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The Witcher books: beginner's guide and reading order

The Witcher books: beginner's guide and reading order
(Image credit: Netflix)

What with The Witcher TV series releasing later this year and with periodic sales of the Witcher games coming and going, it's pretty much always a great time to delve into The Witcher books—but particularly in advance of and to prepare for the Netflix show series. Its Nilfgaardian armor is looking a tad wrinkly, but we're willing to put good money on the show being a success due to its close (ish) proximity to Game of Thrones styles and sensibilities. Plus those fans will be burning hard for something else to watch. So to prepare and/or pass that time, it really does help to remember that The Witcher series was based on a book series, and that that book series is actually quite good and accessibly and will fill that Geralt-shaped hole in your life. 

Unfortunately its not quite as easy as one, two, three, and there are several mini series and ways that the books are compiled. However, we've have you covered. As a brief overview, the book series is written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski and follows a man named Geralt who happens to be a Witcher—someone attuned with supernatural abilities and trained from childhood to battle beasts that threaten the public. Of course, the books are about more than that: there’s plenty of drama, sex, politics and even some comedy, but the central arc follows Geralt as he protects Ciri, a princess whose country has been conquered and becomes a witcher-in-training. 

If you want sword-wielding action and grotesque monsters, you’re in the right place. The series started as a set of short stories in the '80s for a Polish fantasy magazine, and the initial tale came third in their competition to find new ideas and writers. The stories were so popular they then went on to spawn full-length novels, which began in the '90s, and eventually became the games we all know and love.

Following another books-to-games journey, you can check out our guide to the Metro 2033 books to complement Metro Exodus's release this year.

The Witcher Netflix TV Series

The great news is that as well as the books and all that they offer, there is the small matter of the high-profile Netflix TV series coming later this year. Starring Henry Cavill as Geralt, run by Daredevil writer Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, and also with lovely-horse Roach confirmed, it sounded promising at the beginning and now looks to have a genuine shot at being genuinely good. Now we've also had a trailer to whet the appetite further, the excitement and hype feels even more real and the series' arrival even more imminent. The trailer was littered with details that were easy to miss too.

The TV series will take plenty of inspiration and stick pretty closely (within reason) to the books so reading them in advance is still the best way to prepare.

If you're new to The Witcher books, where should you start?

The Witcher books: reading order and beginner's guide

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With so many books and short stories set within the universe, it’s tricky to know where to start, especially as some were only released in English after the series reached a certain level of success. You’ll want to start with The Last Wish. While it was published later on, it features stories set before the first full-length book and establishes the Continent as a backdrop. It also introduces the reader to Geralt and the basics of what a witcher is and what one does. You’ll read about Geralt fighting beasts, indulging in bar room fights and his bedroom escapades.

This set of stories introduces everything you’ll see in the games. Sapkowski tells of Geralt’s silver sword with which he kills the monsters of magic, he depicts the often-corrupt governments that reside throughout the world, and we meet an ensemble of characters. These include Dandelion, a poet friend of Geralt who is hearing these tales we’re experiencing, Yennifer, a sorceress with whom Geralt begins a troubled relationship and Triss, also a sorceress, a friend of Geralt but also the third point of the Geralt, Yennifer and Triss love triangle.

The second short story collection, Sword of Destiny, must follow because it’s here we meet Ciri and each story takes place directly before the main novels.

What's the reading order of The Witcher books?

So, you’ve read the short stories and you’ve got a taste for Geralt and those around him. You’ve discovered more about the world he inhabits and the wars between human, dwarves and elves—the humans were victorious and now the other races are seen a lesser species—and now you want to sink your teeth into the proper saga. You would think it's best to read the rest of the books in the order they were published, but a recent release, Season of Storms, actually takes place within the stories of The Last Wish. To be honest, it’s only worth reading Season of Storms if you want to experience everything The Witcher has to offer, as the events that take place are not integral to the main arc, but it does sow some seeds of what’s to come in the rest of the series.

Otherwise, read the books in the order they were released: Blood of Elves, Time of Contempt, Baptism of Fire, The Tower of the Swallow and The Lady of the Lake. Below are the best prices for these books but they do get sold together on Amazon—the first six books altogether on Amazon US and the first seven bundled together on Amazon UK.

Away from the novels, it’s also worth reading The World of the Witcher, which is a compendium of information created directly by CD Projekt Red. It’s a beautifully illustrated addition to the series that contains everything you’ll want to know about monsters, weapons, people and places. Be warned, though, it does feature spoilers for the games and the books. There is a designated Witcher III: Wild Hunt art book but it is pretty rare as it was released only with collector's editions. One to look out for though; I know I always do. And there's yet more artwork available now following the release of the Gwent game, as it too now has its own art book: The Art of the Witcher: Gwent Gallery Collection. And to finish the art side of things off, there's a Witcher Adult Coloring Book that will keep you occupied long into the night, giving your favorite characters unique outfits and painting your own Witcher pictures.

Is there anything else? You bet! Graphic novels from Dark Horse Comics have been released. While not written by Sapkowski, the graphic novels do a great job of adding extras to already released stories and creating some extra content on the side, plus they look great as the art evokes the gritty and dark themes of the books and games. Volume 1, Volume 2 and Volume 3 all include several stories each. while a collated Library Edition packs everything in one.  

Why should I read them if I’ve played the games?

In a nutshell, because they’re good books and a great way to get more Witcher in you. They are fun, accessible reads, that are generally quick reads, too, as the action keeps the pace up. Of course, it depends on your personal tastes, but generally the novels and short stories are good fun. It would be easy to say "well, much like films, the books are better" but that isn’t generally the case here, as the games give you a better view of the action within this setting, while still delivering a genuinely great story.

Reading the books will, however, give you a better sense of the world, flesh out more of the cast and create a stronger bond between yourself and the situations in the lore. Places will become more familiar, characters are drawn with more depth and although much of the plot will be known to you from playing the games, the books fill in small gaps here and there.

How faithful are The Witcher games to the books?

Very. Only so much of the books was directly brought to the games. CD Projekt Red went to great lengths to bring Sapkowski’s witty, wry and strong Geralt of Rivia to players of the games. Due to the branching narratives of the games, the plot is "based" on the books, rather than a direct retelling. Everything you’ve seen in the games, however, from runes to weapons and monsters are featured in the series of novels. 

There’s an interesting divide between how Sapkowski sees his world and how it was translated to games, but readers will notice only small differences here and there. Coming to the books from the games brings a certain spark of life to the battles and fights. Geralt tracing runes through the air holds more gravitas when coming from the games, and seeing how CD Projekt Red animated the effects of spells makes the translation of The Witcher’s abilities feel even more exciting.

It's worth noting though that a game, especially one of the quality featured in The Witcher series, is designed to bring excitement and danger. This can make some sections of the book—mainly the political discussions—rather dull in comparison. The games, because they deliver the story in bitesized chunks between the killing and hunting, offer the most accessible way to consume the tale of Geralt. Let's see if the TV series can top it. 

Where can I get all these books?

Since the profile of The Witcher series and books has been elevated to brilliant, world-famous heights, the books, on the whole, are available from all the major retailers. The only one that is a bit difficult to get, as mentioned above, is the collector's edition Witcher 3 art book but it usually appears on eBay occasionally. However, for your ease and comfort, see the best prices currently going on all the books below.

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