Review: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

thelastwish_sapkowskiThe Last Wish
(The Witcher #1)
Andrzej Sapkowski

Publisher: Orion Books / Gollancz
Publishing year:
2012
Pages: 280
ISBN: 9780575082441
Language: English
Translator: Danusia Stok
Genre: Fantasy, short stories
Rating: 3.5/5

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.

Rereading Books

When I was young, I owned a limited amount of books. I would reread the ones I had numerous times, some of them becoming quite battered in the process. Even library visits usually ended with bringing books I had read before home so I could read them again. I can’t quite recall how many times I’ve read the Griezelbus series by Paul van Loon, Het Wolfsvel by Ton van Reen, or Ronia the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren.

As I grew older, however, things changed. I got an income, so I could buy more books. Eventually, this turned into a problem I’m sure most of us are familiar with: an endless TBR pile. Things grew worse when I discovered GoodReads and its annual reading challenges. As an English major, I had to read a ton of books for university as well. In general, life got busier and busier. I began to grow less inclined to pick up a book I had already read. Sure, I meant to reread all of the Harry Potter books or the entire Temeraire series, but somehow I rarely get around to revisiting my favourite novels.

There are, of course, exceptions. Last year, I ended up rereading The Hunger Games trilogy for an essay, and I discovered that I liked the series much more on my second reading. I wrote my master thesis about Le Morte D’Arthur and The Warlord Chronicles, both of which required me to reread them. I loved to do so! Rereading Malory’s medieval text was so much more rewarding now that I’m more familiar with Arthurian fiction. The Warlord Chronicles is my favourite book series, and it was awesome to revisit it, to see details and foreshadowing I had initially missed on my first read.

These exceptions drive home the reason of why it’s so nice to reread a book. You pick up details you might have missed, sometimes certain (life) experiences make a revisit more rewarding, and sometimes you appreciate a book better on your second reading. When a sequel comes out, it’s also nice to refresh your memory. With that in mind, it’s a shame that I don’t dedicate as much time to rereading books.

GoodReads has finally added a reread function, however, so at least that’s no longer an excuse. Rereads even count for my reading challenge, so hopefully I’ll revisit my favourite novels soon! Now it’s just the daunting TBR pile that’s in the way…

So, what about you? Do you reread books? How often? Your experiences? Feel free to share in the comments!

Review: Before the Feast by Saša Stanišić


before_the_feastBefore the Feast

Saša Stanišić

Publisher: Pushkin Press
Publishing year:
2015
Pages: 318
ISBN: 9781782271758
Language: English
Translator: Anthea Bell
Genre: Contemporary literature, magical realism
Rating: 2.5/5

Before the Feast was….quite unlike any book I’ve read so far. There wasn’t much of a main character or even an actual plot, which makes it a little difficult to review this book. Still, I would like to make an attempt — despite the rating I have given this book, I still feel that it’s interesting to talk about.

Perhaps I should correct myself: this book doesn’t have a main character in the traditional sense. Though there are several recurring characters in this book whose POV you see, they are not main characters. I think that the village about which the story revolves, Fürstenfelde, is the actual main character of this book. The chapters simply narrate the thoughts and events involving its inhabitants (and a vixen living in the nearby forest) on one specific evening. Mostly. Because the narrative also includes events that have happened in the past, not only of the character, but the village as a whole. The result is a portrayal of an East German village — albeit a very disjointed one.

The prose is actually one of this book’s highlights.  The voice tends to shift depending on which character a certain chapter features — if it features any character at all. One chapter solely consists of a menu. Another description of a certain character is mixed with instructions on how to build a chicken pen. The chicken pen is relevant for the character in question because this man actually keeps chickens (and also relevant for a chapter that takes place later on, involving the aforementioned vixen hunting eggs). Other than the shifting voice, there is also a lot of repetition and peculiar descriptions that convey the quirkiness of Fürstenfelde’s inhabitants and an underlying ‘strangeness’ that seemed part of the village. All this makes for a playful writing style, one that’s self-aware and a tiny bit ironic but never ‘edgy’.

Though I was initially interested in Before the Feast was going, this quickly faded. Though the disjointed nature of the book was what made Before the Feast interesting at first, its lack of focus made it difficult to care about Fürstenfelde’s inhabitants as I kept on reading. Though the inclusion of myths and stories was nice, there were also plenty of chapters that were just boring to read simply due to their lack of cohesion with anything else (other than the village itself). I think it would have helped had these separate elements been more interwoven with one another, but as it is the novel is all over the place and doesn’t actually go anywhere. Though I understand that a plot wasn’t the point of Before the Feast, I feel that some sort of focus would have made this more engaging to read.

