The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski – Book Review

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski – Book Cover

The Monster Hunter Steps Out of Fairy Tales

Geralt of Rivia, the professional monster hunter (or Witcher) created by the now world-famous Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, made his debut in a collection of short stories in 1993. The Last Wish is set in a fantasy world reminiscent of early medieval Eastern Europe, populated with dwarves, elves, and dragons, and enriched with creatures from Slavic and Germanic folklore—from strigas and succubi to a twisted version of Snow White.

It quickly becomes apparent that the strength and weakness of Sapkowski’s book are one and the same. While it may be somewhat different from a typical Anglo-Saxon fantasy, you might find yourself questioning the seriousness of it all when a monster conjures a feast from thin air or a girl transforms into a giant bat only to turn back into a clothed girl. And then there’s the genie and the three wishes, of course.

After all, fairy tales lose their credibility past a certain age.

Better and Worse Short Stories

Sapkowski’s twisted folk tales vary in quality to some extent; the badass Snow White, for instance, is the best character in the book (it’s no coincidence that the first episode of the Netflix series (see review) starts with her), but some stories descend into the ridiculous. Take the one where elves, this noble race are stealing turnips and pole beans from a vegetable garden. In the same story, the author seems to feel like he’s in “The Lord of the Rings” for a few pages, but the burlesque that follows nullifies any intended grandeur.

Geralt of Rivia – the perfect hero material

Despite the embellishments, The Last Wish is basically an average heroic fantasy. Geralt, who chops up various monsters with his silver sword, is inherently cool. He’s the perfect hero material: rugged, with a hard life behind him, but with a good heart, guided by the Witcher’s code and his own conscience. Sometimes, this sense of morality goes overboard, as in the case of Yennefer, who arguably deserved a few good slaps—and maybe a kick in the backside. And she likely would have gotten them if she weren’t so damn SEXY

Geralt’s guiding principle: the monster isn’t always what it seems. This is also the main lesson of The Last Wish.

The Last Wish Could Use More Coherence

There are just two problems with Geralt: he’s too nonchalant, especially when conversing with kings, which could foreseeably get him into serious trouble later on, and he also doesn’t seem to understand finances. In one story, his problem is that there are too many monsters in the world; in another, it’s the opposite—there are too few, making it harder for him to find work.

Of course, if the Witcher, who buddies up with royalty and receives either three thousand orens from a king or an emerald necklace from a queen, managed his earnings better, he might not have any problem at all. Neither of those sums sound insufficient. So, yes, The Last Wish occasionally suffers from incoherence or a slightly silly plot twists.

Too Much Chatter, Clumsy Humor

Sapkowski’s style is not particularly outstanding; his overly verbose dialogues reveal a penchant for unnecessary chatter. His humor often falls flat (with the possible exception of the novella “A Question of Price,” which contains traces of it), usually limited to the tiresome antics of Geralt’s friend, Dandelion.

Given all this, there’s a strong suspicion that the Eastern European master’s book series, or at least its first volume, is easily outdone by both the video game inspired by it and the Netflix series (see review of the first three seasons).

Rating: 6.9/10

The Last Wish (The Witcher #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski
359 pages, Mass Market Paperback
Published in 2008 by Orbit

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