- Title: The Last Wish
- Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
- Genre: Fantasy
- Series: The Witcher Saga Book 1
- Would recommend to: fans of the video games, fairy tale lovers, mythology buffs, fans of A Song of Ice and Fire and people looking for something different.
- Available in library?: No
“Lesser, greater, middling, it’s all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I’m not a pious hermit, I haven’t done only good in my life. But if I’m to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.”
The Last Wish is a collection of short stories published by Andrzej Sapkowski in 1993. They have since achieved ‘cult classic’ status in its country of origin, Poland, as well as most of Europe. The books have been converted to almost every other form of media possible, involving a graphic novel series, a TV show and a video game series (which I also recommend). The series blends its own original world and story with Polish mythology and fairy tale-inspired situations.
The Last Wish follows our protagonist, Geralt of Rivia. He is a witcher, a monster hunter for-hire who employs the use of spells and his silver sword to kill dangerous creatures. Witchers are trained from childhood and have been mutated to the point where they are no longer completely human. Geralt displayed a natural resistance to the mutations and he was experimented on further, which robbed him of his pigmentation and left him as an albino. There is seven short stories contained within this novel, with one larger framing story acting as interludes between them. This frame story consists of Geralt healing up in a temple after being wounded by a particularly threatening beast. Some of Geralt’s old friends show up, while the short stories that are spread throughout the frame narrative explain their backstory together. My favourite of the short stories is The Last Wish, which involves a genie nearly destroying a whole town, an ambitious sorceress who attempts to manipulate Geralt and a wish which intertwines the fates of two characters forever.
The Last Wish is, without a doubt, the best collection of short stories I have ever read. For a book about a monster hunter, you would expect it to be a full-on gorefest. But it isn’t. In one of the short stories, Geralt masquerades as a noble and ends up resolving a romantic dispute between a monster and a princess. In another, Geralt comes across a man cursed to look like a hideous beast and lives in a mansion, then proceeds to have tea with him. The short stories are all so varied and unique. And Geralt is such a deep and complex character. On the surface, he seems stoic, emotionless and at times even cruel. But he is actually a steadfast friend who adheres to his own morals and sense of justice and whose actions are often misunderstood.
The world-building in this book is also astounding. It has the typical humans, dwarves, elves and such, but they aren’t very prevalent in this book. I’m more talking about the magic, politics and organisations that The Witcher world is full of. There’s the Witchers themselves, who are orphans that are taken on by other Witchers and trained at their castle and base of operations, Kaer Morhen. They undergo years of training before finally going through the Trial of the Grasses, which turns them into mutants and allows them to drink the Witcher potions which are lethal to normal men. It also only has a 33% survival rate. The politics is nothing on the level of A Song of Ice and Fire, but the intrigue scenes are still fun to read. And the magic system is also very original. It is a major plot point in one of the stories though, so I don’t want to spoil anything. The countries and cultures are all fully realised, and you can also tell that they are based on ones from real life.
Overall, The Witcher was an excellent read, and a different one too. It is quite reminiscent of a fairy tale in a way, just with a gritty spin. It also reminded me of A Song of Ice and Fire in some ways and if you enjoyed that series (or its TV show counterpart), I would recommend this too.
Also please note that the series was originally written in Polish and not all of the novels have been officially translated into English. If you are reading an English translation, there will be some awkward wording and syntax at times due to the transition between languages.
For more information on Andrzej Sapkowski and his other works, visit his website here. (It is in Polish though, so you may need to translate.)
*The book is considered first chronologically, though the other short story collection Sword of Eternity was written before it, however the two do overlap in parts. Then there is also the four full-length novels that take place after the two collections. The reading order of the books is really convoluted, but the author has recommended any new readers to start with The Last Wish.