The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
After finishing the final DLC for The Witcher 3 I’ve been a little bereft. I love this world and these characters and wanted to see them again. Thankfully, the games are sequels to a well-regarded Polish book series so there were plenty more adventures for me to read about so I can continue hanging out with Geralt, who I’ve decided is one of my favourite game characters of all time.
The Last Wish is a collection of early short stories wrapped up in a frame narrative where a wounded Geralt recuperates at a temple, offending the locals and sleeping with the priestesses in classic Geralt fashion. The first story is simply titled The Witcher and follows Geralt’s dealing with a striga, who is the miscarried daughter of the Temerian King Foltest. Reading this I was immediately struck by how well CD Projekt captured the writing in their Witcher games; the structure of the story is remarkably similar to a quest in the games and even contains moments reflected in the mechanics of the games, such as brewing potions, oiling swords and meditating. It’s a good story and a solid introduction to the world and character of Geralt, but it wasn’t my favourite of the collection. The following story, A Grain of Truth, is a darkly funny twist on Beauty and the Beast. I enjoyed the slightly sardonic tone of this one, which sees Geralt finding a man cursed to appear as a hideous beast alone in a ramshackle mansion.
The third story, The Lesser Evil, bore many similarities to the recent Blood and Wine expansion, dealing with a young woman who has been born under the ‘Curse of the Black Sun’ aka born during an eclipse. Women born during these times are shunned and brutally treated, with their following behaviour being taken as evidence of their inherent wickedness. This story is an interesting meditation on nature vs nurture and the right of a person to determine ‘the lesser of two evils.’ It also takes place in a village called Blaviken, which will immediately draw the attention of fans of the games. A Matter of Price takes place in the court of Cintra under Queen Calanthe, who has summoned Geralt incognito for mysterious reasons. This story is concerned with the Law of Surprise, whereby a firstborn child can be taken as a reward for saving a man’s life. It’s an interesting concept which is very important to the series. This is an enjoyable story, but it’s static setting makes it not feel quite as entertaining as some of the others.
The Edge of the World introduces Dandelion, who fans of the game will remember as a lascivious troubadour and musician and one of Geralt’s best friend. In search of work, Geralt and Dandelion have travelled to very edge of the civilised world and find themselves in the midst of an odd conflict between a farming community and a ‘devil’ that lives in their fields. This story has a clear message about the narrative of civilisation conquering the wild and works as one of the most successful allegorical pieces of the story. People often talk about science fiction being held up as a mirror to the world, but fantasy can do it just as well. With these stories, this seems to be Sapkowski’s main ambition. The final story is the titular The Last Wish and introduces us to Yennefer of Vengerberg, and tells us how she and Geralt came to be bound together. The tempestuous relationship between these two is joyful to read and seeing how it all came together is really enjoyable. The collection is held together, as with the games, by Geralt, who I love just as much here as I did in the games. The generally stoic man who occasionally lapses into sarcasm or launches into flights of passion is seen clearly here.
I really enjoyed The Last Wish and found that it definitely scratched the itch I have for this setting. I’m really looking forward to reading more!