Book Review: The Witcher- the Last Wish

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Book Review: The Witcher- the Last Wish

Postby DaHeckIzDat » February 16th, 2018, 1:29 pm

Hey guys! This isn't a game review, but since there's an insanely popular trilogy of games based on the Witcher books I thought maybe you'd like to see my review for the first one.


Before the insanely popular Witcher video games existed, there were The Witcher books by Andrzej Sapkowski (don't ask me how to pronounce that), featuring Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is a Witcher, meaning that he was taken in as a child and experimented on, giving him superhuman strength, reflexes, and awesome white hair and cat-like eyes. Think of him as if someone combined Aragorn from Lord of the Rings with Wolverine. It's his job to hunt down and kill monsters (so why they call him a Witcher, I can't say, since he never once kills one). He carries two swords, one of iron and one of steel. The iron one slays beasts, he says, but they both kill monsters. The Last Wish is a collection of short stories centering around Geralt's adventures, and the things he kills-- and perhaps more importantly, doesn't kill. There's an overarching narrative between them, with the short stories acting as memories he is recalling in the present day, and I like how that makes it feel like a book instead of a bunch of random stories stapled together.

The first story, simply titled The Witcher, sees Geralt heading into a town that's been plagued by a Striga. There, he learns that the monster is actually the lord's daughter, and that rather than kill her, he is to find a way to break her curse. That's easier said than done, though, because one has to spend an entire night in the Striga's lair to undo the spell, something that even the famed Geralt of Rivia will be hard pressed to accomplish. I liked this one because not only do we get a good idea of who Geralt is, what he's capable of, and what his life is like, we're also given a good look at the world in which he lives. If you've played the Witcher games, then you know that Geralt doesn't believe in black and white, just in various shades of gray. This is apparent in the story through the characters. The Striga was born, for instance, because the lord got his sister pregnant, but where another story would immediately label him an unforgivable monster, here he's just... human. A bit whiny and far too full of himself, but he also has his good side. I like that. And, most importantly, the fight with the Striga at the end is handled very well.


The next story, A Grain of Truth, finds Geralt in the woods where he comes across a pair of mutilated corpses, one of them holding a blue rose. A ways farther down the path, he finds a large and seemingly abandoned mansion with blue roses growing in the gardens. He's confronted by the lord of the manor, a massive beast man named Nivellan, but quickly finds that Nivellan isn't the rabid monster he first appears. But if Nivellan isn't the one killing off travellers, then who (or WHAT) is? This is where I started to see the theme The Last Wish was working with: retelling fairytales with a twist. This one, obviously, is Beauty and the Beast. I can't say I'm crazy about this, but it works well enough, so whatever. What really confused me was how many beautiful women were more than willing to crawl in bed with this man-bear-pig-thing without a second thought for a whole straight year. I mean, I get he was sending them home rich, but... come on, SOMEONE in this country has to have standards, right?


In The Lesser Evil, Geralt comes across an old acquaintance, a wizard named Stregobor. Stregobor is on the run, claiming that he's being hunted by a demon wearing a girl's body. He tells Geralt about the workings of an old mad wizard, who produced several princesses with hearts full of evil. This one, named Shrike, fell in with a band of seven gnomes and went on a murdering and robbing spree across the country before Stregobor turned her to crystal-- only to be resurrected by a lovestruck prince, who she of course murdered. Stregobor begs Geralt to help him, but the Witcher refuses, saying it's his job to kill monsters, not rogue princesses. Of course, Shrike shows up that same evening and gives Geralt her side of the story: she was a nice girl until everyone started experimenting on her, and now it's her right to kill Stregobor for what he did to her. Both claim that what they want is the lesser of the two evils. After having sex with Shrike (because what else did you expect to happen?) Geralt chooses not to choose, kills Shrike and her band of leather-and-spike wearing deviants, and threatens to kill Stregobor if he ever steps out of line. I didn't like this one. It's another fairytale retelling (Snow White), but in my opinion it's the worst kind, where the twist is "The good guy is the bad guy! WoooOOOOOooo!" Still, the fight at the end was handled pretty well and I was, if nothing else, entertained by it.


