly good person, but he likes to pretend that he’s not. He’s going to go out of his way to help these women and children, but he’ll also go “I stole from these people, so does that make me a bad person?” And then Geralt and Zoltan have a discussion about morality. Zoltan is one of the most pure-hearted characters that you can come across in these The WItcher. I love the entire new cast. Just love them to death.
Claudia’s Opinion On The New Additions To The Witcher Saga
I’ll throw the question right back at you. What do you think of the new characters, in particular, Regis and Milva?
CLAUDIA: I love them. Regis is definitely running for my favorite character right now. Ciri is still up there. But oh my god did Geralt need a cast. The rest of The Witcher Saga suffers for not having this cast. It’s a little tongue in cheek, but there is also a very nice D&D-esque undercurrent to the party.
I like Milva, she’s definitely the tomboy. It’s nice to have a main character who isn’t interested in Geralt. I don’t have full details on like what her background is. But I like her. She doesn’t irritate me on the page or anything. I think what a lot of characters in this book lack is character. I can sum up Milva in a single sentence, which is “tomboy archer”. With Regis, it’s “fancy vampire doctor” which is a trope within of itself. This is the reason that Regis is so loveable is that he’s a return to form for Sapkowski. He is a fairy tale inversion, which is exactly what you sign up to read when you start The Witcher Saga. To have him join the cast is a return to what The Witcher is supposed to be
Cahir, I love him as well, he’s enduring. Dandelion is becoming a bit of a nuisance; I love him still. His main positive trait is that he’s persistent as hell. I really enjoyed it, I still think there are issues with this book especially with pacing and plotting and what Sapkowski was trying to do with it. But the cast helped a lot. I can say that this is the book I have enjoyed the most in The Witcher Saga, hands down.
Geralt’s Stance On The New Characters
KYLE: I’ve been talking a lot about, Geralt thinks of himself as a loner.
CLAUDIA: But he’s such a fucking liar.
KYLE: Yeah. He needs companionship. It’s why he lets Dandelion do whatever he wants, and he keeps him around.
CLAUDIA: It’s not just that he needs companionship, it’s that he’s incapable of leaving people behind, even when he probably should. Milva should have been left behind at that point when they found out she is pregnant, but he can’t do it.
KYLE: You brought up that Dandelion is kind of becoming a nuisance and that’s he’s persistent but that’s what I love about him. He’s this annoying comic relief character but when the chips are down, he’s got your back and you know he’s got your back. What I love is that Geralt thinks he is the loner and he has that entire broody moment. And then they just start making soup.
CLAUDIA: Oh, yeah, yeah. The whole fish thing.
KYLE: They are like “Hey if you want to brood on a rock, that’s fine, but we are going to make some soup. And our vampire cook here is going to help us out. We know you hate monsters, but he’s a cool guy, so we are just letting him stay.” Geralt is in many ways a contradiction. Now he has this party that consists of a Nilfgaardian, and a vampire. I think it’s really funny that the contradiction becomes even more so here, through the lens of other characters. While I’m fine with Geralt traveling alone, the book does come more to life when he is interacting with other people. When he is interacting with everyone, it takes on a very different feel which is why I love that third chapter so much.
The Witcher World In Relation To The New Cast
CLAUDIA: It makes this world finally feel lived in. So much of the worldbuilding has been through the eyes of Geralt. And we have gotten very little that makes it feel like anyone else has a story. The people we interact with, their stories begin and end with Geralt. Something that is nice with having a cast, because of their diverse backgrounds, is actually bringing with them a piece of the worldbuilding. I was finally following conversations about politics and the world because suddenly I cared who was Nilfgaardian or not because there was a Nilfgaardian in the party. I noticed when Zoltan came along, and Cahir just shut his mouth because he has an accent.
It’s little shit like that you start picking up on because you actually care about the implications for different characters. For me, you cannot simply lay out a political situation and expect me to find it interesting at all. Cahir is technically a Nilfgaardian. This book confirms that no matter what he is doing now, he was working for them. Regis is a monster. Each of these characters, though they are from different factions, are people that stand outside their faction. That’s another thing that’s interesting.
You have Milva who helps the Squirrels, but she is not a dryad, she’s not an elf, it’s clear it’s a debt situation. She’s is an outsider as you can get while still being on their side. Then you have Regis. He’s almost explicitly being written to be everything we do not expect from monsters in The Witcher. That makes him an outsider, and the drinking of human blood being a social gathering thing. To have him say that he stopped. It becomes social ostracization, he’s the outsider even in his own community.
