The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
Introducing Geralt the Witcher – revered and hated – who holds the line against the monsters plaguing humanity in the bestselling series that inspired the Witcher video games and a major Netflix show.
Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, a man whose magic powers and lifelong training have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin.
Yet he is no ordinary killer: he hunts the vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent.
But not everything monstrous looking is evil, not everything fair is good, and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.
Why yes, I have jumped on a bandwagon! I watched the first season of The Witcher on Netflix earlier this year and was sufficiently intrigued to purchase The Last Wish – a collection of short stories introducing Geralt of Rivia.
The structure of The Last Wish is both interesting and unusual, and I’ll admit that I didn’t fully understand it initially – it felt a little disjointed until I’d made some progress and picked up on the format. There is an overarching story in the collection called The Voice of Reason, in which Geralt is resting in a temple after picking up an injury in battle. While there, he has flashbacks to different events in his life, each becoming a short tale in its own right. Once I understood it, I felt that it was cleverly done, and it’s this overarching narrative that helps the reader to understand more about Geralt, his background, and Witchers in general.
This structure does make the book a little difficult to get into at first. The reader is thrown straight into the world with little preamble and must piece together an understanding of the setting and its inhabitants as they go along. I found it to be worth the initial effort and I came to thoroughly enjoyed these stories, but I do wonder if some readers may find the style a little off-putting – it’s not an entirely straightforward setup, and I’d encourage readers to read a sample prior to purchasing to ensure that it suits their taste. I do recommend giving it a go if it’s something that you’re interested in, however – Sapkowski has created an original and richly imagined world for the reader to get lost in, one that’s not quite like anything else I’ve read.
The stories in this collection – and indeed the whole series – take inspiration from various aspects of European folklore, some of which is quite obscure, to me at least. I do feel that The Last Wish would benefit from a glossary of terms in this respect, as various types of “monster” are sometimes mentioned without description, leaving the reader to interpret based upon context or their own knowledge and research. That said, the monsters and beasts encountered by Geralt are both original and incredibly varied, and I found the tales in this collection to be refreshing in their creativity. Some – not all – of the stories featured in this collection do appear in the Netflix adaptation, and I think that this does help with understanding some of those creatures Geralt comes up against.
You protect us not only from the evil lurking in the darkness, but also from that which lies within ourselves.
The Last Wish – and, I suspect, the rest of the series – has more to it than sword and sorcery. Sapkowski uses the not entirely human Geralt to make astute observations about human nature, particularly the way in which there is prejudice against that which is perceived as different or other, and Geralt faces the judgement of those who wish to engage his services despite their contempt for him. While he initially seems to be a sword for hire, it soon becomes clear that there is a lot more to Geralt, and I liked his strong moral code. He – and his judgement – are occasionally flawed, and yet he does what he believes to be right, even if it’s not the popular or easy option. It’s makes him a likeable character if a somewhat unconventional hero, but he shows courage and selflessness throughout and the reader can’t help but root for him.