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The Last Wish Novel Review
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What is "The Last Wish?"
Fantasy buffs from the movie, book or videogame industry alike are all likely to know the name Andrzej Sapkowski. Creator of the wildly popular series “The Witcher” Sapokowski’s work has grown beyond its short story roots into several novels, a television series, a movie, a comic book series and the incredibly popular and highly acclaimed videogame series with the third and final instalment set to release in 2014. As popular as these books are, however, and even with the popular videogame series so greatly followed in the United States and Europe, it has taken fifteen years for “The Last Wish” a collection of short stories involving the Witcher, and the first book in the series, to be translated to English.
It was released by Gollancz for UK readers in 2007 and by Orbit Books for American readers in 2008. Though The Last Wish was written after the original “Witcher” collection of short stories it is considered the first in the series as the original “Witcher” collection was reworked into The Last Wish, with four being reprinted into The Last Wish and the final being reprinted into the short story collection “Something Ends, Something Begins.”
The Last Wish is a collection of six short stories starring Geralt of Rivia, a mysterious monster-slayer known as a Witcher. Witchers are mutants who, after a rigorous training and cleansing period, augment their bodies permanently using herbs, hormones and viral infections and a final mutational exercise called “The Trial of the Grasses” to enhance their physical, mental, sensory and metabolic abilities, at the cost of their fertility. As a result of their mutation, they are able to imbibe toxic potions that further enhance their abilities - such as allowing them to see in the dark or move at even further inhuman speeds – as well as use sorcery. These massive changes to their bodies help them fight the hordes of monstrous beasts that roam the landscape, and this is their primary means of employment. Similarly, however, the mutations have an effect on their appearance, leaving them with glowing yellow eyes that see in the dark, among other, often grotesque, changes. This leads to distrust among normal humans, and Witchers are merely tolerated because of their necessary service. In fact, Witchers are hated and unwelcome in much of human society.
Geralt of Rivia
Dandelion the Bard
The Last Wish is a very interesting novel which remains highly entertaining throughout, though there are a number of issues. The first and most interesting aspect of The Last Wish is the character Geralt of Rivia. Though appearing to be stereotypical rogue at first, Geralt’s character exudes a complexity and depth that makes him compelling to follow. He is often faced with quite difficult issues to tackle, with many moral quandaries in the way, and his decisions and methods of resolving these issues are what make him stand out.
Geralt is short-spoken and succinct, but manages to convey a bevy of emotions and thoughts easily nevertheless. Further, his dry wit and often stoic nature lends much humor to what can often be a grim tale. That being said, Geralt never quite develops throughout the story. Indeed, many of the characters he meets, both friends and foes, often do not transcend their archetypes as interesting as they might be, often due to the episodic nature of the story, and the short length of time readers are given to spend with them. Due to the fact that the novel moves at a fast pace and never quite loses a step the lack of proper characterization never quite brings the story down too much, but the often stereotypical nature of many of the characters is apparent. That being said, there are standouts, such as Dandelion the bard/scholar and Geralt’s best friend, who provides a nice compliment to the Witcher’s stoic nature with his bright and often lecherous nature, as well as Nivellen, the monstrous beast that speaks like a gentleman.
A large bulk of The Last Wish’s stories are based on fairytales, but retold in a darker fashion, in the like of the Brothers Grimms' Fairy Tales, but often with very intriguing twists. For example the story of the Beauty and the beast is retold, but is so significantly different that one may not realize the fable until halfway through. Each is familiar and new at the same time, and the inclusion of Geralt and his Witcher’s sense of morality often makes them quite intriguing. That being said, the fairytale motif can gets old quite quickly, and though all are well written, in our contemporary society this sort of rewriting of old fables has been done time and time again, and as such may seem old hat. It was written many years ago, and was fresh and exciting then no doubt, but many readers will be tired of the references and retellings quite quickly. Luckily each is short and as stated before, the stories go by at a nice pace, meaning none ever overstays it’s welcome.
Geralt, Killing a Striga, one of the Many Monstrous Creatures that Stalk the World of the Witcher
A Better Look at the Striga
One other positive of The Last Wish is the distinct Polish influence on what may be considered to be old fantasy tropes. Simple things such as imps, vampires and elves are reworked in interesting ways, and the world they all inhabit is rife with wonder and excitement, as generic and “dark-fantasy-esque” it may seem. This makes each tale feel interesting and unique, even when dealing with similar themes and ideas.
On the other hand, however, the world-building is a bit thin. Veteran Witcher fans will notice places and references that may enhance the story for them, but newcomers will not be treated to much depth in exploring the world. Enough is done to get the reader going and have them understand the world as is necessary to the situation, but it never quite goes much deeper, which is disappointing since the world is so lush and full of wonders. This is further exacerbated by the fact that, because the novel is episodic sharing only interconnected storylines at many different periods with Geralt often as the only connecting force, the structure can seem disjointed and lacking cohesion. Though episodic, it would have helped to have some more connecting points between the stories to give the reader a sense of cohesion, though this is a minor gripe.
Potentially, the biggest gripe readers may have with the story is the fact that, for all the moral quandaries and interesting scenarios presented, there is no true substance to the novel overall. They are just stories that exist in the world, which involve the interesting and mysterious Geralt of Rivia. Anything beyond that is non-existent. Again, as this is a collection of short stories, this may not be a big issue, but it should be noted for those looking for something more substantive.
The Last Wish
Blood of Elves
The Time of Contempt
By and large, The Last Wish is a fun and interesting read that has many high points and a few low points. The episodic, short story based nature of the book may turn some off, but is a highly recommended read for any interested in dark fantasy, or fantasy in general. Though it does not quiet go into detail about what makes the Witcher series such a massive success and revered franchise, it serves well as an introduction to the series, characters and lore. In fact, this is perhaps the best place to start for any interested in the world of the Witcher and hoping the jump in. Heartily recommended.
Blood of Elves is the first full novel, which takes place after The Sword of Destiny. These are followed by The Time of Contempt. Though these are translated into English, the books following them, Baptism in Fire,The Swallow's Tower and Lady of the Lake, are not published in English as of yet.