A Question of Price finds Geralt attending a feast held by Queen Calanthe to find a suitor for her fifteen year old daughter, Pavetta. While a hoard of the most stereotypically bad suitors try to catch the princess' attention, Geralt is continually threatened --indirectly, of course-- by the queen to accept a job that she refuses to give him more details about. Soon, though, the party is crashed by a man in armor, who claims that by the laws of some mystical magical mumbo jumbo, a promise made by the late king grants him and him alone the right to marry Pavetta. A fight breaks out, and it quickly becomes clear exactly what Queen Calanthe wants Geralt to do. I liked this one because it plays off of an old fairytale cliche without actually ripping off any particular one. The author makes a couple of weird choices here, like the old man who keeps making animal noises, but overall this was one of my favorite of the stories. It also ties in to some of the later Witcher books, and even the games (I won't tell you how, though!)


In The Edge of the World, Geralt has been joined by famous musician Dandelion on his journey to their country's border, the edge of civilization, to look for more monsters to kill. There, in a small farming village, Geralt is called upon to take care of a devil, a monster he doesn't believe exists. To his surprise, though, the devil is real-- and he's not alone. Geralt and Dandelion are both taken captive by a band of rogue elves who have been using the "devil" to steal food. With human civilization moving farther and farther outward, the elves have less land to live on, and will soon starve if nothing changes. At first I didn't care for this story, since it seemed like a whole bunch of stuff happened but nothing really HAPPENED, if you catch my drift. But then I realized that this is another short story that serves as a prequel to a later book, and I started enjoying it a lot more. There really isn't a lot more to say about this one. I like Dandelion... the end.


The final story, and the one the book is named after, The Last Wish, finds Geralt and Dandelion just as they accidentally pull a clay jar out of the river and release the elemental monster within. Dandelion, before getting mauled by it, declares it a djinn, which Geralt doesn't believe in, and begins making wishes. In order to get his friend some help, Geralt goes in search of a nearby sorceress named Yennefer. Yennefer confirms that the monster was, indeed, a djinn and that they do, indeed, grant wishes, which raises the question... how is Geralt the best Witcher in the land when he thinks half the monsters he's supposed to be hunting are imaginary? Anyway, Yennefer agrees to heal Dandelion, but not out of the goodness in her heart. There's still a wild djinn on the loose, and if she can get her hands on one of those wishes she'll never want for anything again. I can see why this is the one they named the entire book after, since it introduces such an important character to us. Yennefer is mentioned extensively in the "between" chapters of the book, and she's also a very prominent character in the games. Even so, after what she does to Geralt during the story's events, I have a really hard time coming to terms with the romance at the end (I don't think I'm spoiling anything there). She's petty, manipulative, spiteful, and uses Geralt to take her revenge on a bunch of important people for her, getting him thrown in jail in the process. She's hot, though, and I guess that's all it takes. Whatever.


All in all, The Last Wish was a fun diversion. That's right, a diversion. It was neither deep nor memorable enough to make a lasting impact on me, and if I wasn't interested in the games based off them I probably never would have picked it up in the first place. Still, they're not badly written, and I hope the future books that aren't short story collections might leave a better impression. The prose can feel a little stilted at times, but since this was translated from Polish I guess I can't complain too much since it's still perfectly readable. Check this book out if you're interested in the Witcher games. If you're not, there's plenty of better fantasy books out there to keep you busy.

I give The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski a 6.5/10!

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Re: Book Review: The Witcher- the Last Wish

Postby Stalvern » February 16th, 2018, 2:24 pm

Only 6.5/10 when only one story scored lower than 7/10? Why is that? Is it just less than the sum of its parts?

Also, the author's name is pronounced ahn-dzhray (more or less; "rz" is hard to pin down with our phonemes) sap-kov-ski.

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Re: Book Review: The Witcher- the Last Wish

Postby DaHeckIzDat » February 16th, 2018, 2:39 pm

Stalvern wrote:Only 6.5/10 when only one story scored lower than 7/10? Why is that? Is it just less than the sum of its parts?

Also, the author's name is pronounced ahn-dzhray (more or less; "rz" is hard to pin down with our phonemes) sap-kov-ski.

Because the short stories themselves were enjoyable, but as a whole there wasn't anything specific that I could bring up to recommend this book to anyone. This is especially bad because this is the first book in the series, and now I'm wondering if they're even worth reading or if I should just skip right to the games. My criteria for rating short stories and entire books is slightly different.

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