Lord help me, this is one of the worst books I have ever read.
This review is going to go places, so I’ve created a quick bullet pointed summary for what you can expect:
• I don’t think there will be any spoilers, because I honestly do not understand enough of what happened and why to be able to tell you.
• Outdated fantasy tropes.
• The male gaze and women existing to appease the macho-male fantasy.
• Women are clearly there to be controlled and if they can’t be then, VILLAINY! Because men can’t have women with power. THE FEAR!
• Problematic and offensive terms to refer to women who are unable to have children, i.e. ‘handicapped’.
• Shitty writing.
• Fairy-tale retellings??
I paid for this book, people. Spent actual money on it. It is a regret. I would love my money back. But this has taught me the lesson (one you would’ve thought I’d have learned before) that HYPE AIN’T SHIT. These books have been around a long time, so they’re something I’ve seen repeatedly across my GR timeline, and of course, all over the internet now, with the new Netflix adaptation. (I play like 3 video games, none of them The Witcher, so that has no say in this). Anyways, the adaptation looked good, some book reviewers I follow were hyped for it, so I thought okay, I’ll read at least the first 2 books and then have a binge watch…
Lol. I’m not reading anymore (I probably will. Can’t help myself) and I’m not excited to continue the show. I watched Episode 1, halfway through reading this drivel of a novel – to see if it was any better, and if it would somehow make me more friendly towards the novel. Spoiler alert: it did not.
I know we all have different reading tastes, but wow. I did not find anything redeemable in this. I found it gross, sexist, misogynistic, problematic in various ways, and did I mention, overall gross? It’s very much a book written from the male gaze to fulfil a male fantasy of heroism and getting the hot, sexy girl. It leans into the outdated tropes that fantasy has too often been filled with, where women are reduced to nothing but overtly sexualised objects (whether they’re being rescued, or just existing in some other manner). It also likes to show how women can be consolation prizes to men, and must fulfil wifely, womanly duties and nothing else…because that’s one of the main purposes of a woman’s existence! And if not, you’re either a) a villain b) somewhere in between being a villain but c) definitely sexualised, never mind which category you fall in to. Because hello, if you’ve got breasts, the author is going to draw extreme attention to them.
Sapkowski also reinforces harmful and problematic ideologies surrounding sex. I.e. making the division between women being whores, or virgins, and neither women winning because they’re both shamed in one way or another. Just maybe . . . shut up? Stop making the female characters sexual histories / futures be based solely on the needs of your male characters. Even when Sapkowski tries (might be giving him too much credit here. I’m not sure he put much in to it) to create his *special* female character, that’s *not like the other girls* but stronger and smarter he still has to focus on her shapely breasts and writes about her strictly through the male gaze to complete the male fantasy. Like look, I’ve got no issue with women embracing their sexuality, enjoying their sex live, having that with power, etc. But Sapkowski writes it conditionally. These women – like Yennefer – can be *not like the other girls* (harmful ideology anyway) but only up to a certain point: he still has to remind you that she has SHAPELY BREASTS and is a SEXUAL OBJECT. Don’t worry about her kicking ass! Let’s just look at her through Geralt, the macho-mans POV, and reduce her to nothing more than his love interest, even though they’ve got no character, and she barely has a personality outside check box tropes! Such poor writing. No fleshing out (ha. Unless it’s showing boobies) of characters – particularly female – it’s just look at this archetypal female character and now watch Geralt have his way with her, essentially.
“Yennefer, also having gained practices, landed him a blow with her elbow. The sudden move split her dress at the armpit, revealing a shapely breast. An oyster flew from her torn dress.”
Her SHAPELY BREAST PEOPLE. What a weird emphasis, in the middle of a fight scene!! I have never, ever, read a fight scene in a fantasy novel written by a female author, where the female MC has stopped, and gone “Oh! His trousers have ripped! LOOK AT THAT MAN’S PENIS POKING OUT OF HIS TROUSERS, as he kicks sharply!” I mean?? Ridiculous, right? Maybe I don’t read a lot, but I haven’t seen anything of the sort. Maybe the “OH! LOOK AT HIS MUSCLES!” but never an intent focus on his genitals.
