This book was a completely spontaneous pick, so I wasn’t coming in with a huge amount of preconceived notions or thoughts. I knew the Netflix version of The Witcher was coming out soon, and figured I would pick up the books and give them a go! I also haven’t really played the games either, which are what The Witcher brand is probably best known for. Anyway, with the Netflix show coming out today, I figured it was the perfect time to release my review!
The Last Wish has no real over-arching plot, instead, it is a loosely connected collection of short stories that allow Sapkowski to introduce us to his gritty world and our main protagonist, Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is a Witcher and, in essence, that means that he hunts monsters for coin. However, Geralt is no mere mercenary; he is clearly a very moral character and this allows him to live and work by his own strict ‘Witcher’ code. Each of these short stories – which are filled with nods to the Brothers Grimm fairy tales and Eastern European folklore – tests Geralt’s morals and fighting skills as he battles vampires, mutants, elves and a plethora of other fantastical monsters.
For me, one of the most interesting aspects of each of these stories, and from what I hear about the rest of the Witcher books, is the morality. Each story, in its own way, explores what it means to be a monster and what is the right thing to do. Most characters and ‘monsters’ that we meet are various shades of grey. In much the same way as George R.R. Martin’s works, and Joe Abercrombie’s as well, appearances are often deceiving, and the the princes, princesses, kings and queens are just as capabale of ‘monstrous’ acts as any true monster.
One thing I did know about this book before picking it up was that it was originally written in Polish, and as such, this is a translated story. This, I will admit, made me slightly apprehensive about the quality of the writing in that turns of phrase and use of language doesn’t always translate well across language. But I can happily admit that I had nothing to worry about: the translator clear has done a fantastic job! Sure, every now and again a phrase sounds a bit clunky, but it wasn’t a problem at all for me.
These Polish origins do mean that sometimes the monsters lack of a bit of description though. I think the author expected the reader to know the names of some of these monsters already from their own cultures tales, but I’m not Polish. I had to use google to find out what a Bruxa or a Kikimora was. I did enjoy finding out about these Eastern European, fairy tale monsters – I similarly enjoyed finding out about Middle Eastern, mythical creatures when reading S.A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass – but I could see how, for some, this would be frustrating and maybe cause issues with proper immersion into the world and story.
Overall, I would happily recommend this book to just about any fantasy fan! It has all the typical fantasy elements that you probably love from traditional fantasy, but it adds a grittiness that I enjoyed. Though, I do generally enjoy this in my fantasy anyway. Oh, and this has certainly increased my excitement for the upcoming show too!