Reading the Witcher--The Last Wish, Sword of Destiny, Blood of Elves, and The Time of Contempt

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I'm a huge fan of the video game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt --it's got great game play and an excellent story. I enjoyed the game so much that after my first play through (I'm on my second right now), I decided to try reading the books that inspired the game, as well as a new Netflix series with Henry Cavill. The Witcher books were written by Andrzej Sapkowski, a Polish author who's considered the Tolkien of Poland. He's had a huge influence on fantasy in Poland, and it's clear why--the books are fun to read, with compelling characters and great, if episodic, storytelling.

The first Witcher book, The Last Wish: Introducing The Witcher, is a collection of short stories linked by the main character, Geralt. Many of them are extremely dark, heart-rending re-tellings of fairy tales, including a brutal version of Snow White, but some of the stories, especially “The Last Wish” story the collection is named after, are hilariously funny. Anyone who’s played the games knows that for the the pathos and tragedy that surrounds his life, Geralt can still get into some screamingly funny misadventures! The book tells about many of the key moments of Geralt's early life, including his first meeting with Yennefer and how he invoked the Law of Surprise to become Ciri's eventual guardian. While some of the language in translation is a bit clunky, the characters and stories in the book make it a compelling read, especially for anyone who loved the game.

The next book is in the Witcher series is another collection of short stories, The Sword of Destiny. I ended up loving this collection almost as much as The Last Wish. It explores Geralt and Yennefer’s relationship further, in particular how their inability to have a child together despite Yennefer’s desperate yearning complicates their relationship. To me, the stories in The Sword of Destiny are ultimately about family and love (though with plenty of monsters, dragons, infidelity, and dryads along the way). Geralt was bereft of a family from a young age, having been abandoned by his sorceress mother with the Witchers. Yennefer also is bereft of a family, and her and Geralt’s infertility make it impossible for them to form their own in a typical way. They dance around each other, in love and sadness. Likewise, Geralt meets Ciri for the first time, but her formidable grandmother, the Lioness of Cintra, makes it clear that despite the Law of Surprise, she won’t let him take her.

But destiny is a twisting and complicated road, though as Geralt notes, destiny by itself requires something more. And in the haunting and heartrending final, it’s clear what that is—love. This is another book I’d highly recommend—it might be my favorite of the Witcher books, though I also loved The Last Wish. so it’s hard to pick a definitive favorite. While you don’t necessarily need to read The Last Wish to appreciate The Sword of Destiny, it might help to establish the relationships with the characters.

The next book in the series, Blood of Elves, is more of a cohesive novel, but since it tells its story from multiple perspectives it's still a bit episodic. Nonetheless, it tells an excellent story and as usual, the characters are one of the best parts. Geralt seems like the strong, silent type, but Sapkowski gives him a depth and mystery that make him compelling even when he's understated. And Yennefer develops into a complex, intriguing woman with a subtle intelligence. If you don't understand why Geralt is so in love with her after playing the games, this book shows why. Sapkowski draws a complicated web of relationships between Geralt, Yennefer, Ciri and Triss, creating both understanding and mystery.

The Time of Contempt is the second novel and the fourth book in Adrzej Sapkowski's series of books on the Witcher. I really enjoyed the first two books, and this one did not disappoint. The story focuses as much on Ciri as it does on Geralt, but both their stories are exciting and interesting. What's more, for a book with plenty of action, the story is surprisingly philosophical at times. Geralt tries to do what he thinks is best to protect Ciri and do the right thing. Yet, time and again Sapkowski shows how tricky it is to determine the "right" path in a complex, morally ambiguous world. The haunting tragedy of war, and the terrible choices that people make when confronted by devastating circumstances become a running theme.

I loved the characterizations of Geralt and Yennefer--their relationship has complexity and depth, and the reader ends up sympathetic to both characters even when they seem opposed to each other. Their touching love for Ciri shines through their actions, even when they disagree about what's best for her. Even Dandelion becomes a fascinating character, one with more complicated connections than you might think. What's more, Dandelion's "translations" of Geralt and Yennefer's discussions is both touching and hilarious.

