Title: The Last Wish
Place in series: # 1
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Published: 1993 (English translation from 2008)
For more information about The Witcher Series, you can find my introductory post HERE.
Geralt was always going to stand out, with his white hair and piercing eyes, his cynicism and lack of respect for authority … but he is far more than a striking-looking man. He’s a witcher, with powers that make him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin – his targets are the vile fiends that ravage the land.
The Last Wish is the first book in Andrzej Sapkowskis tale about the witcher Geralt of Rivia. It’s a short-story collection spanning over roughly three hundred pages. Together they form the foundation of the world, the characters, and the over-arching plot of the following full-length novels.
There are seven stories, but I want to highlight four of them as they serve as a sort of origin stories or prologues to certain characters and/or events that will impact the series as a whole.
The first story in the book is called, The Voice of Reason. This story will give you a good first look at Sapkowskis style of writing, how he paces his stories and his habit of using interludes. Although roughly the same length as the others, it’s split into seven parts and used as a frame narrative. This binds all the short-stories together into a cohesive book that despite its short-story format is clearly meant to be read cover to cover.
The second story is aptly named, The Witcher. Not only does this story introduce us to our main character, but it also gives the reader a first glimpse at how the author brings real-life folklore, fairy tales, and mythology into his world. Geralt is tasked with saving a cursed princess; however, she’s not waiting for a prince to save her; she’s a striga, a monster with a hatred for all things living.
Likewise, the reason behind the curse is not an evil fairy it’s… well, let’s just say that Sapkowski makes it abundantly clear that despite creating a world filled with monsters, the root of the problem is, for the most part, wholly human.
As for Geralt of Rivia, when we first meet him, he is already an established, experience and renowned witcher. Despite being describes as “not old,” owing to his prolonged lifespan and slowed aging, Geralt is at least fifty years old. Therefore, when you as a reader met him he’s already a fully formed individual; this is not a character that needs to be shaped or developed, you just need to get to know him.
From the first few paragraphs, you’re immediately subjected to the suspicion, hostility, and prejudice that people have towards witchers. They’re perfectly happy to have him risk his life to solve their problems, while also trying their best cheat him out of his payment. This shapes Geralt as a character; he’s a world-weary, sarcastic cynic who’s seen the worst in people too many times to trust them.
This makes for a nontraditional hero; Geralt might have superhuman abilities, but he’s not untouchable or infallible.
In, A matter of price you’re introduced to Queen Calanthe of Cintra and her daughter Parvetta. Geralt is tasked by Queen Calanthe to prevent destiny, which in this world is a near impossible task. The concept of fate will be a reoccurring theme and the kingdom of Cintra, Calanthe, and her bloodline will have a major role to play in the future of the series.
In the final story which shares its title with the book, The Last Wish, a powerful Djinn is unintentionally released, and Geralt has to deal with it. In the process, he meets the powerful enchantress Yennifer of Vengeberg who has her own motives for wanting to catch the Djinn.
There are several other important characters introduced in these seven stories that you’ll meet in later books; among them are names lovers of the game trilogy will recognize like Dandelion, Mother Nenneke, Crach an Craite, and Roach.
As well as building a foundation for the novels to come, The Last Wish also serves as an introduction to a world that is very entertaining, but not easily digestible. Sapkowski doesn’t ease his reader into the grayscale that colors his world. From the beginning, you’re made to understand that it’s a world where good vs. evil is, at best a matter of interpretation or, at worst indistinguishable from one another.
Even in a short-story format, they’re not an easy read. I love Sapkowskis style, but it’s not writing you can skim-read.
Not because the writing itself is difficult, the style reflects the setting and fantasy genre, but it’s not overly complicated. However, Geralt is often put into situations and conversations where people try to outmaneuver, outwit or cheat him, you need to read as much between the lines as Geralt does.
In addition, these are thought-provoking stories, more often than not, the result of Geralts efforts are ambiguous; succeeding in a task does not automatically equal a happy outcome.
That being said, despite the moral grayness, grittiness, and complexity of this world, there’s also humor and hope in these stories. Geralts sarcasm can be very entertaining, and there are other characters with a brighter outlook on the world to counter his gruff attitude. Likewise, the prejudice, violence, and political scheming is balanced by an emphasis on concepts like family, loyalty, love, and friendship. These are definitely not stories for people who want fluffy puppies, bright rainbows and happily ever after’s, but it’s not all gloomy despair, far from it.
In October 2013 on a whim, I bought a six-year-old video game called, The Witcher; it was love at first mouse click. I think the reason it’s taken me so long to pick up these books was a fear that they would disappoint me and by doing so, in some way ruin the games for me.
If you’re here, reading this because you’re curious about the books, but with the same concerns as I had, you have nothing to fear. Despite the significant differences between the books and the games, reading this book and the following ones will only deepen your understanding of the characters and heighten your experience when you go back into the game world.
If you have no previous knowledge of the world or the characters, this book will introduce you to a compelling, morally ambiguous world with flawed but lovable characters.
My Rating: 8/10
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