The Last Wish (The Witcher #0.5) by Andrzej Sapkowski

Book Description

Geralt the Witcher—revered and hated—is a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. 

But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

My Review

The Last Wish is a collection of short stories concerning The Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, whose monster killing exploits inspired the Netflix TV show, The Witcher, and the video game of the same name. It is the first of eight books and is filled with references to lore and fairytales which seem familiar, but with very different details and outcomes than in the versions I am used to:

The story A Grain of Truth appears to be based on Beauty and the Beast:
In this interpretation, the Beast is Nivellen, a young man, who rapes a priestess who spits in his face cursing him and transforming into a revolting creature, doomed to loneliness. In this version of the story the Beast lives in a castle and pays travelling merchants to leave their daughters with him for a year. If they truly fall in love with him during this time, his curse will be broken.

The Lesser Evil is based on Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs. The following quotes refer to the magic mirror as used by Snow White’s mother and the seven dwarves – although in this version they are gnomes:

Aridea quite often turned to Mirror—
With the usual question, I take it, interrupted Geralt. “Who is the fairest of them all?” I know; all Nehelenia’s Mirrors are either polite or broken.”

“Then, four years later I received news from Aridea. She’s tracked down the little one, who was living in Mahakam with seven gnomes whom she’d managed to convince it was more profitable to rob merchants on the roads than to pollute their lungs with dust from the mines.

A Question of Price has elements of both Rumpelstiltskin and Cinderella:

Remember Zivelina, who became the Queen of Metinna with the help of the gnome Rumplestelt, and in return promised him her first-born? Zivelina didn’t keep her promise when Rumplestelt came for his reward and, by using magic spells, she forced him to run away. Not long after that, both she and the child died of plague.”

“Last winter, prince Hrobarik, without such pleasantries, tried to hire me to look for a pretty girl, who having enough of his boarish advances, ran from the ball leaving a little glass slipper behind.”

The Edge of the World
 contains a reference to The Pied Piper of Hamelin:

Do you remember? And the ratcatchers with pipes? Everybody was fighting over their services. But they were finished off by alchemists and their effective poisons and then domesticated ferrets and weasels…
The ratcatchers… Well, you’d better not copy them, because they, to a man, took to drink and went to the dogs.

These stories are quite charming and Geralt is a likeable and sarcastically witty hero in each of them. His profession as a monster killer for hire means there are plenty of monsters in this book, most of which were unknown to me and it was interesting to learn more about each of them. 

The stories are linked together by interludes from the time Geralt spent at the Temple of Melitele, recovering from his injuries gained during one of the stories. In this way the stories are presented as flashbacks, each one filling in more detail about the Witcher. I particularly enjoyed his relationship with the bard, Dandelion and the story in which he first meets Yennefer of Vengerberg, who plays a large and important role in his life.

About the Author

Andrzej Sapkowski, born June 21, 1948 in Łódź, is a Polish fantasy writer. Sapkowski studied economics, and before turning to writing, he had worked as a senior sales representative for a foreign trade company. His first short story, The Witcher (Wiedźmin), was published in Fantastyka, Poland’s leading fantasy literary magazine, in 1986 and was enormously successful both with readers and critics. Sapkowski has created a cycle of tales based on the world of The Witcher, comprising three collections of short stories and five novels. This cycle and his many other works have made him one of the best-known fantasy authors in Poland in the 1990s.

The main character of The Witcher (alternative translation: The Hexer) is Geralt, a mutant assassin who has been trained since childhood to hunt down and destroy monsters. Geralt exists in an ambiguous moral universe, yet manages to maintain his own coherent code of ethics. At the same time cynical and noble, Geralt has been compared to Raymond Chandler’s signature character Philip Marlowe. The world in which these adventures take place is heavily influenced by Slavic mythology.

Sapkowski has won five Zajdel Awards, including three for short stories “Mniejsze zło” (Lesser Evil) (1990), “Miecz przeznaczenia” (Sword of Destiny) (1992) and “W leju po bombie” (In a Bomb Crater) (1993), and two for the novels “Krew elfów” (Blood of Elves) (1994) and “Narrenturm” (2002). He also won the Spanish Ignotus Award, best anthology, for The Last Wish in 2003, and for “Muzykanci” (The Musicians), best foreign short story, same year.

In 1997, Sapkowski won the prestigious Polityka’s Passport award, which is awarded annually to artists who have strong prospects for international success.

In 2001, a Television Series based on the Witcher cycle was released in Poland and internationally, entitled Wiedźmin (The Hexer). A film by the same title was compiled from excerpts of the television series but both have been critical and box office failures.

Sapkowski’s books have been translated into Czech, Russian, Lithuanian, German, Spanish, French, Ukrainian, and Portuguese. An English translation of The Last Wish short story collection was published by Gollancz in 2007.

The Polish game publisher, CD Projekt, created a role-playing PC game based on this universe, called The Witcher, which was released in October 2007. There is also a mobile version of the game which has been created by Breakpoint Games and is being published by Hands-On Mobile in Western Europe,Latin America and Asia Pacific.

The English translation of Sapkowski’s novel Blood of Elves won the David Gemmell Legends Award in 2009.

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