The Witcher As A Dungeons & Dragons Campaign
Then you have Cahir who is a Nilfgaardian, who throughout the book it’s made very clear that he’s Nilfgaardian more by upbringing, he’s the son of someone who is not Nilfgaardian.
KYLE: He’s not Nilfgaarian because in Nilfgaard, because it’s so vast and large, it’s like Rome at the height of its power, it is believed that only the residence of the city Nilfgaard are Nilfgaardians.
CLAUDIA: Oh, yeah, I got that. Yeah, that the thing. He’s Nilfgaardian technically, but he’s an outsider to the Nilfgaardian themselves and he betrayed them. Everyone traveling with Geralt is at the same time representing very diverse political situations from within the world. But all of them are outsiders, which fits with Geralt whole M.O. of being like “I’m a witcher and I’m outside the law or whatever.” It’s just a very well composed party, honestly.
KYLE: The best way you can explain it is D&D. You’ve got your-
CLAUDIA: Bard, your healer, your tank…
KYLE: Exactly! What’s funny is we are going to get a rogue next book.
CLAUDIA: Perfect, that’s what we were missing in The Witcher.
KYLE: She’s funny because her interaction with Milva is priceless. The entire cast is delightful. A lot of people point to this book and say this is the most fun book in The Witcher Saga. And I’ll agree with that because of the character interaction. And the party is going to be with us till the end of The Witcher Saga.
CLAUDIA: And the party was impeccably timed because every time I was ready to put that book down, a new character got introduced. A new person joined the party and I was like “Yes! Time to keep reading, can’t miss this introduction.”
Vampires In The Witcher Saga
KYLE: And I forgot to bring it up, the drinking of blood thing. The nice inversion of standard vampire tropes that drinking blood is like drinking alcohol. And he gets addicted because he was shy around vampire women. I just think that’s hilarious and it’s not something that you expect.
CLAUDIA: And they really drive home the point of his backstory too. That like also on top of all the vampire inversions, that vampires are a race. They’re not some pseudo-mythology connected to human beings. They are like everything in this world, a race that existed when this world began. The collision thing.
KYLE: The Conjunction of Spheres.
CLAUDIA: Which to be fair, I hadn’t heard about that until this book. I don’t know when they mentioned the Conjunction of Spheres. I don’t know if they have mentioned that before.
KYLE: They have. The Conjunction was mentioned by Nenneke in Blood of Elves and then by Codringher and Fenn in Time of Contempt. As well as by Vilgefortz during his monologue about the history of the mages.
CLAUDIA: Oh, the one I hated. That’s why I don’t remember it.
KYLE: Everyone here comes from another dimension; they were just kind of ported over to here. They don’t technically belong here. Which is kind of the point.
The Continuation Of The Cycles Of Violence
CLAUDIA: Throughout The Witcher Saga, you have been insisting that there is a theme of cycles of violence and I have told you that I don’t think The Witcher has handled it very well. Looking at The Witcher Saga critically, how do you think this book handles violence in the way the other books don’t?
KYLE: I think the most obvious example is the Ciri and the cotton candy scene. How people, especially when they have lost themselves, start hanging onto small things. Anything they can get their hands on. That then leads to particular problems, which is why Ciri is so callous and enjoys killing people. This isn’t the Ciri that nearly threw up when she saw someone get killed. She doesn’t care anymore. You are seeing a character slowly progress and get numb to violence. You have that on a personal scale, then you have it on a larger scale.
The Battle for the Bridge at the end of the book. What is lovely about it is that it’s an inconsequential battle, no one cares about it and no one ever should care about it, it will never be put in history books. But it was important to the people involved. There is a quote, I forget who said it “The one certainty in war is that you will die like a dog for no reason at all.” I think that’s what this book is trying to convey to you. As far as the cycles of violence thing, this is shown in the hawker situation. Humans that are supporting the Scoia’tael in their terrorist campaigns against humans just to make a profit. They owe their battle for freedom to humans. Cycles of violence will never end, and we perpetuate them with our own actions.
Real World Parallels In The Witcher
CLAUDIA: The reason I asked it in that particular way is because this is the first book that goes into excruciating detail about the casual level of violence found in a country at war. They come across the dogs that’re eating horses, they come across people hanging on poles, and they use their nationalities to determine if the army in front of them is going to be friendly. When violence isn’t on screen, it’s always the backdrop.
