Gaming / Reviews

Book Review: ‘The Last Wish’ by Andrzej Sapkowski

The most recent book I read (for pleasure) is The Last Wish, the second novel in the Witcher series. Technically, it was written second, but is the beginning of the Witcher story line, so I figured it would be best to read it first.

Many of you know I’m both a gamer and a reader, so when I found out the game I’ve been playing (The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt) was based on a book series, of course I ran out to buy the first 3 books immediately. And by ran out, I mean snatched my phone and hastily opened Amazon to order them.

For those of you who might not know, the Witcher series started out as a single short story submitted to a Polish fantasy literary magazine – and it won third place. Today, the books and the games are critically acclaimed across the world, boasting millions of fans and a Game of the Year award. This fact is equal parts fascinating and inspiring to me as a writer.

But it’s time to stop yammering and get to the goods you came here for. Warning: Though I’ve tried to keep this mostly spoiler free, this review may contain spoilers for The Witcher 3. Read at your own risk.

What blew me away:

  1. The dialogue. Holy mother of all things holy, the dialogue is amazing. I’ll let it speak for itself: ‘And I strongly advise you, witcher, that if the queen orders you to strip naked, paint your arse blue and hang yourself upside down in the entrance hall like a chandelier, you do it without surprise or hesitation.’
  2. Finding out the characters’ origin stories. The Last Wish details Geralt’s first encounter with Dandelion, as well as his first meeting with Yennefer. One of the short stories hints at how Ciri winds up at Kaer Mohren. We also find out what Geralt did to earn the title ‘Butcher of Blaviken’. Many other characters also make appearances in the book: Foltest, Rainfarn, and Crach an Craite, to name a few.
  3. The strangeness. This book is…strange. Maybe that’s because it’s originally Polish fantasy, which is no doubt very different to what we’re used to reading. The plots in several of the stories took twists that I never would have expected, which kept me invested as a reader and focused on technique as a writer.
  4. Geralt’s character. Geralt is easily my favourite character in The Witcher, and I was delighted that his character in the book is much the same as it is in the games. He’s still just as snarky, sarcastic, and soft-hearted as usual.

What wasn’t so great:

  1. The actual story ‘The Last Wish’. I’ll be the first to admit that I hate the actual short story The Last Wish. (This is the one where Geralt meets Yennefer.) My main problem was that this story relied far too much on the tired cliché of winning the war and the girl. I’m not one for romance, particularly of the clichéd variety. I just wanted to get back to cheering on Geralt while he slayed monsters and danced around with his signature pirouette instead of hearing about his post-war victory coitus with Yennefer. (Oops – spoiler.)

I’ve sat here for about twenty minutes trying to find more bad things to say about this book, but I can’t. I thought about mentioning confusing timelines and the unnecessary sexualisation of women in some places, but seasoned readers will be able to figure that out for themselves and give credence to artistic license.

I’ve read other reviews that are a bit harsh on ol’ Geralt, saying he’s not deep or developed enough to stay interested in. At the end of the day, it all comes down to preference. I don’t read very much fantasy, and even less medieval fantasy, but I have a great appreciation for the kind of yarn Sapkowski spins – dry adult humour with plenty of action, sarcasm, and a few eye-opening truths about both the fictional universe and the real one.

I’m not saying it’s the greatest book ever written, but it certainly is an entertaining and easy read. So next time you’ve had a bad day at uni or work and want to lose yourself in a book, give Geralt a chance.

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