Netflix is taking a significant bet on The Witcher, the new fantasy series based on the books by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Set in a land only known as "The Continent," The world of The Witcher includes fantasy creatures, including elves, gnomes, and dwarves. Eventually, humans settle there too, and, after an incident known as the Conjunction of the Spheres, werewolves and vampires appeared. Among these peoples, there are those with the ability to do magic, including Yennefer of Vengerberg. But who is Yennefer in The Witcher? She's an essential character to both Geralt and Princess Cirilla (Ciri) Fiona Elen Riannon.
Unlike Game of Thrones and other fantasy adaptations of this ilk, The Witcher is not as clear cut a story. The first two books Sapkowski wrote were collections of short stories featuring Geralt of Rivia published over the mid-1980s. In those monster-of-the-week tales, Geralt meets Cini's grandmother, Queen Calanthe. He runs into Yennefer, who is working as a mage in a small town. He eventually rescues Ciri after her family's kingdom is conquered by the Nilfgaardian Empire, and she has gone into exile.
The Witcher's first season spends the early episodes covering the years before Ciri and Geralt's meeting, filling in parts of the story that were implied but never included. The most critical part the show delves into is how Yennefer became a sorceress.
In the books, set in the 1260s, Yennefer is never seen from her own POV, only through Geralt's eyes. He loves her and rarely can see through her enchantments, which means the reader also never knows the truth about her past. But the show starts her story in the 1180s when Yennefer was just a teen. The child of a half-elf father, she was born with a twisted spine and hunchback. Her adopted father hated her, and she was the subject of cruel taunts until she learned the elven blood also gave her a gift — magic.
In short order, the sorcerer Triss Merigold comes to take her away to the Lodge of Sorceresses, where Yennefer is trained to become a mage. But magic, she learns, is just chaos controlled, and for every spell to work, something must be sacrificed. For every stone that floats in the air, a flower must die.
Yennefer is ambitious. She's willing to do whatever it takes, whether it be betraying her boyfriend Istredd or sacrificing her womb to fix her back. Her goal is to become the mage adviser to King Demavend III of Aedirn, the ruler of the land where she was born, and she succeeds despite those who would assign her elsewhere.
But it turns out being a mage advisor is drudge work, cleaning up after kings and royal stupidity. When Geralt finally meets Yen, she's left that behind and works as the local sorceress in a small town.
She knows she is destined for great things one day. But until her timeline intersects with Ciri's, she'll keep searching.