My grandfather grew up during the Korean War and he has this story of the first time he ever saw a dead body. Which was he was walking home from school and there was this local woman who was known to be crazy but harmless. This would have been in North Korea when the fighting had broken out and there was starting to be patrols. They grab this crazy old lady and accused her of being a Yankee. Then just shot her in the middle of the street in front of everyone. They said, “Is this woman a Yankee?” and everyone had to say yes, or they would get shot.
I can only imagine that the situation that my grandfather found himself in North Korea was very similar to the violence in a place like Poland after WW2. The reason to me this ties into the cycles of violence is that it ties more into the senselessness of violence. To me, that drives home the point better than anything else because it’s so much more lived in.
Ciri & The Cotton Candy
KYLE: What is your opinion of where Ciri’s arc is heading and specifically what is your take on the cotton candy scene?
CLAUDIA: The cotton candy scene didn’t do anything for me emotionally, because I feel like her arc right now is very predictable. “Oh, she’s lost herself. Oh, she’s dark.” Considering the circumstances, I don’t see anything she has done as particularly dark. She lives in a fucked-up world and she’s dealing with it in an appropriate manner. A guy talks back to Milva, and she almost kills the guy. I’m not shocked about what’s happened to Ciri, I’m not surprised.
I really do hope the best for her, and I know we’ll see it in the rest of The Witcher Saga. I get what you mean where it’s what she is holding onto, but I think I already saw all of that in the previous book and no new information has really been given to me. We saw her revoke the name Ciri and take on the name Falka. I saw her start clinging to Mistle as a source of comfort because it was better than being out in the cold world by herself. This book does nothing to further that storyline it simple exemplifies it in a few places and then leaves it alone. Which is perfectly acceptable, this book wasn’t really about Ciri.
KYLE: I mean the cotton candy scene serves the purpose of, even by the end of the last book she wasn’t okay with blatantly killing people.
CLAUDIA: To me, her taking on the name of Falka told me everything I need to know. This book did not do anything to deepen that understanding of the character. I already knew she was going to be okay with killing.
Claudia & Kyle’s Differing Experiences
KYLE: The cotton candy scene jumps out at me every time. There is this starkness from this innocent, destiny assured, girl who was always nice and wonderful and she could be sassy. But know she is broken, dead, and shell of what she used to be. And now she can kill callously and takes pleasure in killing people. That’s another thing is that there is this perverse pleasure she is getting from killing people. She’s not the young girl we know anymore.
CLAUDIA: I think part of why it doesn’t startle me is because I can see how I would do exactly the same thing in her shoes. It doesn’t surprise me at all. In her place, I would likely behave in a lot of the same ways. So, I’m less startled by it and less saddened by it. And I know there is a redemption path for her as well. Where she is at, honestly, it isn’t that bad. She can come back. It will take some work. There have been times where I have felt murderous rage. I kind of expected that this where her character would be. I get that she is broken, but there is nothing that’s really surprising. It’s exactly what I would expect to happen to someone in her situation.
KYLE: Maybe it’s just me. I’m a very innocent person and have never gotten to the point of violent rage. At most, I’ve wanted to throw a punch at someone and I resisted that urge.
CLAUDIA: Oh dude, I punched someone in middle school!
How The Cotton Candy Scene Defines Ciri’s Arc
KYLE: I’m not a violent person. As I was telling my boss here the other day when we had an angry guest, I feel uncomfortable in conflict. I check out, I left and went to the other room while she dealt with it because conflict makes me feel uncomfortable. So, I’ve never felt that kind of stuff, whereas you have, so you have a different look at it. For me on a writing and a personal level, it struck me as “Oh, god, this isn’t the Ciri I love! This is a new kind of Ciri.” On a writing level, this is Sapkowski taking the tropes of chosen one narratives and getting rid of them. This is turning into something different.
That scene is significant not only is she callously killing but all she wants is cotton candy. The casual brutality of it, she literally steps over his corpse to get her cotton candy, she’s spattered with blood and then she just kisses Mistle. The casualness of that killing is what struck me. It’s like when Bullseye killed Elektra, it’s was just so casual and brutal. We are starting to get a Ciri that is tired of being told what she wants. She’s not this destined woman that is going to do this great thing. She’s tired of being told she is going to be married to someone. What she wants is what she wants, not what other people want.
CLAUDIA: I suppose, though I would argue that she…you know what, never mind. Your point stands.
KYLE: I would call it a darker version of the Captain Marvel arc of “I have nothing to prove to you.” It’s “This is what I want. Not what you want, what I want.”