For those of you who love the games, this book gives quite a bit of backstory on characters like Phillippa Eilhart and Dijkstra. It also reveals the origins of the political strife and warfare from the games.

I'd recommend these books to anyone who enjoys fantasy, the Witcher games, or is excited to see the new Netiflix series with Henry Cavill. Reading these books had deepened my appreciation for the game, yet they are excellent reads even if you don't ever play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt . They have a world as deep and fully realized as anything in Tolkien or George R.R. Martin, and rich, intriguing characters.

If you like my posts, check out my books, Sapience or Saints and Curses, and subscribe to my newsletter!

Seven Very Short Stories (July 2019)

I’ve continued writing tons more very short stories this month! These I mostly shared on the hashtags #vss365, #satsplat, and #scififri.

Silver Hair

She had silver hair she kept in tight braids during the day. But at night, when she told me stories, she let her hair flow down like a winter river. In the darkest times, I dream about her, but now her eyes are stars and her hair flows across the sky.

Leaving

She stared out the orphanage window, imagining a glittering life elsewhere. She told the other children about the dances she'd attend, the men who'd love her. It all came true. She came back to the orphanage pregnant.

"Stay, little one," she whispered to her baby, dying.

Not a Scratch

He left her without a single visible scar, not even a scratch. Just the memories, bright and brutal and horrible, burned into her retinas. And the loss--a gaping hole in her life where her friends had been, the love and support she'd needed when she left him.

Fly

"An unlikely astronaut," the teacher had muttered under his breath as Lina presented her project. All he saw was her chair. Now she floated above the ship's console, staring out the viewport. A verdant new world. She couldn't walk--but she could fly.

Equanimity

She faced her husband's death with equanimity, even when they made her identify his body. Stay strong for the children, she thought, clutching a rosary to her chest. But then they wheeled out her son.

Soul

"Do you have a soul? Can a true psyche emerge from gears and nano fibers?" he asked, stroking her face and kissing her. She adjusted her automatic responses to prevent cringing.

"I have a soul, Senator. It belongs to you, if you support the Digital Citizen Act."

Condor System

The Condor system was a worldwide project, a way to protect the entire planet from meteors, comets, all extinction level events from space. But someone on the project betrayed us. The plasma guns incinerated DC and Moscow.

Let us help, China said. For a price.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoy my very short stories, check out my collection of science fiction short stories, Sapience, or my new book, Saints and Curses. And remember to subscribe to my newsletter!

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Guest Post, an Interview, and two Reviews

I’ve been busy promoting both my books, Sapience and Saints and Curses, and I’m happy with how that’s going! Today, my friend Sarah Mensinga and I had out first book signing at a local Half Price Bookstore in Plano, TX! We’ll be doing a mini tour of bookstores (find our schedule here). In addition to in-person events, I’ve done another guest post, an interview, and I’ve had two more reviews, including my first by a booktuber!

Me (Alexis Lantgen) holding a copy of my book, Saints and Curses: A Collection of Fantasy Short Stories, at my table at Half Price Books.

Me (Alexis Lantgen) holding a copy of my book, Saints and Curses: A Collection of Fantasy Short Stories, at my table at Half Price Books.

You can find my latest guest post at the Sorcerer of Tea’s website. I wrote “5 Tips for First Time Book Convention Vendors,” and I’m happy with how it turned out. If you’re a writer interested in potentially getting a table at a Comicon, or if you just love Comicons, check it out!

I knew as soon as I decided to publish my first book, Sapience, that I’d love to get a table at a local book convention. I’d been to cons before, and there are always tons of science fiction/fantasy fans roaming about, enjoying the finely polished dice and the hilarious T-shirt slogans.

My most recent interview is with Pond’s Press, which is website about Video Games, Movies, and Netflix shows. I appreciate Chase Pond for contacting me!

