Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski has become Amazon’s most popular author following the huge success of the Netflix series and computer games based on his Witcher saga.
The author ranking on Amazon’s US website has Sapkowski at number one, ahead of Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Three of Sapkowski’s books – The Last Wish, Blood of Elves and Sword of Destiny – are at numbers 2, 3 and 5 on the list of bestsellers in the science fiction and fantasy category. At Amazon UK, his books occupy the top two spots on the same list.
The 71-year-old Sapkowski has been dubbed the “Tolkien of Central Europe”. The eight novels that compose his Witcher saga have sold more than 33 million copies worldwide and been translated into more than 20 languages.
The saga originated in a series of short stories written by Sapkowski in the 1980s for a Polish fantasy magazine. Their popularity led to Sapkowski turning them into his first full-length novel in 1993, and following up with seven novels, the last one published in 2013.
The first English version appeared in 2007, with Danusia Stok translating the first two and David French the remaining six.
The books’ popularity in Poland, as well as other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, has often been described as “a cult”. The saga follows the story of Geralt from Rivia, who is a witcher – a person with special supernatural powers, trained to fight wild beasts and monsters.
Geralt makes a living hunting down monsters in the fictional world, while trying to protect princess Ciri, whose kingdom was taken away from her, and pursuing love and sex interests, notably the sorceress Yennefer.
But Sapkowski’s books also raise the issues of power, politics, exclusion and inequality. Their popularity has sometimes been explained with parallels to the turbulent period of the 1990s in Poland, marked by the drastic transition from communism into capitalism, as well as rising inequalities.
The Witcher reached global fame in large part thanks to the series of videos games produced by CD Projekt, a Polish developer. The games have been a huge success, with the third (and most recent) instalment alone selling over 20 million copies.
Sapkowski himself, however, earned little from that success after making what he later admitted was the “stupid” decision to sell the rights to CD Projekt for a lump sum (reportedly 35,000 zloty, around 8,300 euros) rather than for a share of the profits. Following the financial success of the game, Sapkowski demanded an additional 16 million US dollars in royalties. The studio declined the request, but offered an undisclosed amount of compensation.
In December 2019, Netflix released the first season of the American TV series based on the books. Following the success of the show – which received average reviews from critics but has been popular among viewers – a second season was announced for release in 2021. While fans wait, many have been turning to the original books to fill the gap.
Main image credit: Netflix/press kit
Monika Prończuk is the deputy editor of Notes from Poland. She was previously the Nico Colchester fellow at the Financial Times, acting FT Poland correspondent, and journalist at OKO.press, an independent fact-checking media outlet. Her articles have appeared in Quartz, Financial Times, Politico, Gazeta Wyborcza and Tygodnik Powszechny.