Want Versus Survival
CLAUDIA: I suppose the question to ask is though, does it still count as a want if it’s a matter of survival?
KYLE: It was cotton candy.
CLAUDIA: But think about her situation, the world she’s living in, the things she’s been through. It’s sort of like when a child has a teddy bear that they’ll cling onto. I don’t know. To me, she got locked into survival mode by taking on the name of Falka and it might take a lot to break her out of that. I would argue that there is nothing safe about her situation still. She’s still with her rapist, and I would argue that is still probably triggering some fight or flight instincts. Whether it was cotton candy, teddy bear, or whatever, to me it’s can we judge her when she is still in trying to survive in some aspect?
KYLE: That’s understandable. I just know where her arc is going and that’s my read on her arc overall. We did get the introduction of Leo Bonhart in this book. He’ll become important next book to her arc.
CLAUDIA: Oh, good.
The Lodge Of Sorceresses
KYLE: What do you think of the Lodge of the Sorceresses, their mission statement and do you think they will abuse their newfound power?
CLAUDIA: This Lodge of Sorceresses feels like knockoff Dune Bene Gesserit. I don’t get why they are doing it besides to protect their own interests.
KYLE: That’s exactly why!
CLAUDIA: It’s not even that good of an idea to protect their own interests because they are bringing unknown entities into it. It’s weird and kind of goofy.
KYLE: I mean, my theme for last book was mage arrogance and complacency.
CLAUDIA: But it doesn’t feel arrogant.
KYLE: It is pure arrogance.
CLAUDIA: I read it as this is what a man thinks women talk like when the doors are closed which is lies.
KYLE: I know what Philippa is and Philippa is an arrogant piece of work.
CLAUDIA: I’m reading the same book; I’m allowed to have a different read on it.
KYLE: I know. Considering Philippa is leading it, you can kind of make the assumption that this is about her.
CLAUDIA: Even for Philippa, I don’t get why she would do it. It doesn’t even make sense from a pride perspective. To me, it’s too risky a thing. I just don’t get what they are trying to accomplish or what they care about. And their motivation is mapped onto this whole “We are going to breed Ciri with someone and create super-baby or whatever.” Dune also did it better, which is not helping in their favor. This feels like cartoonish villains cackling.
KYLE: I would never call the Lodge cartoonish.
CLAUDIA: You are fine to think that. To me, they push a little too far into cartoony without enough subversion. Plus, I don’t give a crap about half of those characters.
The Witcher & Genetic Manipulation
CLAUDIA: What are your thoughts on the whole breeding program they have set up?
KYLE: We don’t have all the pieces on the board yet, but we have been hearing about Lara Dorren for a while now. We know that this is in part a ploy by the mages due to a prophecy they once heard. What I love about the genetic thing is that it gives the chosen one thing a reason to exist besides mystical bullshit. And you don’t expect it either, because it’s weird to have genetic engineering in a medieval fantasy setting. I can’t really talk about much else without spoiling stuff from the rest of The Witcher Saga.
The Witcher & Arthurian Legend
CLAUDIA: In this book, we have returned to Sapkowski favorite fallback when he doesn’t know what to do which is the framing device. The end of this book actually devolves into a series of little vignettes that are framed by this random storyteller as opposed to Dandelion who I would have expected. What did you think about that?
KYLE: Okay, I know where that’s going, that’s a pretty significant plot thing. One of the people in the crowd around the storyteller, did you recognize the name Nimue?
KYLE: Okay, you know that Sapkowski really loves Arthurian legend and that he has already brought up a lot of stuff from that, right?
CLAUDIA: I’d heard that.
KYLE: We had the entire mention in the mandrake chapter about how Yennefer is being misnamed Guinevere. Nimue is the real name of The Lady of the Lake from Arthurian legend.
CLAUDIA: Okay, interesting.
KYLE:So, that’s there to set her up. The Witcher Saga, the reason it’s called a saga is because Sapkowski has been playing with fairy tales and legends since the very first book. Basically, this story has been interpreted by multiple people multiple times, which we have already seen, hence the framing device. We know it’s being passed down to different people, so it makes sense that at some point in time it would become myth and legend. I guess it comes out of left field if you are not expecting that sort of thing.
CLAUDIA: It completely does. If you are not expecting that, suddenly the last tiny section of the book feels completely random.
KYLE: I came from the advantage that my parents are both Arthurian nuts. So, I knew that was The Lady of the Lake.
