The Last Wish
(The Witcher #1)
Publisher: Orion Books / Gollancz
Publishing year: 2012
Translator: Danusia Stok
Genre: Fantasy, short stories
When looking at possible video games for my inevitable PlayStation 4, it was hard to miss The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The open world looked really interesting and I liked how you would hunt supernatural creatures as Geralt of Rivia. It was a matter of time before I discovered that the video game series was actually based on a book! So what do you do as a bookworm? You read the book.
The Last Wish is the first of two collections of short stories that make up the first installments of Sapkowski’s The Witcher series (the other being Sword of Destiny). From what I’ve gathered, the overarching plot doesn’t begin before Blood of Elves, the first full-length novel in the series. I have yet to read Blood of Elves, however, so I’ll be reviewing The Last Wish on its own.
All of the short stories in The Last Wish involve Geralt of Rivia, who travels from place to place in a medieval fantasy world. He’s a Witcher; a monster hunter for hire with supernatural abilities. Because he requires payment for his services, people believe that Witchers only care about money rather than helping people; consequently, Witchers face resentment and suspicion. The stories in The Last Wish involve the creatures Geralt comes across, but the real interest lies in the accompanying backstories. The Last Wish is not so much about Geralt killing a monster, but about the people and creatures he meets; their stories that are unravelled as Geralt learns more of the situation. The supernatural beings are not as they seem and evil is not necessarily clear-cut. Though there are elves, dwarves, vampires, werewolves, and a multitude of other (mythological) creatures, they appear in a different way than what you would consider typical in a high fantasy setting. Geralt has to make some difficult decisions where”the lesser evil” is not always easy to see. There is also a certain fairy-tale-like quality to these stories despite the somewhat gritty setting. The cursed beast living alone in a mansion is an obvious link to Beauty and the Beast, but while the other stories are less explicit in their reference, they are reminiscent of such folk tales in some way. The stories are also quite varied in how they play out, which in combination with the twists, made for an entertaining read.
All of these short stories are placed in a framing narrative named “The Voice of Reason”, which unfortunately is not as interesting as the stories it frames. These chapters appear in-between and are sometimes connected with the story that’s about to be told, but often they’re not which makes their appearance a little random. The Last Wish could have benefited with more cohesion between “The Voice of Reason” and the other short stories, but as it is, there is no real link which makes the framing narrative fall short. Thankfully, these chapters are not long at all, and they get more interesting by the end. Moreover, as a collection of short stories there is no real overarching plot yet. Though I definitely have the feeling that key elements and characters (such as Yennefer) have been introduced and seem to set up context for the actual novels (which is also useful for playing the game, I’ve found now that I own a PS4), there is no real sense of urgency. In other words: there is a sense of an overarching plot under the surface, but it remains just there.
Still, with these short stories Sapkowski has managed to create an interesting fantasy world that is a little different from usual medieval fantasy and certainly piques my interest in the next installments. Moreover, the twists and backstories are what makes The Last Wish both an interesting read and a nice introduction to the world of The Witcher.