Netflix's anticipated adaptation of The Witcher is officially here! But if you're a fan of the video game franchise of the same name, you might be confused about some aspects of the new fantasy drama. That's because, while the games deserve a lot of credit for popularizing The Witcher universe, they actually originated as a series of books by Polish author of Andrzej Sapkowski,
These books act as the source material for the fantasy series, which stars Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter who discovers his destiny is intertwined with that of the sorceress Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) and the princess Ciri (Freya Allan). However, the books — particularly the chronology of the stories — can be extremely confusing and even a bit intimidating for first-time readers. But we've compiled everything you need to know about the books, including the best order to read them in, so that you can be fully prepared for the Netflix series this winter.
Sapkowski first published "The Witcher," a story set in this world, in a Polish science-fiction and fantasy magazine in 1986 as part of a contest (it won third place). That story, along with several others, is included in the short story collection The Last Wish. There is also a second short story collection, Sword of Destiny. These books follow Geralt's early adventures and introduce readers to Yennefer, Ciri, Geralt's best friend Dandelion (who will be known as Jaskier in the Netflix show), and several other influential figures and themes.
The next five books are serialized novels that make up the Witcher Saga. These novels — Blood of Elves, Time of Contempt, Baptism of Fire, The Tower of the Swallow, and The Lady of the Lake — tell a cohesive story about Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer as fate draws them into a dangerous political game that has the potential to radically reform the world.
A sixth book, Season of Storms, is the novel set in this world, but it actually is a prequel to the Witcher Saga. There is also another collection of short stories set in this universe, Something Ends, Something Begins, that features a short story about Geralt's mother as well as one about Geralt and Yennefer. However, Sapkowski has said that this last story isn't canonical and it was simply written as a wedding gift for his friends.
While you might be tempted to start at the novels, you actually need to start at the short stories. The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny will provide a lot of the inspiration for the first season of the Netflix series. The standalone novel Season of Storms takes place in between stories in The Last Wish and features some characters who do come into play later as well. Here's the reading order we'd recommend if you're thinking of jumping into the series:
1. The Last Wish
2. Season of Storms
3. Sword of Destiny
4. Blood of Elves
5. Time of Contempt
6. Baptism of Fire
7. The Tower of the Swallow
8. The Lady of the Lake
If you want to get really crazy with it and actually read every story and book in the order things take place in, you can also go by this chronological reading order. But honestly, we don't recommend this.
1. "A Grain of Truth" (The Last Wish)
2. "The Lesser Evil" (The Last Wish)
3. "The Edge of the World" (The Last Wish)
4. "The Last Wish" (The Last Wish)
5. Season of Storms
6. "A Question of Price" (The Last Wish)
7. "The Witcher" (The Last Wish)
8. "The Voice of Reason" (The Last Wish)
9. "Bounds of Reason" (Sword of Destiny)
10. "A Shard of Ice" (Sword of Destiny)
11. "The Eternal Fire" (Sword of Destiny)
12. "A Little Sacrifice" (Sword of Destiny)
13. "The Sword of Destiny" (Sword of Destiny)
14. "Something More" (Sword of Destiny)
15. Blood of Elves
16. Time of Contempt
17. Baptism of Fire
18. The Tower of the Swallow
19. The Lady of the Lake
20. Season of Storms epilogue
The Witcher showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich has said that she imagines the show running for seven seasons, but she hasn't gone into too much detail about how exactly that will correspond to the books. (Will the show largely ignore Season of Storms since it's not connected? Will the two short story collections be condensed into one season?)
What we do know is that the first season appears to be drawing largely from The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny. Based off the footage, photos, and casting information that has been released, it seems pretty clear that Season 1 will include new takes on "The Witcher," "The Lesser Evil," "A Question of Price," "The Edge of the World" and "The Last Wish" from The Last Wish, as well as "The Bounds of Reason, "A Shard of Ice," and "The Sword of Destiny" from Sword of Destiny.
If you want to know more about what the Netflix show will adapt — and what it will change — check out the video below.