Translation Problems In The Witcher Saga
CLAUDIA: True, but I think the structure of just the random storyteller jumping in without much warning I think that is what gave the end of the book this vibe that he was feeling rushed. That he was trying to wrap this up as quickly as possible.
KYLE: I can definitely see that. It never struck me as odd considering how many framing devices he had been using up to this point.
CLAUDIA: Yeah, he does do it a lot.
KYLE: I think there is a translation issue as I have seen no one ever talk about it, where Geralt will randomly have interview style answers at certain points. He’ll interject “I don’t know why I did this.” That is the bit I find most odd about it. Because it’s not like Geralt is there talking to the storyteller and recounting his life.
CLAUDIA: Most of The Witcher have this feeling of it being a frame story without completely going that way. This one did not do that as much.
KYLE: Just wait until the next book. The entire thing is a framing device. Ciri is telling the story, for the next two books actually. Some people hate it, some people love it, there is a constant thing at the end of each chapter that reminds you it’s a framing device. I like it because it gives you that feeling of reading a story or fairy tale late at night and it has the sort of repetitious quality.
The Ending Of Baptism Of Fire
CLAUDIA: This book has a bizarre ending.
KYLE: The ending I actually quite like because it’s Geralt getting knighted.
CLAUDIA: Oh, no the ending itself, the actions that took place make perfect sense. The way it was delivered, a little bizarre. Even in a comical context, the entire thing is a little bit weird in tone compared to the rest of the book.
KYLE: The Battle of the Bridge did kind of feel like him ribbing on Tolkien. Which is something he will actually do later on in The Lady of the Lake, where someone shouts “The eagles!” Which is a nice little jab at Tolkien. How quickly the Battle of the Bridge just wraps up feels like when Bilbo got hit in the head by a stone and knocked out, wakes up and it’s over. That kind of happens with Geralt, where he gets knocked out and it’s like “thus ended the Battle of the Bridge for Geralt.” I still don’t know what to think of the framing device.
CLAUDIA: I tend to like his framing devices, nine times out of ten. And I think he writes better when he’s using them. But definitely, there was some weird pacing and weird transition issues in the last eighth of the book. As far as Sapkowski’s literary stuff that translates over to English well, the framing devices are one of the easiest to translate, in theory, and most noticeable in his literary leanings. Otherwise, his stuff can get pretty sparse. The battle was more engaging for it, it wouldn’t necessarily say that it would be better without it. The introduction of the device itself was a little jolting.
KYLE: I want your thoughts of the mandrake chapter because anyone I have ever talked to loves that chapter and I love that chapter. I smile every time I get to it. So, what were your thoughts on the mandrake chapter and how much fun it was to read?
CLAUDIA: It was fun. I enjoyed it but it didn’t stick to me, I guess. The one that stuck out to me was the one just before the Battle of the Bridge, where the party is finally a party instead of a group of disparate people. They spend that time teasing him and going “Ah yes, this witcher, who can’t even be alone successfully.” I liked the mandrake chapter, but it would not necessarily be my favorite in the entire book. And that chapter was a necessary breathing room for the senseless violence that you are wading through at that point. That chapter needed to be where it was. Is there a particular reason you love that chapter?
KYLE:No, I guess it’s a very me chapter. When you have two-characters interacting, I tend to gobble that up. When you have multiple characters, and their drunk so their inhibitions are slowly going away, it’s just a lot of fun to read. It flies by so quickly and you just want to go back and reread it. Regis is the only one that’s sober the entire time and he’s just adorable. We get hints about what’s going on with Milva. That’s where we get the Guinevere mention. Everyone warms up, reveals their true selves, and start bonding which is necessary for the eventual forming of the party.
CLAUDIA: For me, my favourite party scene is basically fish soup.
KYLE: That’s a great scene.
CLAUDIA: I like the mandrake scene, but I thought that was much earlier in their journey.
KYLE: It is. It’s chapter three and there are only like seven chapters in the book. The Witcher book never has a lot of chapters. It’s about a third into the book, roughly. It right when they met Regis and before Cahir is part of the party.
CLAUDIA: It’s right when the dwarves have warmed up to them a little bit.
KYLE: It’s just before Geralt is given the Mahakam Sihil. It’s quite early on but it’s a lot of fun. Inevitably, whenever I talk to someone about Baptism of Fire, Mandrake will come up and we will start discussing funniness of the scene.
