Written by: Andrzej Sapkowski
Series: The Witcher
Sequence in Series: .5
Paperback: 360 pages
Publication Date: December 14, 2008
Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin. And a cold-blooded killer. His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.
The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski is a prequel to the first book in the actual series for The Witcher, The Blood of Elves. This collection of chronological short stories is to introduce Geralt of Rivia to the audience. The stories feel like something new in the realm of fantasy heavily influenced by Tolkien. It holds a more distinctly eastern European setting and a Slavic mythological flair. The English translation is a good one, the style is relaxed; the stories are beautifully descriptive and the writing is simplistic. There is minimal problematic prose and I believe the sometimes exposition heavy dialogue comes from the book rather than the translation.
The premise is a story (six of them) of the past being told within the story of the present (The Voice of Reason), with the occasional interlude to the present story. This interrupts the pacing sometimes but is overall not a bad plan. Each of the stories is modeled on what can be often recognized as a classic fairytale – but always providing something new and unexpected to the experience of the story. Familiarity with the original fairy tale is not necessary to appreciate the stories told here, though it provides more depth.
The main character is opaque, being introduced as an already fully developed man at seemingly the height of his powers, rather than any kind of coming of age arc. Instead, the character growth we see is a man questioning his original outlook on life and coming to terms with the concept that sometimes the people he seeks to protect are bigger monsters than the ones he kills. He is constantly presented with the choice between two evils and unable to determine which is the lesser evil in the overall scheme of things. Yennefer and Dandilion are both colorful characters which continue to challenge the idea of what humanity means. None of the characters are what you would consider good people but neither is anyone vilified. The book allows you to decide where things fall on the spectrum of good and evil.
The world building isn’t so much built as implied to being large, promising something more to come in future books. It promises that there will be politics on an complex level. It promises that there will be more colorful monsters to come. It promises magic in a variety of flavors and uses. It definitely promises that there will be questionable companions and quests shrouded in the moral grey. Overall it is a dark world and not at all rife with the hope expected of a fantasy series.
It promises a great deal while at the same time delivering on many fronts. I will probably go back and read it again at some point in the future but first I have to find out what happens next, in the actual Witcher series.