Though the prose is beautiful and there are some interesting elements, the disjointed nature of Before the Feast makes it a little tedious to get through. A real shame…

Buy Less, Read More; Plans to Reduce my TBR & My First and “Last” Book Haul

In December, I had bought another pile of books, most of which came in some time this month. I had intended to share them with you guys (and I will further down this entry), but I’ve also been thinking. Pretty much every bookworm can relate, I’m sure: buying more books than you can read. It’s something I’m very guilty of doing as well, which means that, despite the decent amount of books I read a year, my physical TBR pile isn’t getting any smaller.

If there is something I’ve learned from another hobby of mine that includes a backlog, video games, it’s that a large amount of untouched copies can become overwhelming. I’ve purged my video game collection and I’ve decided that, for future purchases, I’ll be far more selective. Though I had purged my book collection as well, these were mainly books I had already read but didn’t really enjoy; I haven’t made any similar resolutions for my TBR pile.  After all, so I thought, I’m a much faster reader than a gamer. This week, however, it dawned on me that I probably should think of some restrictions if I want to avoid an overwhelming bookcase stuffed to the brim with books I haven’t even touched or will be touching in the near future.

So I’ve decided to do the logical thing: buy fewer books, at least until I’ve significantly reduced my TBR pile. A while ago I’ve made a shelf on Goodreads listing the books I own but haven’t read yet, and that amount it currently at 107 books. It’s about a third of my books collection, and that amount needs to go down. I definitely won’t be able to read even more books due to IRL obligations and other hobbies, so this seems to be the best solution.

I have, however, one exception to my resolution: books of series that I already have partly on my shelf, such as Sapkowski’s The Witcher and Maas’s Throne of Glass — but I’d only get the one that’s next in the series, and until I’ve read that one, I won’t be getting any of the subsequent ones. This also doesn’t include any borrowed books, obviously.

But before making this decision I had ordered that pile of books in December. Despite what I’ve written above, I’ll share them anyway: the very first book haul on my blog, and my last one for the foreseeable future:

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You might recognize some of these, because some titles have been mentioned in my previous entry involving my most anticipated reads of 2017. Others may be new to you.

Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie
Before the Feast, by Saša Stanišić
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories, by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Het smelt, by Lize Spit
Baccano!: 1931 The Grand Punk Railroad: Local, by Ryohgo Narita
Baccano!: 1031 The Grand Punk Railroad: Express, by Ryohgo Narita

These were at least books I had been intending to get for quite a while. Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy are the sequels to Ancillary Justice, which I loved, and I have now completed the Imperial Radch series. Before the Feast has been on my wishlist for ages, as well as A Little Life. I got interested in Rashomon after watching the anime Bungo Stray Dogs — I also intend to read something by Osamu Dazai, but that will obviously have to wait. I got Het smelt at my work, which I’ve been thinking of getting for months due to its intriguing plot. Finally, the two Baccano! books are light novels. The anime is one of my favourite series, and I did really enjoy the first light novel, The Rolling Bootlegs.

So, there you have it: my first and “last” book haul as well as my plans for reducing my TBR future purchases. I’ll be sure to let you know the results in a couple of months! Obviously, I’ll still be posting reviews and other related entries once in a while.

Have you gotten anything interesting the past month? Or did you try to buy fewer books in the past? What are your experiences with trying to reduce your TBR by buying fewer books? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

Mystery Blogger Award

Hello everyone! I got nominated for the Mystery Blogger Award, so here we go!

mystery_blogger_award

Rules
  • Put the award logo/image on your blog.
  • List the rules.
  • Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog!
  • Mention the creator of the award and provide a link to their blog as well.
  • Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.
  • You have to nominate 10-20 people.
  • Notify each of your nominees by commenting on their blog.
  • Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify).
  • Share your link to your best post(s).

Who nominated me?
I was nominated by Artemis Book Hunters Blog; thank you so much for the nomination! The creator of this award is Okoto Enigma.

Three things about myself:
1. I enjoy drawing a lot, though I have a problem to actually sit down and draw as of late;
2. I own two dogs and they’re the world to me; they’re Shih Tzus going by the names of Tyki and Tali. I’ve named them after an anime character (D.Gray-man) and a video game character (Mass Effect) respectively;
3. I’m horribly clumsy.

