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The Last Wish is the first book in the Witcher series. It was written by Andrzej Sapkowski and published in 1993, though the franchise originally started as a series of short stories dating back to the 1980s. Oh, by the way, that’s all for the original Polish versions of the book. The first English version wasn’t published until 2007, which is the exact year that the first Witcher video game was released.
For anyone who doesn’t know, The Witcher series follows the adventures of Geralt who, if you couldn’t guess, is a Witcher (which is essentially a monster slayer for hire). He travels around a continent imaginatively named “The Continent,” a fantasy realm filled with monsters, wizards, and more assholes than you can shake a stick at—and I’m assuming that you can usually shake a stick at a lot of them.
To be honest, I didn’t know that the Witcher started off as a book series until Netflix made the television show… which you should watch if you haven’t already. I was perfectly content to just play the games. Especially the third one, which is still one of the best RPGs available today, so you should play it if you haven’t already.
However, after recently re-watching the first season of the show, in preparation for its second season, I seem to have caught Witcher fever, and the only prescription… is more Witcher. I found myself thinking, maybe just watch that season again, or play back through the third game.
Instead, I found myself drawn to the idea of reading the books.
A quick google search revealed that The Last Wish is the official first book in The Witcher series. It also happens to be a collection of short stories that introduces you to Geralt and his witcher-y ways.
So, I bought it and read it. Unfortunately, it only took a few hours because the book is only about two-hundred and eighty-eight pages long. So, kind of a sneeze as far as most fantasy novels are concerned.
It was, however, better than I expected, and my expectations were set pretty high because of my previous experience with the games and the Netflix show. That being said, I’ll try and keep to the book for this review…
But, fair warning, I reserve the right to trail off into a game/show rant.
A Well Contained Anthology
The Last Wish starts with a fairly straightforward tale of Geralt fighting a monster. Near the end of the story, he finds himself gravely injured, and he spends the remainder of the book convalescing at a temple run by a sect of healing priestesses. As he recovers, he flashes back to previous moments in his life, making The Last Wish an anthology, which made me hesitant at first.
I’ve found, over the years, that most anthologies suffer from a fatal flaw: not all of the stories contained within are good. You usually get one good story, a couple of alright ones, and then an army of duds.
This can be hard to suffer through.
The Last Wish manages to elevate itself from the usual anthology fare by containing no duds whatsoever. Now, art being subjective and all, I can’t say that you’d enjoy every story (I did) but I can say that, as a whole, it tracks well and gives you a very good picture of Geralt and what his day-to-day life is like.
The Netflix series is actually a pretty faithfull retelling of all of the stories contained in The Last Wish. Although, the show takes certain liberties, has a larger overarching story, and weaves the stories of other characters in between Geralt’s exploits.
A Progression of Prose
I don’t know if it was because this was the first book I’d read in a while, but I felt like the first story in The Last Wish started off a little… janky. The wording felt weird, the dialog was stiff, and the characters were kinda….
The story was still good though, so at least there was that.
Starting with the second story, the prose improved steadily. By the end, everything flowed, the dialog was witty and dynamic, and the characters felt more alive.
This shift might have been because it was translated from Polish, or because some of the stories were written at an earlier time. Either way, the book had a little bit of a rough start, but managed to conclude rather gracefully.
One thing about The Last Wish that caught me completely off guard was the inclusion of several well-known fairy tales.
Imagine my surprise when I realized that the second story is actually a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, or that one of the characters from the third story is ostensibly Snow White. Of course, they don’t just come out and say these things, but it’s pretty obvious if you stop and think about it.
I know that there are a lot of reimaginings, retellings, pretellings, and alternate history versions of these stories, but I enjoyed the almost stealth way the fairy tales were presented in this particular book.
When I first realized that I was reading Beauty and the Beast and the Witcher, it felt a little out of place. However, once the story concluded, I thought that it was an imaginative and concise version of a story I’ve seen a thousand times.
I’m not sure if the rest of The Witcher series has any stealth fairytale references, but it was a welcome addition to this anthology.
Toss a Coin to Your Witcher
Overall, The Last Wish was very good. I think the whole franchise, including the games and television series, does a good job of telling the story in their own way. I don’t know if it was better or worse than the show (which I think was funnier) or the games (which were more immersive), but I think the first Witcher book managed to convey the heart of what makes the Witcher series great… which is, honestly, Geralt. I feel like the show and the games give you a pretty good sense of who he is, but this book in particular is really a study of this magnificent character.
I’m not going to give this one an official rating. In my mind, the game, show, and book all swirled together in a beautiful miasma of Witcher, and giving this one segment a rating would feel disingenuous. I will, however, say that I really liked it, and if you are interested in getting into the world of The Witcher, The Last Wish is a fantastic jumping-off point.
Now if you’ll excuse me, reading this did nothing to curb my want of more Witcher, so I’m off to watch the show again… or play the games…. or continue to read the book series… or be crippled by decision paralysis.
Probably that last one if I’m being honest.