Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Last Wish introduced the world to the iconic monster hunter Geralt of Rivia; his beloved ward and the prophesied savior of the world, Ciri; and his ally and true love, the powerful sorceress Yennefer—and they took the world by storm. Now, experience the world of the Witcher like never before with this stunning deluxe hardcover edition of the story collection that started it all, featuring a beautiful new cover and eight gorgeous interior illustrations by a range of award-winning artists.
Geralt is a Witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless hunter.
Yet he is no ordinary killer. Both revered and hated, he seeks out the vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent, holding the line against the monsters that plague the world.
But not everything monstrous-looking is evil; not everything fair is good . . . and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.
The Witcher series by Andrezj Sapowski has spawned an absolute media empire. After watching (and I’ll admit, liking) the show forever ago, I decided to check out the popular Witcher 3 game and give the books a try. What I found was a lot to like, some things I didn’t like, and moments that made me scratch my head. Overall, my impression of the first book (by suggested read order) is largely positive, and much of my complaints can be traced back to the fact that this book is over 30 years old.
For those unfamiliar, Andrew Sapowski’s Witcher series focuses on a superhuman monster Hunter named Geralt of Rivia. In The Last Wish, we are treated to a series of vignettes that set the stage for the world, introduce some of the major characters, and set in motion the bloody action I am sure we can come to expect later. Overall, these stories do a superb job in all three of these areas. Where I felt they sometimes struggled was in their resolutions.
If you’ve watched the first season of The Witcher on Netflix, all or most of these stories will be familiar to you. There are some tonal changes in the TV series that I found the book handled better: Geralt’s friendship with the bard, Dandelion, felt more earnest, Geralt felt like a more well-realized and complex character in the books, and there was a surprising amount of depth in both characterization and world building.
The highs were bloody and brilliant. As an author with a penchant for writing violence, I felt like there was a lot that I could learn from Sapowski’s description of movement and combat. Monsters felt plausible and like genuine threats to the world. Even minor characters seemed to have rich histories that I wanted to know more about.
The lore and references to folktales made this book sing in my opinion. I enjoyed learning about different superstitions and cultural elements of the world. I even enjoyed trying to piece together what was true about monsters and what was hearsay. And Geralt was the perfect protagonist to make these stories work.
Now for my issues with the work. For the most part, these are issues of age and localization. Some of the prose felt clunky in translation (especially towards the beginning when I wasn’t expecting it). There were a few metaphors that didn’t feel like they landed because of this. Mostly, the translation was well done, but there were a few odd choices with the audiobook that especially grated on me.
While it was mostly well-narrated (particularly Geralt and Dandelion), a few characters had odd speech affectations that may have worked better on the page than they did in audio (specifically one character that bleated as much as spoke).
My second biggest issue was in the resolution of some stories. Having watched the first season of The Witcher and read The Last Wish the story of Blaviken still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Parts of it do, but there are a few inexplicable coincidences and odd timings that detract from the overall story. Mostly in the other stories, these are little niggles that can be overlooked, and usually, it comes down to a convenient turn of phrase or bit of information that a character has access to.
With that said, I enjoyed these stories more than other collections of fantasy shorts I’ve read. But, there is one complaint I have to address.
I want to start by saying that I understand this was published in 1993 when I was six years old and in a different culture. Similarly, this represents a morally dark world with strong ties to the traditions of medieval Europe.
I did not enjoy the discussion of underage female bodies. I felt like not only was it unnecessary, but some adult women were not discussed in as much detail. Similarly, their roles in the book felt stunted and often unnecessary.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is no “she boobed boobily” book. Most of the women have interesting roles in the narrative (Yennefer and Calanthr), but the few teen girls in the work seem to be reduced to plot devices (Pavetta, Iola) or victims (Foltest’s daughter among others). I particularly did not enjoy the description of a fourteen-year-old girl’s breasts (described only as pointy) as it felt unnecessary given what was happening at that point in the story.
There are also discussions of Sexual Assault and Rape and Incest in this book. These are topics that can be deal breakers for me, but Sapowski did not dive into detail or become graphic. I do want to point out that this is a gritty and dark world and often books of this genre deal with these and even more sensitive topics. Your mileage may vary. I didn’t find anything in here that put me off reading the series, but it did make me wary.
Will I continue the series? I think so. At times it was a definite, but at other times it felt like maybe there were things I would enjoy more.
If you are a fan of dark or grimdark fantasy, this is a must-read.