Five questions:

  1. What is your favorite book series of all time and why?
    A difficult question, but I have to go with The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell. I have a soft spot for Arthurian fiction, and I love the historical angle of a raw medieval setting. However, the characters and twists on Arthurian fiction are also very interesting, and I love the way it’s been written. I also like how it’s been told from the POV of a soldier in Arthur’s service.
  2. What book in your favorite series is your favorite?
    The first of The Warlord Chronicles, The Winter King. I’m not sure why since each of the books has great points, but I do tend to like the first books in series the best. Probably because it introduces us to the setting and a very young Derfel.
  3. Who is your most owned Author?
    Stephen King, without a doubt. I haven’t read all of them yet, though, and I have forbidden myself from getting any new Stephen King books until I have read more of those I already own.
  4. What book cover is your ultimate favorite and why?
    Another difficult question! I’m going to go with my Barnes and Nobles edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.9781435145405_p0_v2_s192x300
  5. Who is your favorite character and why?
    My all-time favourite character is not a book character (Scar from The Lion King), but I suppose he doesn’t count. It’s a difficult decision (again!), but I’ll go with Sir Gawain from the Arthurian legends. I sense a theme in my answers. Why? Because he’s flawed, even in the older texts, which makes him a very interesting character. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” has one of my favourite portrayals of him.
  6. Random:  What is your favorite TV Show?
    Hannibal! Even though I haven’t watched the third season yet. For anime, I’ll go with Puella Magi Madoka Magica, though it’s a close call with some other titles.

My nominations
1. Susan Loves Books
2. BookBum
3. Book Owly
4. Fictionophile
5. The Book Swag
6. Nerd in New York
7. Flavia the Bibliophile
8. Book Slayer Reads
9. Flawless Reads
10. Book Huntress
11. Ola Reads Books

Five questions:
1. Who is your favourite author?
2. What is your “guilty pleasure” book?
3. What is your favourite book from childhood?
4. What’s your favourite place to read?
5. What are your other hobbies other than reading/blogging?

Links to my best posts:
Difficult one. I think Review: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie and Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling are the ones I personally enjoyed most when I was writing them, so I tend to think them as my “best”.

My most anticipated reads for 2017!

Happy new year everyone!

This is usually the time for making resolutions, and though I’ve set some goals for my personal life, I don’t actually have any reading goals other than trying to complete my GoodReads reading challenge (which I’ve set to 40 books). I usually read whatever I’m in the mood for with hardly any planning. Nonetheless, there are some books I’m definitely looking forward to reading. So here’s a list of my most anticipated reads of 2017 — and who knows, maybe I will have read all of these by the end of the year?

before_the_feast
Before the Feast by Saša Stanišić
I do like the occasional magical realism, and I’ve seen this on a list of recommendations of the genre. I don’t know anything about the book other than its genre and what little I’ve read on the blurb, so I’ll be going in completely blind.

Genre: magical realism

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Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

I doubt this is a surprise for anyone who has read my review about Ancillary Justice, but I definitely can’t wait until I have a chance to read its sequel.

Genre: science fiction (space opera)

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Het smelt by Lize Spit
I was a bit hesitant to include a Dutch novel (by a Flemish author), but I find the blurb so intriguing that I couldn’t help myself. Apparently, an English translation is coming up anyway. The title translates to ‘It’s melting’ and it’s a revenge story with a woman as its main character. I’m quite curious!

Genre: contemporary

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Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski
I’ve already read the short story collections The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny, so I would like to continue reading this series. Especially because I have the video game The Witcher III: Wild Hunt lying around as well!

Genre: fantasy

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Traitor’s Blade by Sabastien de Castell
I won a signed copy of this book (along with its sequel, A Knight’s Shadow) through a give-away by the American Book Center. The setting seems entirely up my alley, so I definitely want to check this out in the near future.

Genre: fantasy

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Pet Sematary by Stephen King
I have quite the list of books by Stephen King to read, but this one is on my shortlist. I actually started reading this last year, but after one of my dogs died I couldn’t bear reading about dead animals for  a while. I hope to give this one a try this year — and if not, I want to at least read one book by Stephen King!

Genre: horror

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Taliesin by Stephen R. Lawhead
I’ve seen this series on various lists involving Arthurian books, so I really want to check it out. It apparently involves a historical approach (correct me if I’m wrong?), which I find an interesting angle to take when it comes to Arthurian fiction. Plus, it’d be nice to read something Arthuriana again without a thesis looming over my head.

Genre: fantasy, historical

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Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas
Throne of Glass was perhaps one of the books I was surprised to have enjoyed so much — especially because young adult can be a hit-and-miss for me. I really liked the setting and the main character, so I want to see how this develops throughout the series.

