Review of Andrzej Sapkowski's Season of Storms
After losing his swords and getting into legal trouble in the small, coastal kingdom of Kerack, Geralt is manipulated by political and supernatural entities that want his services as a witcher. Not seeing much choice in the matter, he plays along, hoping to recover his swords and escape from the corrupt and myopic authorities in Kerack.
Taking the job leads him into the countryside where he has to contend with crime bosses, amoral sorcerers, demons, soldiers in a border dispute, aguara, and an attempted coup for the throne of Kerack. Along the way Geralt gets help from a variety of side characters, including the poet Dandelion, the sorceress Lytta “Coral” Neyd, the dwarf Addario Bach, lawman Frans Torquil, and a werewolf named Otto Dussart. It’ll take all their efforts to recover what Geralt lost and achieve a measure of justice in Kerack.
My Gleam Penetrates the Darkness
As with many of Sapkowski’s witcher stories, there is an examination of what it means to act ethically, and in Season of Storms, the statement appears to be that humanity is a choice. Geralt, Addario, and Otto all makes choices to help people, sometimes at their own peril, and in doing so, show they value others. Different characters, such as the king of Kerack and several of the sorcerers at Rissberg, assume they are better and more valuable than other people. They show disdain and contempt for others and cannot understand why Geralt bothers to help people of a lesser caliber. It is this thematic focus that makes witcher novels draw comparisons hard-boiled detective novels like The Big Sleep and Sergio Leone westerns like The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.
Witcher stories, much like those other works, examine a world that is mean, hard, and often corrupt while examining what it takes to live and act morally in such a setting. Geralt explains he spared Dussart because even as a wolf he “remained a man and never harmed anybody” (319). Even a werewolf can behave humanely, but it is a choice to do so. Other characters, frequently those in positions of power, rarely let their moral compass guide them to ethical behavior.
From such a perspective, readers notice in this book that there is less direct antagonist rather than systematic prejudice that makes life harder than it needs to be. For instance, misogynist kings play political games with inheritance and cynically attempt to achieve social harmony by keeping women at home and pregnant, and the philanthropist sorcerer Ortolan who “would give humanity the benefit of peace, even if it would first be necessary to destroy half of it” (11-12, 143). Such authorities think in abstractions and care nothing for the actual people they are supposed to help.
Even if they claim to be working for a greater good, they are, in fact, selfishly devoted to their own vision of how the world should be and how they should be rewarded for making it happen. Ortlan, for instance, when confronted with the news that one of his creations escaped and killed at least twenty people, becomes enraged that such a “work of genius” was destroyed simply for killing peasants and laborers (147). Sorel Degerlund may be a narcissist psychopath, but at least he doesn’t delude himself the way Ortlan and Fysh do.
My Brightness Disperses the Gloom
In standard Sapkowski fashion, readers are treated to various elements of the setting such as a legal case, the metaphysics of enchanting swords, demonology, an auction in Novigrad, and food preparation for a royal wedding (32-5, 100-1, 151-7, 279-84, 338-40). How much a reader can tolerate of these digressions is, at some level, a function of how much he or she is invested in the setting as a whole. Structurally, the book seems a bit scattered, as though it were originally a series of short stories arranged so that one followed the other. The last fifth of the book, however, does manage to tie together some of the previous events that seemed only tangentially connected.
Why Two Swords?
The Witcher Geralt remains a fantastic addition to the pantheon of heroic fantasy characters, and Season of Storms marks a strong and accessible entry point for anyone interested in Sapkowski’s fantasy series.
Sapkowski, Andrzej. Season of Storms. Translated by David French, Orbit, 2018.
© 2018 Seth Tomko