Saturday, July 24, 2021

REVIEW: The Last Wish (short story anthology) by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by Danusia Stok

The Last Wish appears to be the first work in Sapkowski's Witcher series, although it's technically a collection of short stories. I bought my copy brand new.

This review includes slight spoilers.


Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, someone who has been made to undergo extensive mental and physical conditioning since childhood in preparation for becoming a monster slayer. This book is essentially a collection of short stories detailing some of Geralt's adventures. Many of his encounters read like twisted fairy tales - there are heavily altered versions of "Beauty and the Beast" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," plus a striga (strzyga), a genie, and more.

Geralt starts off as a loner, traveling from one town to the next in the hope that someone will be willing to pay him to deal with a local monster. Later in the volume he gains a regular traveling companion, a bard named Dandelion.

I'll start by saying that this is my first Witcher experience - I've had the Netflix TV series recommended to me but haven't watched it yet, and I haven't played the games.

I knew going into this that it would be a bunch of short stories rather than a novel, but it was still a strange reading experience. It didn't really read like an anthology, since some of the stories clearly made an effort to transition from one to the next, but Geralt's characterization and the stories' sometimes wildly varying tones made for choppy reading. The first half of the volume, in particular, was pretty dark and grim. I was expecting more of the same from a story about a queen trying to arrange a beneficial marriage for her daughter, but then that somehow morphed into a happy ending despite everything. And once Dandelion finally appeared on-page (he'd previously only been mentioned in passing), the grimness level never rose very high again. In fact, things occasionally became downright goofy - it's hard to imagine the Geralt of the first story literally rolling around in the sand trying to grab a jar from a friend, but that was indeed what he did later in the volume.

I liked the way the stories incorporated folklore and fairy tales, but this was another world in which it pretty much sucked to be a woman. Multiple stories featured rape in some way (nothing on-page, but rather part of characters' backstories), and, if I understood things right, the most magically powerful woman in the book ended up essentially bound to love Geralt because he wished it. (And then he ran away because she was too "possessive.")

One of the reasons I'm not quite comfortable calling this an anthology was that the stories didn't always feel like they could stand alone. I mean, the last story essentially ended in something like a cliffhanger. That and the "wait, what did Geralt wish for?" moment were very frustrating for me.

I just checked, and the other book in this series that I own is the second collection of short stories, which is a shame since I suspect the full novels would work better for me. Still, this was an interesting enough read and I expect the next one will be too.

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