It is just so f-r-e-a-k-i-n-g unnecessary. Especially with the following line, explaining that an oyster fell from her dress. (Don’t ask me. Half the book doesn’t make sense). But he literally could’ve just said “The sudden move split her dress at the armpit, an oyster spilling from the folds of the ripped fabric.” It just shows, once again, how Sapkowski is using the female character to satiate the male gaze. Goddamned with her as an actual female character. She’s got breasts! Who cares about the rest!
There was an article / trend going around on Twitter a few years ago where women (mostly) shared passages of novels, written by men, that had women overtly sexualised through doing the simplest of things. Like a woman walking down the stairs, is so conscious of her nipples brushing against the fabric of her shirt…Check out://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/06/cleavage-male-authors-women-writerthe article! Like I’m not saying men can’t write women, but a lot of the time – in fantasy, in particular – men overtly and gratuitously sexualise women (with gratuitous violence too, aka, Game of Thrones) and this article sheds a light on how common it is.
This whole book could practically be featured in the article. The opening chapter starts with
“The girl flitted closer, threw off her mantle and slowly, hesitantly, rested her knee on the edge of the large bed. He observed her through lowered lashes, still not betraying his wakefulness. The girl carefully climbed onto the bedclothes, ad onto him, wrapping her thighs around him. Leaning forward on straining arms, she brushed his face with hair which smelt of chamomile. Determined, and as if impatient, she leant over and touches his eyelids, cheeks, lips with the tips of her breasts.”
Ya’ll. She’s literally rubbing her nipple over his face. And we won’t even get started on him pretending to be asleep and her just mounting him and doing that. Next.
As mentioned above, women are placed in to a few archetypal roles. Sapkowski also likes to endorse the idea that women are only good for reproducing. This is shown in multiple ways throughout the book, with comments that enforce the idea of gender roles, and derogatory comments and characterisations of those who cannot fulfil them. In no way shape or form did I see any of the characters – Geralt, in particular – turn around and dispute these ideologies in a clear manner, therefore I am calling this book problematic because ultimately I feel as if it got off on gratuitously expressing these ideas and believed in them.
“Melitele’s cult, he deduced, was a typical woman’s cult. Melitele was, after all, the patroness of fertility and birth; she was the guardian of midwives. And a woman in labour has to scream. Apart from the usual cries – usually promising never to give herself to any bloody man ever again in her life – a woman in labour has to call upon some godhead for help, and Melitele was perfect. And since women gave birth, give birth and will continue to give birth, the goddess Melitele, the poet proved, did not have to fear for her popularity.”
Look, there’s nothing wrong with women sharing a space with other women to bond and support each other over childbirth. Like, that’s great. But this phrases it in such a demeaning, patronising manner, that seems to reduce women to nothing but means of reproduction. The word ‘typical’ really does it for me. I imagine it being said with an eye roll. Oh, those typical women. So typical of them to be dealing with childbirth, out of all things! Ugh, women. It’s like Sapkowski can you feck off for once and stop judging everything women do????
And so, while women here are shown to exist to just keep giving birth, over and over and over and over again, Sapkowski describes Yennefer, the powerful sorceress who gratuitously has her breast exposed for the male audience, as ‘handicapped.’ (I think it was Geralt that said such thing, and not Nenneke – who he was talking to. It’s hard to keep up. Poor writing structure and dialogue)
The context/exchange in full:
“’I do happen to know. And that she earns even more for curing infertility. It’s a shame she can’t help herself more in that respect. That’s why she’s seeking help from others – like you.’
‘No one can help her, it’s impossible. She’s a sorceress. Like most female magicians, her ovaries are atrophied and it’s irreversible. She’ll never be able to have children.’
‘Not all sorceress are handicapped in this respect. I know something about that, and you do, too.’”
