Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Title: The Last Wish
ISBN: 9780575077836Publisher: Gollancz (2007)
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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"Geralt de Rivia is a pale, white-haired witcher, a cunning sorcerer who kills without pangs of conscience. He pursues a single purpose: to destroy the dangerous monsters that plague the planet. Both cynical and noble, he plies his grim trade in the midst of uncertainty, a highly trained assassin who must respond instantaneously to danger. The Last Wish introduces the Witcher to an American audience; in author Andrzej Sapkowski's native Poland, this series outsells Stephen King and Michael Crichton." (GoodRead's blurb)
Please, note that I’m saying tale, not novel. The Last Wish is, in fact, a collection of eight short stories revolving around the main character, Geralt, and his life as a monster hunter for hire. These stories are woven together through a memory and flashback routine: there’s one initial mission which leaves our hero wounded, and so his rehabilitation makes the spine of the book with intermittent chapters wherein he reminisces about his previous exploits before he finally moves on.
In general, I’d perhaps complain about this structure. And yet, somehow, this book was quite the page turner. There are several reasons to explain this, the first of which is, perhaps, the storytelling abilities of Mr. Sapkowski.
The whole book was a pleasure to read. I must say that I got my hands in the Spanish translation (could not read the original if I tried), and it might be that not all publishing houses have had the same degree of success in the field, but the text was superb: it wove archaisms and court language with lively description, cinematic action, and a healthy dose of nowadays jargon in dialogue that made the characters become living creatures in their pages. Sarcastic comebacks, expletives and clear examples of bureaucratic life pepper up The Last Wish and mark it apart in today’s market.
Another thing that is becoming more and more common to fantasy books is the grey and grey morality presented by Mr. Sapkowski. Sometimes, there is no good choice – there is just the lesser evil, if anything. And yet, every path we take, every choice, forced as it might be, has harsh repercussions down the line. Real life works like that, after all, and it is always refreshing to read a fantasy depiction so full of realism.
The Last Wish does not just show us what a monster man can be. There are also winks to humour, mostly through twisted versions to our beloved, classic tales – Beauty and the Beast springs to mind, but there are many other examples. And there is also love, of course.
As far as creatures go, we will find a lot of humans. The few elves and the dwarf of two are nothing like the other fantasy books have accustomed us to. And the monsters? This is perhaps one of the most confusing, most pleasing experiences. Beyond standard evil races, we face an assortment of folklore creatures, some of which will be familiar for the reader, and some of which hail from Eastern Europe and will be new and refreshing.
The only complain I have is that I feel like there should be more story to the characters we meet in this journey. The Last Wish introduces us a hero, and a world, and an époque, and I want more.
Good thing there are six more volumes to Geralt’s name. The second one is another collection of short stories, and then we’ve an adventure spanning five more books. Because the first two titles are self-conclusive, I would recommend every fantasy reader to check them out and then decide whether they want to stick for the ride.
I believe I will.