My next interview is about a leader in a science fiction writing organization here in DFW. Let’s hear more about it from Alexis Lantgen.

I’m also happy to have a new review of Saints and Curses from writer and book blogger Laura Elizabeth. She has some really beautiful things to say about my book, and it’s always wonderful to hear how much someone enjoyed your stories (honestly, I even enjoy reading a thoughtful critique—it’s nice when someone thinks deeply about your work as well).

I enjoyed the variety in these stories, and Lantgen does well to give each one a completely distinct feel. Moving from story to story we’re treated to some vivid and surprisingly detailed characters, a real strength of the collection, and completely different narrative tones.

Last but not least, I got my first review by a booktuber, April Grace. She gives a very thoughtful description of the stories in Saints and Curses in the video below. She’s agreed to read Sapience as well, and I’m looking forward to hearing what she has to say about my science fiction short stories too.

If you’d like to hear more about my author events, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter!

Five More Mixed Genre Very Short Stories (July 2019)

Yes, here are even more very short stories, or vss. I wrote these for hashtags like #vss365, #satsplat, #scififri, and #scifansat. I hope you enjoy reading them!

HAIR STINGS

"Don't touch me! You're mean and I hate you."

I ignore the sting in my heart. "Even if you hate me, Mommy still has to brush the knots out of your hair.”

ICE MOON

It took three years to dig a stable tunnel into the ice of Enceladus. I was part of the remote operation, piloting the unmanned vehicles in the first mission. I can't explain what I saw. It was like a surrealist fairy garden, or a coral reef. Then it swarmed.

LUVKINS

"Luvkins" had been designed for children, but their precious little faces and spray of "baby" pheromones drove many women mad. They filled houses with the toys, jumped in front of cars to rescue them, and campaigned to save them from landfills.

GRASPING DREAMS

"Grasping."

"Too much."

"Unseemly."

"She's just so...ambitious."

She wanted to clasp her hands over her ears. Why was she forever punished when she tried to reach for her dreams? Once bright and hopeful, her passion twisted into something fetid and bitter.

COYOTE

The night is hot but the drinks are cold. The pulse of the music is like the tribal drums he remembers. He climbs on roof and howls at the moon. A woman appears in a white dress that glows like moonlight. She kisses him.

"No tricks, Coyote," she says. He laughs.

Remember, if you enjoy my very short stories, check out my books, Sapience and Saints and Curses, and sign up for my newsletter!

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Upcoming Events in July and August: A Half Price Books Tour!

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After doing Fan Expo Dallas, my friend Sarah Mensinga and I spend some time thinking about other author events we could do. We both love visiting Half Price Books, a chain of indie bookstores that sell both new and used books, and I’d noticed that Half Price Bookstores often had author events. So one day, I got up my courage and asked at the information desk about setting up a signing/selling table in the stores (which turned out to be a fun and easy process). One thing lead to another, and before long Sarah and I had scheduled a mini book tour of our local Half Price Bookstores! Here’s our dates and locations, with links to the Facebook events pages! (all times are in Central Time Zone).

July 20, 2019 from 1-4pm at the Half Price in Plano, TX

July 27, 2019 from 1-4pm also at the Half Price in Plano

August 4, 2019 from 1-3pm at the Half Price in Grapevine, TX

August 11, 2019 from 1-3pm at the Flagship Half Price in Dallas, TX (on Northwest Highway)

In addition to these in person events, I’ll also be taking over the Fantasy and Sci-Fi Reader’s Lounge on Facebook on July 26 from 3-4pm for Games Week! Stop by to play some of the fun readers/writers/book games I come up with!

I’ll also be taking over the Fantasy and Sci-Fi Reader’s Lounge again on August 10, 2019 from 1-4pm for Curses and Enchantments week! So be sure to stop by to learn more about Curses and Enchantments in my book, Saints and Curses. There will be a surprise for Lounge Readers that I’ll announce that day!

Also, check out this video from Fan Expo Dallas by Rube Da Great! Sarah Mensinga and I are in the video around 17:30 minutes in!