Looking for more detailed info on what to expect of The Witcher books? We've included a breakdown of all the must-know information about the eight main Witcher books below, which means there will be some spoilers ahead. If you aren't down with that, then you should probably turn back down and just start reading The Last Wish.
The Last Wish
Originally published in 1993, translated into English in 2007
In this short story collection, Geralt, having been injured in battle, recovers at the temple of Melitele, during which time he has flashbacks to various recent events in his life. These include recollections of how he was injured in battle with a striga, his encounter with a man who was cursed to look like a beast, how he earned the nickname "The Butcher of Blaviken," the story of Ciri's parents and how Geralt became her destiny, a scuffle with a sylvan (during which Geralt meets his best friend, the poet Dandelion), and how Geralt meets the love of his life, Yennefer, after a dangerous run-in with a djinn.
Stories contained within: "The Voice of Reason," "The Witcher," "A Grain of Truth," "The Lesser Evil," "A Question of Price," "The Edge of the World," and "The Last Wish"
Season of Swords
Originally published in 2013, translated into English in 2018
A standalone novel that follows Geralt's misadventures in Kerack, where he finds himself without his signature two swords and begins a dangerous affair with Lytta Nyed, a powerful sorceress otherwise known as Coral. Geralt soon gets dragged into two dangerous conspiracies (one involving a group of sorcerers, and another involving King Belohun and his bitter sons).This book also features an epilogue that is set long after the events of the Witcher Saga.
Sword of Destiny
Originally published in 1992, translated into English in 2015
This short story collection is focused largely on Geralt slowly coming to terms with his destiny, including how his is tied to Yennefer's and Ciri's. It follows Geralt on various adventures, including a quest for a dragon, insights into one of Geralt and Yennefer's (many) breakups, a comical run-in with a shape-shifter, Geralt's first encounter with Ciri, and Geralt's later reunion with Ciri, during which he finally accepts their destiny and takes her home with him.
Stories contained within: "The Bounds of Reason," "A Shard of Ice," "Eternal Flame," "A Little Sacrifice," "The Sword of Destiny," and "Something More"
Blood of Elves
Originally published in 1994, translated into English in 2008
The first book in the saga, Blood of Elves finds Ciri training to be a witcher under Geralt's guidance and developing her relationship with Yennefer. It also introduces several of the figures who are searching for Ciri, including the Nilfgaardian Emperor Emhyr var Emreis, who seeks to find and marry Ciri to attain control of Cintra; a group of monarchs, who are debating whether to have her killed; and a sorcerer, Rience, who is working for a mysterious and powerful mage.
Time of Contempt
Originally published in 1995, translated into English in 2013
As war between the North and Nilfgaard grows closer to reality, Ciri is set to enroll at Aretuza to develop her magical abilities. But things soon take a turn and she finds herself alone and on the run, ultimately being taken in by a group of bandits known as The Rats. Meanwhile, Geralt attends a gathering of mages with Yennefer where he meets the sorcerer Vilgefortz and accidentally finds himself caught up in a coup taking place within the magical community.
Baptism of Fire
Originally published in 1996, translated into English in 2014
Geralt assembles a team of misfits who decide to accompany him on his quest to find Ciri, including Dandelion, the archer Milva, the dwarf Zoltan Chivay, and the vampire Regis. The former Nilgaardian knight Cahir, who has a complicated history with the lost princess, also wants to find Ciri again, but Geralt doubts his intentions. Meanwhile, Ciri finds herself becoming more at home with The Rats and the bandit lifestyle.
The Tower of the Swallow
Originally published in 1997, translated into English in 2016
Ciri moves in with an old hermit, Vysogota, and she shares the story of her life, including her recent run-in with a bounty hunter, Leo Bonhart. While Geralt searches for Ciri, Yennefer searches for Vilgefortz and the details of the prophecy Ciri is involved in start to become clear.
The Lady of the Lake
Originally published in 1999, translated into English in 2017
While the war between Nilfgaard and the Northern territories continues, Ciri finds herself held captive far from home and must learn to harness her powers in order to make it back to Geralt and Yennefer, who is in desperate need of her help.
The Witcher premieres Friday, Dec. 20 on Netflix. Check out everything to know about the Netflix series right here.