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Content warnings: Gore, torture, bigotry
I had no idea what to expect from a Sapkowski book unrelated to The Witcher. Dear readers, I was absolutely delighted. In this long first entry in The Hussite Trilogy, we follow the misadventures of Reynevan Bielawa, an idiot sorcerer who’s also an adulterer trying to win back his lover, escape her spouse, and not get killed by the Inquisition.
The prose here reminded much of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. There is no separating it from the time period (1400s Central/Eastern Europe) and the text is deeply sarcastic. It takes the time and the war very seriously, shifting to a lecture-esque tone when referring to historical events happening around the main characters. Sapkowski takes every opportunity to roast each charlatan we encounter. No one is necessarily evil, but the entire cast is shitheads. The sarcastic humor is incredible from the prologue.
The story’s relationship with magic is also very interesting. It lulls the reader in with a sense of “maybe the Church is just being paranoid in that way it had been in the time period,” but then surprises the reader with real spells, demonic possessions, and alchemy. It’s a truly wild ride, that also features some key figures of medieval history, namely Johannes Guttenberg and Nicolas Copernicus.
Sapkowski also does a thing that I greatly enjoy which is having chapter epitaphs starting with “In which (…).” I really helps set the tone and the shape of the narrative. Again, deeply sarcastic, but keeps a close eye to attitudes help by those neck-deep in the shenanigans and those watching from the outside.
A series first worthy of comparison to the romances of Chrétien de Troyes with an unexpected time period.