Remember, if you’d like to here more about my events, make sure you sign up for my newsletter!

Review: The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest

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The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest is collection of fantasy short stories and poems that I found at the library. It was edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, the same duo who had edited another book I enjoyed, Black Swan, White Raven, so I decided to check it out. I loved the theme of the book, and since I just returned from a trip to the Redwood Forest, it felt like the right book for me to read. I'm glad I did, because while I didn't love all the stories, many of them were haunting and unique, and I'm looking forward to reading more from those authors.

Some of my favorite stories were "Grand Central Park," by Delia Sherman, "A World Painted by Birds" by Katherine Vaz, and "Joshua Tree" by Emma Bull. These stories captured the theme in beautifully imaginative ways, but each one was as different from the others as water from fire. In particular, I loved the coming-of-age theme in "Grand Central Park," as well as the heroine's kindness and generosity even as she "wins." Vaz's story is as gorgeous and lush as a canvas, yet as sorrowful and haunting as a poem by Frederico Garcia Lorca. I loved her imagery, and how the worst characters had some humanity in them, even the selfish General's Wife. In contrast, Bull's "Joshua Tree" was spare and understated, yet the germs of hope and freedom her main character discovers in the desert felt as tough as the trees in her title. It was a reminder that there's a beauty even in harsh, hard-to-survive environments, like high school and the desert.

Other notable stories included "Fee, Fie, Foe, et Cetera" by Gregory Maguire, "Remnants" by Kathe Koja, and "The Pagodas of Ciboure" by M. Shayne Bell. I loved Maguire's matter-of-fact take on fairy tales, where Jack has to contend with taxes and bureaucracy as much as a giant. Koja's "Remnants" on the other hand, had one of the darkest takes on the theme in the anthology. The forest of trash is both a refuge and perhaps a trap for the main character, who seems both magical and deeply disturbed. The dark secrets she uses the forest to conceal lurk beneath her supposedly sunny outlook, and the enemies she fears might be people trying to help her, if perhaps ineffectually. It's a story that definitely sticks in your mind, and raises uncomfortable questions about society and the "trash" we throw away. In contrast, "The Pagodas of Ciboure" is a charming, lovely story about the imagined childhood of one of my favorite composers, Maurice Ravel. I loved, loved, loved the pagodas, which are not Chinese temples but a type of French fairy creature made of porcelain, jewels, and crystal. The lovely little creatures and their relationship with a kind but sickly boy made this story one of the most enjoyable to read.

Overall, I'd highly recommend this book to anyone interested in fantasy stories. Like many anthologies, there's such a wide variety of voices and approaches to the theme that it's easy to find stories to love.

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Five More SciFi/Fantasy Very Short Stories (July 2019)

I’ve stayed pretty busy, so I haven’t been posting as many very short stories on Twitter as I was. But I am trying to keep it up, since it’s so much fun! I wrote these stories for #vss365, #scififri, #scifansat, and #satsplat.

Soup

She stirs a pot of water, smiling. "I'm making soup," she says. "Try some."

"Delicious," I say, wishing we had real soup. 10 more days. "Sweetie--"

"Don't worry, Mommy. I know we don't have rations. I'll be brave until we land."

"Yes, baby." Tears cloud my eyes.

Greetings from Earth

The craft unfurled like a tangle of vines. The beings inside shimmered and glowed like sentient mists. I tried to call off the airstrike. Too late--they'd triggered our 1980's paranoia. I cried when it hit--burned everything to ash. I hope they didn't suffer.

Contact

It was nothing like we thought. The first signs were in the flight patterns of butterflies and the song of the whales. When the ship arrived, it was a green and translucent, more like a bubble than a craft. Their contact brought a revolution of peace.

Fortune

It was a joke, a fun thing to do for my bachelorette party the night before the wedding. But the old woman had palsied hands and milky white eyes, and she gasped when she touched my hand.

"What's my fortune?"