CLAUDIA: Maybe it’s just not my style. You know The Witcher falls very far out of the type of thing I normally read. The fish soup scene for me, did everything the mandrake scene did for you. I can’t say way, just that maybe that was the point I liked the character a bit more. I tend to, in real life, disregard people once they’re drunk anyways. So, there is a little bit of that happening where it’s like “Well, okay, they’re out there getting drunk.”
KYLE: I don’t drink at all, but I’ve been the one sober friend to drunk people. I find it hilarious how they interact with each other and how they interact with me. I guess I just find it charming, in a way. Being the one sober guy in a group of drunk people, I find it kind of enduring to a friendship. And that was the point of that scene, is that they were starting to form a bond that they had not realized they were forming yet.
Dwarves In The Witcher
CLAUDIA: I can see that. There is this rule that I have with my friends where I’m not real fond of getting drunk and bonding. I don’t consider it legitimate, to me, it reads as always incredibly false. I wouldn’t say I projected that onto that scene. It was still cute. But the scene the encompasses everything you just said, is for me fish soup. Where they are going to travel with Geralt whether he likes it or not and he won’t admit that he won’t kick any of them out. It’s a wonderful little scene. And I think in the mandrake scene, there were just too many characters. I didn’t actually care too much about the dwarven characters at all.
KYLE: Oh, wow. Okay.
CLAUDIA: I like them alright. But when Regis and Cahir popped up, I perked up. I think Zoltan and his party are really important for demonstrating the world in the same way we did with what’s his face? The other dwarven guy?
KYLE: Yarpen Zigrin.
CLAUDIA: They serve as this touchstone of checking on the pulse as stuff is going on. But ultimately when you know they are not going to serve a greater purpose, which they do as they come back periodically, but for now, their purpose is “You are how we check in on the rest of the world.” The much more interesting characters are these outsiders who end up following along and those characters always caught my interest when they ended up on the page.
KYLE: How do you feel about Milva’s pregnancy, subsequent miscarriage and also that Nilfgaard has a progressive viewpoint of pro-choice?
CLAUDIA: When she first announced she was pregnant, my first reaction was “Well, duh.” My next thing was there was no way she didn’t know based off of her behavior, and fortunately, Sapkowski delivered. She knew the entire time. I found the entire thing a little bit weird because there was this whole “She should be able to choose but I’m still going to treat you all like the fathers.” I guess she decided to keep it but I kind of didn’t matter. I don’t know if it clarifies what causes the miscarriage.
KYLE: I think it is implied to the be the stress of the situation.
CLAUDIA: I feel like I could have used some clarification because she has been under stress since day one and there is no reason for this to be any different.
The whole “they have this progressive point of view.” Do they? The entire thing with fictional empires is they will be bad in one way but not in another. I have not at any point in The Witcher viewed Nilfgaard as monsters. I get that maybe I’m supposed to, but they and the kingdoms neither are exactly worse than the other. Our introduction to this world was pretty brutal, the things soldiers on both sides are doing is pretty brutal. I haven’t felt they were bad for any particular reason except for the fact that they are conquerors. But that’s the worst of their crimes.
There is definitely “It’s her right to choose” language. It feels forced in
that the assumption should be inherent and not spoken in quite that way. Every
discussion I have had about abortion hasn’t been spoken like that.
Geralt & Milva Parrells
KYLE: Geralt has his speech, and it makes sense from his perspective. “This is something that is a once in a lifetime chance, do you want to throw that away? Or do you want to chance it and maybe, just maybe, you might be happy.”
CLAUDIA: She doesn’t have the same issues that he does. She could just get pregnant when people aren’t trying to kill her. There are definitely people who would kill to have a baby no matter what. But tons of people choose to abort due to numerous reasons. Milva at no point in this story struck me as wanting kids for any particular reason.
KYLE: That’s the parallel between her and Geralt. That’s the point. Geralt is seeing what his past-self did in Milva and going “That was a mistake I made.”
CLAUDIA: No, I disagree. Geralt has expressed a want for a family. Milva is not mutated, Milva for all intents and purposes is just a normal person. So, I don’t consider it fair to her that he would project his baggage onto her. If that is what Sapkowski is doing, then I think that is a very clumsily handled analogy.
People don’t magically become good parents. That’s something you see Geralt and Yennefer actually struggle with. But to put that all onto Milva, you are making so many goddamn assumptions about how she is going to behave. If she had express interest in a kid, it would make sense in some ways. And if she did want kids, then there is nothing stopping her from having them after this is all over. Because if she has a kid and dies, that kid doesn’t have anyone protecting them in the world. That could be what Sapkowski intends, I don’t like it.
