Book Review: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
Original Polish Title: Ostatnie życzenie (translated by Danusia Stok)
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Gaming
Series: The Witcher
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Original Publication Date: January 2007
Author Info: www.sapkowski.pl
The Last Wish is a collection of short stories that introduces Geralt of Rivia, better known – particularly to gamers like me – as The Witcher. I’m just a few chapters into the first Witcher game, slowly preparing myself for the upcoming release of The Wyld Hunt, but through my limited play and my vicarious play through my friend, I have a pretty solid feel for the game in general, and for the character and his world, specifically.
A witcher is a man taken from childhood into the service of this group and forced to undergo all sorts of dangerous alchemical trials that leave the man not quite human. The result is a lethal, seemingly cold-blooded killer whose purpose is to hunt the monsters of the world. Only, there are not many monsters left now, leaving few options for a witcher to earn his keep, and resulting in a reputation as little more than a cold-hearted mercenary for hire.
Players will recognize the first story from the opening scene of the game, which features Geralt fighting off a deadly striga. The game has perfectly captured Geralt’s skill, his balletic grace, and his determination, as well as other elements such as his use of alchemy. But what the game misses is Geralt himself. Not that the game character is not interesting, but by the nature of the game system, where the player works with a Geralt who has lost his memories and must choose various options as the game progresses, the gamer misses out on the things that make Geralt a really, *really* interesting character. He is a man of few words – but only in certain situations where he deems the words unnecessary. He will deliver messages by the blade, but he is not a man without morals. In fact, his personal moral code is often called into question as he deals with lesser and greater evils – many of which are not actual monsters, but human beings.
It’s also very interesting to note that several stories are actually intriguingly re-imagined fairy tales. Sapkowski skillfully writes them to bare little similarity to their original or Disney versions at first, allowing the details to slowly fall into place for the reader. My absolute favourite was the Snow White retelling.
Some of my other favourite stories are the ones where Sapkowski simply allows Geralt to talk, which he tends to do only with people (or his trusty horse, Roach) who can’t respond. Sapkowski lets Geralt express doubt, to question himself, and to just vent. He also has many acquaintances, each of whom reveal a little something about a man who initially seems to be a loner. It becomes apparent through his actions and his relationships, that there is a significant amount of depth to the character.
One thing the game most certainly takes liberties on is sex. Geralt is able to sleep with just about any woman, with the added bonus of collecting trading cards for each bedding. This Pokemon approach to sex and romance is very far from the book’s Geralt. The witcher most certainly has a healthy appreciation for the female form, but any moments where he has relations with a woman are all tastefully (and even amusingly) done.
The book is translated from its original Polish, but I don’t believed it suffered at all in the process.