However, Geralt of Rivia didn’t make an appearance in the world of the Witcher until the publication of Sapkowski’s 1990 short story collection, also called Wiedzmín. This text is out of print now, so it’s not one of the eight books you’ll need to read to bring you up to speed on the literary counterpart of the games so many fans have grown to love. In fact, every story in this collection bar one — “The Road to No Return,” about Geralt’s mother — was included in 1993’s The Last Wish collection.
The Last Wish / Sword of Destiny
The Last Wish is your starting point in The Witcher, which is important to note because it was published a year after 1992’s Sword of Destiny. The Last Wish takes almost every single story from Wiedzmín and adds more, all of which feature events that occur before the previously published Sword of Destiny. It’s basically a prequel collection written to prep you for Sword of Destiny.
Once you’ve read The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny, you’re ready to move on to the saga. This is comprised of five novels, all of which tell the stories of Geralt, Ciri, Yennefer, Triss, Dandelion, and others. They also introduce a range of characters that don’t appear in CD Projekt Red’s adaptations, most of whom are great.
If you’re solely interested in covering what’s likely to be featured early on in the TV series, the Last Wish and Sword of Destiny short story collections should be fine. However, if you want to know the ins and outs of the world and ensure that you’re a true Witcher connoisseur, you’ll want to dive deeper into the saga, which is set roughly 10 years before the games and focuses largely on the relationship between Geralt and Ciri. This is where the bulk of Geralt’s stories unfold, and makes up the main constituent of The Witcher universe at large — at least in terms of Sapkowski’s conception of it. Here are the five novels in order:
Blood of Elves
Originally published 1994, translated into English 2008
The first book in the saga, Blood of Elves, takes place after the short story collections The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny. It introduces Nilfgaardian Emperor Emhyr var Emreis’ pursuit of Ciri, Geralt’s adopted daughter, in order to marry her and attain power over Cintra, the land that is hers by birthright. In an effort to thwart Emhyr’s plans, the Northern monarchs meet and decide to assassinate Ciri, but Geralt of Rivia watches over her in Kaer Morhen, the remote keep inhabited by Wolf School witchers. Meanwhile, a mysterious sorcerer is also trying to locate Ciri.
The Time of Contempt
Originally published 1995, translated into English 2013
The Time of Contempt picks up where the previous novel finishes. The Northern Kings are still conspiring with one another in an effort to lure Nilfgaard into war, while Ciri is due to be enrolled at Aretuza in order to study magic. Ciri comes into contact with some of the most powerful sorceresses on The Continent. As war becomes inevitable, she finds herself on the run with a bandit group known simply as The Rats.
Baptism of Fire
Originally published 1996, translated into English 2014
Geralt spends time in Brokilon forest recovering from events in the previous book, which is where he and Dandelion encounter an elven archer named Milva, who decides to join their group. People who have played the games will be glad to know that the dwarf Zoltan Chivay temporarily joins Geralt’s ragtag group too, as well as the vampire Regis. A Nilfgaardian knight named Cahir also tags along because he feels indebted to Ciri. Geralt officially receives his “of Rivia” title after an epic battle while Ciri begins to feel at home with The Rats.
The Tower of the Swallow
Originally published 1997, translated into English 2016
Ciri is gravely injured after an encounter with Nilfgaardian bounty hunter Leo Bonhart, who was hired by the coroner Stefan Skellen to kill her. A kind old man nurses her back to health while Geralt’s party continues their search for Ciri and Geralt renounces his status as a witcher. The Lodge of Sorceresses attempt to gain control of a country called Kovir while Triss Merigold seeks information on Yennefer of Vengerberg. (Known as The Tower of Swallows in the U.S.)
The Lady of the Lake
Originally published 1999, translated into English 2017
Ciri encounters Arthurian knight Sir Galahad who believes she is the eponymous lady of the lake. The story cuts to a dream in which Geralt overhears Skellen and sets out to rescue Yennefer from a faraway castle. Ciri, meanwhile, tells Galahad about her time in the elven world of Aen Elle, home of the Wild Hunt. She begins to jump between worlds in order to escape them, but Eredin Breacc Glas persistently chases her, as she heads towards a final meeting with her surrogate parents Geralt and Yennefer.
Now we’re up to seven out of eight books. The last text is also a novel, but it’s a bit difficult to place and depends on personal preference…
Season of Storms
If you’re somebody who likes to know everything that happens as it happens, then you might want to read Season of Storms immediately after The Last Wish. Originally published in 2013 — 14 years after Sapkowski wrapped the saga — Season of Storms contains stories that take place between the stories in The Last Wish, which aren’t necessarily in strict proximity to one another. However, it’s also written after the saga was completed by Sapkowski and contains slight hints about what’s to come, if not outright spoilers. If you’re dying to read the series in strictly chronological terms, it could be worth reading it right after The Last Wish. If you’re the type of person who worries about spoilers though, save it for the end and enjoy it as a retrospective piece.
Those are the eight books in The Witcher series — in English, at least. There are two anthologies consisting of Witcher stories penned by guest authors in Sapkowski’s world that were published in 2013 and 2017, but they’re in Polish. If you can read them, go ahead, but they aren’t considered canon and likely won’t have anything to do with Netflix’s show or the games.
Interestingly, “The Road to No Return” short (about Geralt’s mother), which is the only Wiedzmín story missing from the Last Wish short story collection, appears in the 2000 collection Something Ends, Something Begins, which is a name some gamers might recognize from the similarly titled quest at the end of The Witcher 3. A story called “Something Ends, Something Begins” also appears in this collection too, which was written as a wedding gift for two of Sapkowski’s friends and describes Geralt and Yennefer’s wedding.
However, this collection is also in Polish. You can check out a fan translation of the “Something Ends, Something Begins” story that’s apparently pretty accurate here, but “The Road to No Return” is a little harder to find. Also, it’s important to recognize that “Something Ends, Something Begins,” like the anthologies by the guest authors, isn’t considered canon, so it’s not indicative of any plot direction in the series at large. The rest of the stories in Something Ends, Something Begins have nothing to do with The Witcher series.
With all of that said, you should also check out The Witcher games if you haven’t yet. The series may not have anything to do with them, but some of the characters you meet also exist in the books, so the games could indirectly serve as a primer for encountering or hearing about some of those in the show. They’re also fantastic, with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, holding up remarkably well — even by 2019’s standards. Henry Cavill, who portrays Geralt in Netflix’s upcoming series, told IGN even he has played through The Witcher 3 multiple times.
If you’re excited about The Witcher and want to prep yourself for it in advance, the above is the best possible order to read the books in, with an optional placement of Season of Storms depending on personal preference. After that, dive into the games and acquaint yourself with the wider world of The Witcher. Because it won’t be long before you’ll be streaming it on the small screen.
Watch IGN’s interview below with Cavill and the rest of Netflix’s The Witcher cast at San Diego Comic Con, where they share how the books relate to the upcoming series.