"Run," she said. "Don't look back."

I wish I'd listened.

Liberty

Her hands stray over the shackles she's spent months shaving away. Liberty, almost... A key turns in the lock; a guard shoves something in her cell. A child, tiny shackles around bony wrists. Sobbing. She wraps it in her arms.

"Shhh, it's okay. We'll be free. Someday."

If you enjoyed these stories, and are interested in reading more of them, please make sure to sign up for my newsletter!

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Xanthuss Marduk, the Sorcerer of Tea, Discusses Mythology and Worldbuilding!

How to Use Mythology to Worldbuild

I recently wrote a post about how to create better mythology for your world. If you’ve read that, or you’re already confident creating myths then this is the next step - using myths to worldbuild.

Using myths as a vehicle for worldbuilding is something I love to do. I often write a creation myth before anything else in my world. But how do we do this?

Remember, Myths were Once a Religion

If you’re writing myths that people still believe in, think of it as a religion. The primary difference is that classical myths were not codified like modern translations of the Bible are today. There was no single version, and many were recited by entertainers and not written down.

The myths we read today were once working religions. It is important to remember this. Much like the Bible, people truly believed in these stories and followed them. Using them to set their morals by, and understand the world.

If you’re writing myths that have no followers left, think about their impact when they did have followers.

Use Myths to Set the Tone of your Setting

Myths are an important way to colour your setting. For both your characters and your reader, they give context to history and natural laws. If all the heroes die, it sets a darker tone than a myth or legend where the heroine gets the girl.

The god of the moon, Gywndolin, from Dark Souls.

The god of the moon, Gywndolin, from Dark Souls.

Dark Souls tells the bulk of its lore through fragments of stories, many of which are merely legends and myths. They tell of a grander era than the one the player explores. A golden age of gods. That contradiction immediately tells us what is going on. Dark Souls is a story about the world slowly fading. Through each game, the myths get warped and we hear less and less about them. The facts start to give way to rumour.

If you instead decide to set a bright and heroic tone, your myths may always see the heroes win, and the gods will hand down the details of these events in perfect clarity.

Mix Politics and Mythology

Politics plays a surprising role in mythology. Many myths are promoted or rewritten to promote royal families or noble lineages who claim heroic ancestry. Cities are named after mythological figures. And oracles become the tools of politics.

The Oracle of Delphi was often a central player in the politics of the Greek city states, and for the right amount of gold, you might get a prophecy that’d cement your legacy. Whether or not the Oracle really spoke to Apollo was less important than the fact that the average person believed she did.

Marble busts of Hadrian and Antinous.    Photo by Carole Raddato   .

Marble busts of Hadrian and Antinous. Photo by Carole Raddato.

Another example. The death of Antinous, the lover of the Roman emperor Hadrian, led him to deify his love. Though it may have been solely because of his grief, creating a cult of worshippers loyal to his lover gave Hadrian political clout in Egypt. In the following centuries, the cult of Antinous became a political hot potato. Everyone from Christians to the Sibylline oracles criticized the legend of Antinous, often as a vehicle to attack Hadrian’s legacy itself. In the fight between Christians and Pagans, Antinous was used as a central figure and medals were issued with his face as anti-Christian propaganda. Christians responded by destroying statues of the god, and in 391 banned his worship entirely.

Think about how your world’s queens and lords have used myths to support their own rule or undermine their enemies. Do they claim descent from a god? Have they compared their enemy to a heartless villain? Have they proclaimed their favored historical figures demigods?

Consider Why the Myth was Popular

Who did your myths appeal to? The rich, the poor, the marginalized, the ruling class?

Farmers might hold agricultural myths close to heart, and these myths might hold important wisdom farmers need to know - like the order of the seasons or movement of the weather. The cult of Dionysus was popularized because it justified the excess of the Athenian elite, and parties under the pretense of worship were a great tool to make allies.

Today, LGBTQ people have adopted many myths like Tu Shen and Antinous into their own religious practices. They do this because they seek out representation like themselves, and find it in these ancient stories.

