THE LAST WISH by Andrzej Sapkowski (Book Review)
“I train in every spare moment. I don’t dare lose my skill. I’ve come here – this furthest corner of the temple garden – to limber up, to rid my muscles of that hideous, loathsome numbness which has come over me, this coldness flowing through me. And you have found me here.”
The Last Wish, originally written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, and translated into English by Danusia Stok, is the first book in The Witcher series, which you may have heard a lot about recently!
Now, I realise that The Witcher is significantly popular because it inspired the Polish game creators, CD Projekt, to create video games based on this fantasy world. The games are loved worldwide, but unfortunately, I haven’t played them yet; so my excitement for this series came purely from the moment Netflix announced they were making a TV series adaptation of the books. I’m aiming to make my way through as much of the eight-book series as possible before the release of this adaptation, and it’s amazing that a whole community of fantasy fans are doing exactly the same!
However, prior to the news about the show, The Witcher series did pique my interest somewhat, particularly because it’s hailed to include a myriad of supernatural monsters and fantasy creatures, many of which are inspired by Polish folklore and mythology. If anyone knows me at all, they know I can’t resist any kind of mythology and a monster-infested world; but I held off from reading this series after seeing many negative reviews towards it.
I think that it’s vital to know before delving into the The Last Wish that this book and the next one, Sword of Destiny, are a collection of short stories that are loosely connected. The stories all primarily centre around our main protagonist, Geralt, as he travels finding monsters to kill. I feel that some of the criticism for this book comes from people not being aware of this format, and having their expectations spoilt. Therefore I started reading this with the mindset that I wouldn’t get in-depth world building or lengthy characterisation, as each story is fairly short. I mean, let’s be fair, there are eight books in the series, so I’m sure I can expect more depth later on. As I began reading, though, I never felt like any of this detracted from my enjoyment of the book. Every interaction the characters make with one another does build character and simultaneously gives the reader insight into the world. I found each story to be captivating, often nerve-wracking, and truthfully, it was rip-roaring fun, and sometimes that’s all I need!
I’m not going to go into detail about each story; it’s better to discover them for yourself, but I will highlight a few parts that I particularly loved. Firstly, let me give a little background to Geralt’s character. As you may already be aware, he is a Witcher; as a young boy he underwent a series of horrific trials and treatments which caused a mutation and gained him extraordinary abilities. Although the precise nature of these trials is not elaborated on in this book, the chapters titled ‘Voice of Reason’ serve as effective interludes that provide snippets of this backstory, which I’m hoping will be further explored in later books. For now, though, we see that Geralt’s sole purpose in obtaining these abilities was to be sent forth to protect the world from monstrous entities – in exchange for a fee. After all, a Witcher still requires money to eat!
In each story, Geralt journeys to different lands on the Continent, looking for such employment. Through his point of view, we come up against legendary creatures such as a Striga, a Bruxa and the infamous Renfri, who was believed to be a Shrike. These stories became the most memorable and thrilling ones to me, as they loosely depicted a retelling of fairytales such as Beauty and the Beast and Snow White, whilst honouring the Brothers Grimm style with the same level of grotesqueness and horror. Dare I say, these stories were perhaps even darker than the Brothers Grimm?
So, moving on, did I become a little obsessed with our main character? Erm… maybe a teensy…tiny… oh heck, okay YES, I loved Geralt! The nature of him being a Witcher causes him to be an outcast; even though he is aiming to do good, the legacy of carnage and turmoil Geralt causes with each place he visits always leaves a bitter taste in the villagers’ mouths and they either fear or despise him. As the old saying goes; send a monster to kill a monster, but you soon discover that Geralt is no mere brute. I found myself sympathising with him, and longing for him to be appreciated by others.
‘Geralt stood quivering in the middle of the hall. Alone. It had taken a long time, he thought, before this dance on the edge of an abyss, this mad, macabre ballet of a fight, had achieved the desired effect, allowed him to physically become one with his opponent.’
Lastly, there are two more characters introduced in The Last Wish that I can’t leave without mentioning. The first is Dandilion, who serves as Geralt’s one true friend. He brings a lot of humour to the book, and surprised me with his dry wit. Then there was Yennefer. Oh my god, Yennefer was an absolute whirlwind of a character! The best way for me to express her impact on the penultimate chapter, titled ‘The Last Wish’, is utter pandemonium! I cannot wait to encounter these two again in further books in the series.
All that’s left for me to say now is that I’m pleased my first foray into The Witcher series was such a success, and I can’t believe I previously had been put off. It just goes to show that when one book doesn’t appeal to some, it can potentially be someone else’s favourite. This is definitely the case here. So if you’ve been on the fence about reading this one, then at least give it a try, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll love Geralt and his Witcher world just as much as I did.