Book Review: ‘The Last Wish’ by Andrzej Sapkowski

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‘Evil is evil…Lesser, greater, middling, it’s all the same.’

Last Wish book

My first exposure to the world that Andrezej Sapkowski created took the form of the critically acclaimed Witcher games by CD Projekt Red following the adventures of an amnesiac monster hunter named Geralt of Rivia.

The loss of Geralt’s memory ensures the player does not have to have a prior knowledge of the books the game was based on before picking up and playing, as the games are set after the events in the books, and Geralt cannot remember what happened.

That changes by the final game, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, as Geralt has regained his memory, and his past from the books drives forward the story in the games.

One of the missions in that game is named the Last Wish, which calls back to the very first book in the Witcher series, a poetic curtailing of the world that Andrezej established.

But before we look at the end of the story we have to turn back to the begining if that story and that is what The Last Wish gives us.

The Last Wish has a non-standard narrative structure, taking the form of a series of short stories that establish who Geralt of Rivia is, tied together by the overarching narrative of Geralt reflecting on his during a time of recovery following an injury during a particular monster hunt.

This particular structure does leave you feeling like you are watching the clip show episode of your favourite TV series, but the fact that these stories are new prevents the creeping boredom that can be evoked by the often overused TV trope. Instead we are shown who Geralt of Rivia is by being given a selection of stories, such as might be told by a travelling bard, for us to understand who he is, even if we do not fully understand where he has come from by the end of the book.

The writing style is simple but paints an effective picture of a well-realised world where folklore and fantasy blend together with a realistic medieval setting. I understand the world well very early on in the book, but still have questions about the mechanics of its ontology, which is how a fantasy world should be introduced. The characters in the world don’t fully know and explore the mysteries of the world at the same time as we do.

The book is translated into English from its original Polish and so I will put some of the simplicity down to being lost in translation, as the rest of the world building is effective enough that simplicity is not distracting or unwanted.

A good sense of humour pervades the book with a smile being brought to my lips on several occasions, whether that be by characters own wit or happenstance to unexpected retellings of classic folklore tales.

If you enjoyed watching The Witcher on Netflix, this book is a nice read to see the source material, however all bar-one story in the Last Wish made it into the Netflix series, meaning you will not be reading much that you are not familiar with, and the Netflix Series is fairly close to the source material save for a few minor variations such as would be expected from any adaptation. As such if you read the Last Wish you will know a large portion of what to expect from the Netflix series and vice versa.

I fully enjoyed reading this book, it was a short but fun, slightly pulpy experience, which felt more than the sum of it’s parts by the end.

Having read this book I am now itching to read the rest that Andrezej Sapkowski has to offer. It is not the finest fantasy story ever written, but it is undeniably interesting and fun read, that does not overstay its welcome, and has left me wanting more.

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