Real World Pregnancy Fears Versus Fantasy
KYLE: To me it just struck me as obvious and the place you would go with that. She did not expect to have a child, it was happenstance, it’s the thing you find at home that you least expect, it’s the Law of Surprise. To me, it was pretty analogous to the Ciri and Geralt situation. Geralt is seeing his past decisions reflected back on him.
CLAUDIA: But she knew she was pregnant.
KYLE: She did not expect it though. That’s the thing.
CLAUDIA:I’m going to be real with you. Women will have panic attacks about being pregnant having never had sex. Your period will come late or something like that. No woman sleeps with anyone without that hanging over her head, even if you are on birth control. So, I’m going to call bad writing on that. It’s a constant fear that hangs over your head. You can’t sleep with someone without worrying about it. Now it’s a one-night stand, but that doesn’t mean she would have gone into it not having already made up her mind of “If I get pregnant here’s what I’ll do.” There is no way that she wouldn’t have thought about that.
KYLE: Considering Milva’s upbringing, I question whether that would ever cross her mind. Because the idea of sex didn’t cross her mind, at all. She grew up as Lady Barring then her father was murdered and then she has been on the run her entire life. When the elves were sleeping with each other because they thought it was their last night alive, she never thought about sleeping with someone. It just happened. I saw the parallel between her and Geralt and didn’t think much about it after that. But I can definitely see the other way around.
The Kingdom’s Status In The War
CLAUDIA: The politics is your bread and butter in The Witcher Saga and I’ve asked your opinion on the politics with each book. Let’s do that again.
KYLE: We are seeing the aftermath of Emhyr’s absolute curb-stomping of the north in the last book. You have Rivia which is fighting a guerrilla war now. Most other countries are either neutral, signed a pact, or have been conquered. Seeing the guerrilla warfare as everyone thinks they are dead after the massive defeat at Aldersberg is a lot of fun. The most interesting political thing we get is the formation of the Lodge. Because Philippa is very politically minded and she wants to be on top, no matter what. She’s now formed this sisterhood and is intent on the fact that “magic” will be preserved. As we know with Philippa, what she really means is that her power will be preserved. She’s also got her ex-lover acting as the king of Redania.
CLAUDIA: I really like Dijktra; he’s growing on me.
KYLE: I think it’s this one where he is trying to write the letter and he’s like “Dearest Philippa. No, no, no, too sentimental.” Because he loves Philippa, but she doesn’t love him back. It’s hilarious to see their repartee. I don’t think it has been revealed who killed King Vizimir yet.
CLAUDIA: No, it hasn’t. One of the interesting things about this book is that it opens up and it feels like a lot has happened since we were last here if that makes sense. And I appreciate the killing of that king if only from a narrative perspective Dijktra is much more interesting to follow. Some of the changes to the political landscape changed how I was paying attention to it.
Philippa & Dijktra
KYLE: She’s basically got Redania in her pocket. She’s got someone ruling it who is madly in love with her.
CLAUDIA: Do you think she is going to keep it in her pocket because Dijktra is not an idiot. Wasn’t he the spymaster guy?
KYLE: Yes, he is the head of the Redanian Secret Service.
CLAUDIA: That’s what I mean. Like, she has an advantage there, but I wonder how easier it would be for her to accidentally lose his favor.
KYLE: That will actually be coming up.
CLAUDIA: Okay cool. Dijktra loves her but he’s not stupid. He’s just a little goofy at this point in time. But he was not a comic relief character last book if I recall. He’s only comic relief in this book because there is not much happening, and they just wanted to let you know what was happening in that area.
KYLE: Dijktra gets a little more to do in The Lady of the Lake and there is a wedge formed between him and Philippa and it’s very interesting.
The Nilfgaardian sorceresses play into politics.
CLAUDIA: Love them.
KYLE: They’re very different from northern sorceresses because Nilfgaardian sorceresses go through intense training and have to present themselves in a very particular way. This whole flaunting of power and beauty that the northern sorceresses do is alien and strange to them.
CLAUDIA: You were talking about mage arrogance and complacency, the only time I’ve seen that well illustrated was watching how the Nilfgaardian sorceresses regard the other sorceresses. There is an element there where the northern sorceresses are like catty kids. And then the Nilfgaardian sorceresses don’t say anything but you know exactly what they think of these northerners who have been pampered for far too long.
