It is difficult to resist the (mis)adventures of Geralt the White Wolf. Humor, thrills, ridiculousness — the Witcher has it all. Hell, it’s not every day you read a fantasy novel that starts with a steamy roll in the hay. It sets the tone for the rest of the THE LAST WISH, first published in English in 2007. It’s a collection of short stories framed by a narrative of Geralt’s struggles to heal and come to terms with his purpose in life.
“If Geralt was pleased about anything, it was only that nobody could see him – for it was a truly ridiculous sight.”
Chronologically, the stories detail the earliest of Geralt’s adventures, which are re-tellings of famous fairy tales. There’s the Beast who, instead of the Beauty, is in love with a vicious rusalka. There’s a riddling bridge troll, who’s actually closer to a bleating devil-goat. And then there are the damsels in distress, although every lady enters Geralt’s life with a twist.
“Uk! Uk! Beeeeee! bleated the goathorn in agreement, or denial, or simply bleating for the sake of it.”
Some of the monsters Geralt fights are a fresh change from the usual fantasy tropes (no dragons this time!), as Sapkowski draws inspiration from Slavic mythology, and while the reader can expect Geralt to survive every foe, the action scenes are gripping enough to keep the reader’s heart beating a bit faster than usual.
Those who have played the games get to meet some familiar faces besides Geralt, such as the exquisite Yennefer and boisterous Dandilion. There is a brief mention of Triss Marigold and even Ciri’s mother, Pavetta of Cintra, but their appearances are closer to cameos. Granted, the reader is let in on the history of Geralt and Yennefer. Their relationship begins with several bangs, scalded and mangled bodyparts, destroyed infrastructure, and one pissed-off genie. An ugly, sexy affair from the get-go.
Geralt is a badass, no doubt about that. He’s also proud, as he sure doesn’t let anyone trash-talk him or else they are in for a thrashing. Geralt’s character is more cynical in THE LAST WISH. Perhaps it’s because he hasn’t been softened by Yennefer yet. Surprisingly enough, the voice of reason in his life is usually a woman. But just when things start getting too serious, Sapkowski finds his funny bone again, and we’re back to an appropriate level of ridiculousness.
THE LAST WISH is a quick but enjoyable read. The Witcher books are written with the adult audience in mind, and the dark fairy tale elements are bound to entertain fans of fantasy superstars like George R. R. Martin, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Brandon Sanderson, as well as those looking for something a bit more exotic yet at the same time comfortably familiar.