So what do the people of your world see in your myths that appeals to them?

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Thank you for your insights, Xanthuss! I personally love coming up with mythology that’s unique to my worlds, or else using existing mythology in a new and interesting way.

Review: Fractalistic by Gerardo Delgadillo

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Gerardo Delgadillo and I were in a writing group together for several years, so when he sent me an ARC of his latest book, Fractalistc, I was excited to read it. I’m glad I did, because Fractalistic is a fascinating book—part scifi, part bildungsroman, part romance, with a lovely dash of Mexican culture that makes the setting vivid and interesting.

After moving to Mexico with her parents, Winter Gutan had been hoping the local alternative medicine doctor would cure her mother’s illness. When her mother does not survive his controversial treatments, Winter’s life spirals in despair.

In particular, I loved Fractalistic’s colorful and engaging cast of characters. Winter, the main character, has all the intensity and passion of a traumatized and confused teenager, in a good way. She’s deeply flawed and makes mistakes, but she’s also kind. I know that this is a small part of the book, but I loved Winter’s kindness to animals, including the dog she decides to adopt, and her sweetness to a crying child at one point in the story. Winter’s friends (or the classmates from her school who become her friends) are just as interesting, and have complex lives of their own. Even her love interest, Rafa, turns out to be way more than the hunky soccer player he seems at first. Meanwhile, grief and pain threaten to overwhelm Winter’s father, and the depictions of his drinking and descent into misery felt as vivid and painful as a fresh cut.

I thought the plot was also engaging, and it kept me guessing about people’s motives and their secrets through most of the book. Winter is distrustful, and with good reason, since many of the people close to her aren’t being very honest.

Overall, I really loved this book! The author’s depictions of Mexico are so real you can practically taste the churros, and I found myself wanting to attend a Mexican soccer game more than I’d ever have expected. I loved the characters and their relationships, and the story kept me guessing. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in YA, light scifi, or light, sweet romance. Fractalistic is available for preorder now, and comes out July 9, 2019!

Guest Post on Reads and Reels, an Author Interview on Altered Instinct, and a Giveaway!

This has been a busy month, but I’m really happy that I managed to write as much as I did (with the kids on summer vacation, no less!). In particular, I’m really proud of the guest post I wrote for Reads and Reels on “Religious Allegory in Netflix’s I Am Mother.” I watched the movie with my husband, and like the best type of scifi, it really stayed with me. I was turning it over and over in my head, trying to figure it out and find more meaning. I found I had to write about it to help myself understand it on a deeper level. So watch the movie, then read the review and let me know what you think!

Netflix’s “I Am Mother” is a thought-provoking science fiction thriller about AI and the human survival after an apocalypse. It’s a tense movie, full of uncomfortable juxtapositions and difficult questions about AI, our relationship to technology, and perhaps about the nature of Mother-Daughter relationships everywhere. What’s more, on a closer look, it offers haunting religious imagery and a disturbing allegory.

I’m also happy that I was able to do an interview with a blogger and writer I really respect, Leo McBride from Altered Instincts! Check it out, and while you’re there scoop out Altered Instincts, which is a really interesting blog about scifi and fantasy. In fact, he may not remember, but one of my first ever reviews was on Altered Instincts, for my short story “Earth is for Earthers” which first appeared in Red Sun Magazine and is now also in my book Sapience! So double thanks, Leo!

Twitter is a wonderful place. Okay, okay, it can get a little crazy at times. But it's through Twitter that I met Alexis Lantgen. She's a science fiction and fantasy writer of short stories - so she's kind of following the same path as me.

I’m also happy to announce that I’m running an Amazon giveaway for my newest book, Saints and Curses! Sign up for a chance to win a free book! It’s going until July 4th, so hurry!

My books are also listed on the Book of the Day website now! Here’s the links for Sapience and Saints and Curses.

Thank you for reading, and remember, if you like my books or my writing, sign up for my newsletter below!

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