The Witcher season 2 is out in the wild and the prequel, Blood Origins, should be coming soon. A few books have been covered so far, so it's time to look forward to what we can expect in the next season. We'll most likely be hearing a lot more from Phillipa Eilhart and Djikstra as they attempt to wrangle more control in Redania, and Francesca and the Elves have already started their retaliation upon the north which won't end well for anyone.
Generally speaking, the show changes some details but takes the broad strokes of its plots directly from the Witcher stories written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, which were also the basis for the CD Projekt Red The Witcher games. If you want to read the story that The Witcher season 2's first episode is based on, for instance, you'll find it in The Last Wish, the Witcher book we recommend you start with.
It's not the most complicated fantasy series ever, but the release date isn't the proper order to read them in—that is, they haven't been released in chronological order. The Witcher started in the '80s as a series of short stories written by Sapkowski for a fantasy magazine. In the '90s, the stories were published in two collections, which were followed by five novels, all published throughout the same decade. The books were released in English in 2007, with Danusia Stok translating the first two and David French taking over duties from the third book.
The Witcher books follow the story of the titular Witcher, Geralt of Rivia. A Witcher is a mutated human—most certainly a man—who possess supernatural abilities and has trained from childhood to battle monsters that emerged during the Conjunction of the Spheres. Many stories have been told in the Witcher universe, but the central arc follows Geralt as he protects Ciri, a princess whose country has been conquered and his child surprise. If you want sword-wielding action, romance, family ties and grotesque monsters, you're in the right place.
The Witcher books reading order
Let's get down to business: what order should you read the books in? As previously mentioned, you'll want to ignore the release dates and instead read them in true chronological order if you want the story to make sense. So, here's your list:
- The Last Wish
- Sword of Destiny
- Blood of Elves
- Time of Contempt
- Baptism of Fire
- The Tower of the Swallow
- The Lady of the Lake
- Season of Storms (optional; explained below)
You'll want to start with The Last Wish. While it was published second, it's the start of the series, introducing Geralt and establishing the Continent as a backdrop.
The Last Wish introduces everything you'll see in the games. Sapkowski sets the scene beginning with the importance of Geralt's silver sword with which he kills the monsters. He also depicts the often-corrupt governments that reside throughout the world, and we meet an ensemble of colourful characters many of us have come to know and love. These include Dandelion (aka Jaskier), a poet friend of Geralt who is hearing these tales we’re experiencing, and Yennefer, a sorceress with whom Geralt begins a turbulent relationship.
The story, A Grain of Truth, which features in this collection kicks off the second season of the Netflix show, telling the story of Nivellen. The rest of the stories in The Last Wish make up most of the show's first season, though it also draws from the book you should read second: Sword of Destiny. It's in Sword of Destiny that we get to know Ciri, and each story takes place directly before the main novels.
A recent release, Season of Storms, takes place within the stories of The Last Wish. While its events aren't integral to the main arc, it's a lore-heavy entry that's worth reading.
Other Witcher books
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. Read it, and you too can call yourself Geralt of Trivia.
There is a designated Witcher 3: 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 favourite characters unique outfits and painting your own Witcher pictures.
The Witcher graphic novels
Aside from the short stories and novels, graphic novels from Dark Horse Comics have been released. While not written by Sapkowski, the comics do a great job of adding extras to already released stories, plus they look great as the art evokes the nasty 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?
Because you are obviously desperate for more Witcher content, that's why! One joy I took from rereading the series was reading them with the voices of the games' characters in mind. I could hear Doug Cockle's dulcet tone every time Geralt spoke, which adds a greater depth to the stories.
They are wonderful books to read with complex political narratives, plenty of backstabbing, magic and love. They aren't just for fantasy nerds, either; they are accessible to lovers of all genres who just want a good series to read. Once you've read them all, you can finally take part in the "What's better: the books, Netflix series or games?" discourse. Come with your notes prepared.
Reading the books will 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. Characters are drawn with more depth, and although much of the plot will be known to you if you played the games, the books fill in small gaps here and there.
How faithful are The Witcher games to the books?
Very, though 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 of every story. 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.
It's worth noting though that the games, especially ones of such quality, are 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 bite-sized chunks between the killing and hunting, offer the most interactive way to experience part of Geralt's story.
How faithful to the books is the Netflix Witcher series?
A lot more than the games, by design. Officially, the Witcher show is based directly on the books, not the games. That said, the show takes some liberties, particularity with timing. To more naturally introduce viewers to Geralt and the world around him, Season 1's story is a combination of The Last Wish's short stories and the beginning of Ciri's arc in Sword of Destiny.
The first season was confusing for some folk, so Netflix put together a gorgeous timeline map to keep it all straight (spoiler warning for the books, obviously). The second season is much more linear and easy to understand, with a few adaptations to stories here and there.
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, including Amazon. The only one that is a bit difficult to get, as mentioned above, is the collector's edition The 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.