I really don’t like this. Infertility is legally defined as a disability, but the way Sapkowski wrote this, by inferring that women who are infertile are handicapped, just reinforces the narrative of women being reduced to their uterus and their ability to procreate and nothing else. It places the character as something other, especially in tangent with the extract before this one, as it almost connotes that she is not as much of a woman as the others because she can’t procreate. And that is not right and not fair at all. Women are more than their ability to reproduce and implying that they merely exist for the continuation of a species and their other capabilities are not as important or valuable to society as a whole is harmful and wrong. This could have been powerful, exploring Yennefer’s point of view on this, but of course it’s from Geralt’s perspective, and it’s all about his horniness for her, ultimately.
Yennefer is referred to as ‘handicapped’ multiple times.
“But Yennefer . . . Well, unfortunately, she isn’t an exception. At least not as regards the handicap we’re talking about. In other respect it’s hard to find a greater exception for her.”
Don’t you just love how it’s like yeah Yennefer is great except for her not being able to have kids…
I also hated this part and thought it was very telling and have come to the conclusion that the author fears women, especially women with too much power, which is why he’s had to write Geralt as the ultimate macho man and continually demean women as nothing more than sexual objects/failing to write them as multi-faceted:
“’Their outright insane tendency to cruelty, aggression, sudden bursts of anger and an unbridled temperament, were noted.’
‘You can say that about any women,’ sneered Geralt. ‘What are you drivelling on about?’”
I think Geralt is somehow trying to defend women and in some ways the girls the whatever-his-name-is Wizard is saying about the ‘evil girls’ but it’s so poorly written it’s like please, just stop. I feel offended.
I was not expecting this book to be adapting classic fairy-tale stories. I think we had retellings of Rumpelstiltskin, Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood . . . and it just felt so . . . odd? Mostly, I think because they were nearly *exact* replicas to the stories we are familiar with – like you’re not sitting there guessing if this could be an allusion, it’s obvious it is. It changed some names to obviously try and get it to fit in to this new fantasy setting / land (which the worldbuilding was lacklustre and confusing anyways, with how jumpy it was. I guess that’s the issue with short stories that don’t follow a cohesive, linear pattern). Yet in some of the stories it kept some of the names near identical and I was like what???? I was just really confused on what it was supposed to be. A somewhat fantasy adaptation based on fairy tales? Is this just a one-off thing in this novel, or is it a continuous thing throughout the whole series? Why?
I feel as if I have picked out most of the glaring issues that I found while reading the book. Of course, there are so many other passages I could have chosen to support the points I have made (that’s sad really). And I’m sure if I go through my screenshots (I was sending the moments that most annoyed me to Emer) and my notes that I’d find a lot more to show you for how awful this book is, but I think I’ve demonstrated my point.
10/10 would not recommend this dreadful book to anyone. Can’t think of a redeeming factor. (I knew I should have put the book down when it talked about murdering innocent puppies. I knew then that this book was trying to be like oooo look how dark and violent I am. I am eye rolling and crying.)
I feel like I could get some comments to this review going “But it’s fantasy! It’s a made-up world! Women are like this! Men are like this!” and I just want to say that:
a) Yes, it is a fantasy world, made up. Therefore, you can do w-h-a-t-e-v-e-r you want. Why go with unnecessary sexualisation (and in some cases, gratuitous violence) against women?
b) Do not use the argument that “But it’s based loosely on a medieval history or whatever!!” because see point above, it’s fantasy. AND, you can write about sexual violence and have women be sexy etc, without being completely problematic and offensive!!!! Maybe don’t write about subjects / topics / introduce themes if you aren’t able to write about them informatively and sensitively!!!!
c) Yes, women can be mean!! Women can have lots of sex that they enjoy! Some women don’t! It’s a choice! Stop!! Shaming!!!! Make your women multi-faceted!! Don’t just *tell me* they are this fantastical strong sexy character but fail to characterise/write them in that manner!
d) If your idea of a fantasy world is like this then please…go think about that in depth.
I don’t want to give this any stars.