Genre: young adult, fantasy

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Orlando by Virginia Woolf
I keep meaning to read this for years, so I intend to finally get around to it this year! I didn’t quite enjoy Mrs. Dalloway  by Woolf, but the subject material of this book seems a lot more interesting. Woolf was a remarkable person and I’ve read a bit of her essays, so I definitely want to give Orlando a chance.

Genre: contemporary

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The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
I love The Warlord Chronicles by this author, so it makes sense that I would check out his other book series that include a Saxon. I have about five books of this series sitting on my shelf, so I want to start reading it in the near future.

Genre: historical

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The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Another book that has been on my TBR list for ages, but haven’t gotten around to yet. My best friend has read this book and keeps recommending it to me, so I should definitely check it out some time soon. It want to see the anime Gankutsuo as well, which is based on this classic, but I want to have read the book first. Finally, it’s a revenge story and I tend to enjoy those.

Genre: classics

What about you? Any particular plans for this year? Books you definitely want to read? Feel free to share them in the comments.

My favourite reads of 2016!

With December and 2016 nearly drawing to a close, it’s that time of the year again for reflection. It hasn’t exactly been the greatest year ever for me, but I did manage to finish 43 books. Considering I had been busy with my master degree and my thesis the first half of 2016, I’m still surprised by the amount of books I’ve managed to finish. I don’t think I’ll finish more books in the next few days, so I thought it’d be fun to make a list of my favourite reads of the year. This list doesn’t include any books I’ve reread. Also, these books are in no particular order and they have not been necessarily released this year.

 

51p0v6v97l-_sx308_bo1204203200_The Redbreast (Harry Hole #3) by Jo Nesbø
Genre: crime (Scandinavian)

I’ve read this book for an elective about crime fiction. It was the very first Scandinavian crime novel I’ve ever read, and man, did it leave a good impression. It requires some suspension of disbelief when it comes to the culprit, but the characters are interesting, there are multiple POV even across various time spans, and the narrative includes a historical angle that exposes the role of Norway in WWII. I would definitely like to read more by this author.

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Stati
on Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Genre: science fiction (post-apocalyptic)

As I’ve already mentioned in my review, this was easily among my favourite novels of the year. The lovely prose, the interesting setting, the wonderful characters, and the way the narrative unfolds with POVs across different points in time made this an amazing read. I also loved the way the book argues that mere survival in a dangerous and fallen world is not enough, and how a comic and the plays by Shakespeare still survived.

 

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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Genre: young adult (contemporary, lgbt)

I’m not a fan of romance fiction, but this was packaged in such a remarkable way that I still decided to read it. Okay, and the recommendation by a coworker might have done the trick. Though Albertalli does not shy away from issues like homophobia, in the end this is an adorable and heartwarming story about friendship and family, and includes a very sweet romance. It was nice to read a happy book dealing with this subject material!

 

20955368The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard #3) by Scott Lynch
Genre: fantasy

I love this series because of the interesting characters and their interactions and the amazing worldbuilding. This third installment of Lynch’s series involving con artist Locke Lamora definitely doesn’t disappoint. There’s plenty of action, scheming, (political) intrigue, witty remarks, and heartwarming moments that made me love the previous two books. Also, this book finally included the amazing Sabetha. Can’t wait for The Thorn of Emberlain!

 

51nln7yvmnl-_sx325_bo1204203200_The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Genre: historical/fantasy-ish

Though this book was admittedly a little style over substance, the beautiful prose more than makes up for this (for lack of a better term) “flaw”. There isn’t much character development in this novel, and the plot is a little thin. However, this book is not about the characters or telling a story. It’s about a thing, the titular Night Circus, the atmosphere the prose and its subject matter manages to convey, and the effect it has on its (fictional and actual) audience. The magical duel of its characters and its thin plot are merely a device to paint a very intriguing circus.

 

leckie_ancillaryjustice_tpAncillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) by Ann Leckie
Genre: science fiction (space opera)

As mentioned in my review, this was a book that made me think. Though this is a wonderful space opera with action and political intrigue with an AI of a ship as its main character, Ancillary Justice also questions gender and identity.  Though initially confusing, partly due to its gender ambiguity, and definitely not an easy read, this is definitely a novel that will stay with me over the years. I can’t wait to read the other two parts of this trilogy.

 

So, this includes my list of my favourite books of 2016. There were plenty of other books I also enjoyed, but that would make this list way too long, so I ended up limiting myself to the ones I felt were the most interesting. What were your favourite books this year? Anything that was particularly interesting? Let me know in a comment below.