The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski is a book I went into with mixed expectations. On the one hand, I am somewhat familiar with the Witcher from the video games (I’ve never played the games, but it’s hard to miss the advertising and I do like watching the game trailers). On the other, even though the books came before the games, there’s still a negative preconception that books having anything to do with a video game are of lesser quality than a book that is not. This is not fair in all cases, of course, but it certainly is in some. Regardless, after Gollancz Press sent me the entire series of Witcher novels after winning them via a Twitter drawing, I felt obligated (and, quite frankly, intrigued, because I love the premise of a supernatural hunting badass tracking down and killing monsters) to give this book and the rest in the series a fair shake.
The Last Wish is novel length, though it is not a novel per se but rather a collection of varying length stories that more or less follow a chronological order. From what I could gather from the Witcher Wiki, the stories contained in The Last Wish were first published in now out of print magazines and later gathered together into this collection. Also, The Last Wish is a prequel in that the stories take place before the main series of books. That being said, the editions I received from Gollancz are part of a reprinted series, so they conveniently designated The Last Wish as book one. It’s all a bit confusing, truth be told, with there being so many editions and instances where the series has been rebranded.
All of that aside, I enjoyed The Last Wish. I’m not going to say it blew me away, because it didn’t. But it did surprise me with the depth of some of the stories. On the surface, the Witcher, Geralt, hunts monsters. But the monsters are not always what they seem. They’re not just simply monsters, in other words. Some other witchers might ignore this and go ahead with their duty regardless. But Geralt has a streak of kindness or mercy in him that makes him want to understand the plight of the monsters he hunts. If he has to kill his prey, he will. He has the magic, the silver, and the steel to do so quite efficiently. But if there’s another way, he isn’t afraid to explore it.
Nowhere is this demonstrated better than in the story “A Grain of Truth,” where Geralt finds himself facing off against a powerful creature that is more beast than man. Yet once the tension of their initial confrontation is defused, Geralt discovers that not only can the creature talk, but that he has a name. Nevellen soon tells him a tale of a curse and a lonely existence that, in the end, turns out to not be the entire truth but enough that Geralt must make a hard choice. It’s an excellent demonstration of just what the Witcher stories are really all about in that there’s more to some of these monsters than what’s on the surface.
Other stories follow a similar thread or even present opportunities for Geralt to form real relationships, including friendship and love interests. The final story, which bears the same name as the title of the book, is the grandest of all. In it we are introduced to Yennefer of Vengerberg, who must choose between ambition and love when the opportunity to capture a genie presents itself.
I liked The Last Wish enough to give it a three rocket rating. None of the stories knocked me off my feet, but they each drew me in and kept me reading. I would have liked to have seen a grander demonstration of the Witcher’s magic or ability with a sword, both of which we do see, but just not in any great detail. Also, even though The Last Wish is the beginning of the Witcher series, Geralt is already accomplished at his trade. While I wasn’t expecting (or desiring) a full origin story, I think the series as a a whole would have benefitted from picking up earlier in Geralt’s career so we as readers could experience some of his early struggles and wins. In any case, The Last Wish fulfills the promise of introducing us to the Witcher and his way of life, enough so that I recommend reading this one and picking up the next book, Blood of Elves, to see what other adventures Geralt may find himself on.