KYLE: And they talk about how Emhyr does not trust them. So, he keeps the Nilfgaardian mage academy in check and ensures they come out obedient to him. But they are willing to betray the Empire by joining the Lodge, so it’s not perfect but he does keep an iron fist around them.
CLAUDIA: Well yeah, it wouldn’t be perfect. I think even with their status, they are still sorcerers, they are tough as nails.
KYLE: We get some stuff about dwarven politics in this one. We have been hearing a little about it but through Zoltan, who was recently at Mahakam, we find out some more. The dwarves are being very Switzerland. They are trying to stay as neutral as possible, but they are selling to both sides. Interestingly, Brouver Hoog forbids any dwarves from joining the Scoia’tael.
CLAUDIA: Well, it’s just not a good idea. Whether you are on the side of freedom or not, joining that group is just bad news.
KYLE: We learn that he doesn’t really like either side but is more partial to Nilfgaard. However, he is far more concerned with keeping his nation separate.
Fringilla Vigo’s Relation To Rulers
We also learn that Fringilla Vigo is related to two important political figures one of which is Cahir, who of course is the son of Ceallach.
CLAUDIA: Okay, I thought I saw that.
KYLE: Not only is she related to him she is also related to a duchess of Nilfgaard, Anna Henrietta.
CLAUDIA: That one I don’t know.
KYLE: We will be meeting her next book. Anna Henrietta is the Duchess of Toussaint, which is basically France. It’s the land of fairy tales. When we get there it’s all happy fun time and it’s kind of strange but that’s the point.
CLAUDIA: I’ll be interested to see if he plays with that a little more deeply. Just because of the importance of France in so many different periods. On and off again, France will become the center of cultural and philosophical thinking.
KYLE: I’ll be interested to see how you react to Toussaint as he is making fun of certain fairytale things. The Knight Errants are a parody of stereotypical knights in fantasy and fairy tales.
The Aftermath Of Thanedd
CLAUDIA: They are beginning to sow the seeds of doubt about who was behind the sorcerer’s revolt thing. It’s no real doubt, it’s more like no one is claiming responsibility for that event because who even does is in a deep amount of trouble.
KYLE: Another important political thing is that Francesca basically forced Philippa into giving her two seats of the Lodge’s council.
CLAUDIA: Which is good. At some point, they are going to have to find an elf character that is more important than just a bit political character.
KYLE: Yen is one fourth elf.
CLAUDIA: No offense, but that’s like saying “Oh, I’m quarter Asian.” It’s not the same as being someone who is fully Asian American. I think it’s interesting that The Witcher is about otherness and racism, yet right now most of our main characters are some form of human or human-like. I will say that they have done a good job making sure there is an important dwarf character in every book, but we haven’t gotten an elf in the same way yet.
KYLE: We will get an elf starting next book. He’s a bit of an asshole, so, I wouldn’t say he’s great in that regards. We do delve a little bit more into the elves in the final book because of a very particular reveal about a group that has been introduced before. Another important political thing is that we find out about Falka’s Rebellion and the Houtborg Triplets. Francesca was there and so was Tissaia. In order to prevent the killing of a child, they don’t say which one is Falka’s which leads to the question of who exactly the ancestor of Ciri is.
Politics Handled Differently Than The Rest Of The Witcher Saga
The politics isn’t the main focus of this book, most of it is just Geralt traveling through war zones. Everything is moving forward, and we are seeing the effects of people’s political maneuvering from the previous books in The Witcher Saga.
CLAUDIA: It doesn’t have any scenes of kings sitting in a room. But there is a lot of stuff that happens before the book starts and there is a lot of ramifications that get played out.
KYLE: We find out that Vilgefortz is kidnapping women and force impregnating them and then attempting to remove the embryos. I wanted to get your take on what he is doing?
CLAUDIA: We have already talked a lot about the genetic manipulation. So, I think it’s pretty obvious that he is searching for his own way to the power or whatever. But he’s also like a cray-cray.
KYLE: Very cray-cray.
CLAUDIA: As I recall, he wasn’t a focus in this book. So, it feels sort of like a touchstone of something that will be much more of a big deal later.
This Conclave Is Adjourned But The Witcher Saga Continues On
And that finishes out the Baptism of Fire section of The Daily Fandom’s retrospective of The Witcher Saga. Join Kyle and Claudia again next month for the penultimate novel in the main part of The Witcher Saga, The Tower of Swallows. Expect the Q&A portion of the retrospective release on the day after the analysis section.