I just finished reading ‘The Last Wish’ by the Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski.
The book is a collection of several short stories about the witcher Geralt of Rivia, a traveling monster hunter for hire.
Like all witchers, Geralt was trained extensively from a young age, and forced to undergo several mutations to transform his body and mind into the ultimate weapon against ghouls, vampires, giants, and other monsters.
The witchers utilise magical signs in combat, consume elixirs to gain an extra edge, and carry two swords on their backs. Silver for monsters, steel for humans.
The mutations also caused him to lose all body pigmentation, earning him the nickname The White Wolf.
But these mutations also cause the common folk to distrust the witchers, almost as much as the monsters they hunt.
When they are needed, people call upon them. When they are not, people shun them.
Despite his gruff outer shell, it becomes apparent that Geralt is much deeper than it seems at first glance.
In fact, things not being what they first appear seems to be a recurring theme in all these witcher stories.
From certain monsters being more kind than the people who fear them, to the way Sapkowski twists classic fairytale tropes.
Since this book has seven separate stories, I figured I would write a little about each:
The Voice of Reason
This is the framing story for the rest of the book.
During this, Geralt thinks back at certain events in his life, which we get to read as short stories.
There is a sense of regret to this story, as if Geralt wishes he had spent his life differently.
Geralt has to cure a cursed princess, by surviving a night in her tomb.
But before that he has to navigate the politics of the court, avoid angering the king and figure out who cursed the princess in the first place.
A Grain of Truth
In a twist on the ‘Beauty and The Beast’ story, Geralt finds a monstrous looking man living in a mansion in the middle of the forest.
The man believes that he will be freed from his curse if he finds true love, and has consequently paid off several men throughout the years, in exchange for a year of their daughters lives.
When Geralt arrives, he figures out that the latest beauty living with the man is a blood-thirsty vampire.
The Lesser Evil
In this twist on the ‘Snow White’ story, a wizard attempts to hire Geralt to kill a “monster”, a woman he had once hurt, justifying his acts with the claim that she had been born under the Curse of the Black Sun.
She had escaped as a girl, and went on living with a thieving band of seven gnomes. But now she was back for revenge.
This woman later attempts to hire Geralt aswell, to kill the wizard.
This leaves Geralt in a moral predicament, while trying his best to stay out of it all.
A Question of Price
Geralt is hired by a queen to pose as a nobleman at one of her swanky dinner parties. But she will not let him know why..
The party is being held to find a suitor for the young princess of the kingdom.
But it soon turns out that she is already taken.
The Edge of the World
This story uses elves as an allegory for real native people of various colonized areas, but mixed with the sense of superiority elves are often represented with in fantasy.
The story sees Geralt and his poet friend Dandelion getting captured by a group of elves. The bound witcher tries to bargain with the elf leader to let them go, while at the same time scolding them for not trying to live in peace with the humans.
The elf leader compares the situation with a louse trying to get a person to share their coat with the lice.
The Last Wish
Geralt meets his equal and opposite in Yennefer, a sorceress.
The two has to work both together and in opposition to one-another when Dandelion lets loose a Djinn near the town where Yennefer resides.
By the end of it, both Geralt and Yennefer’s destinies are forever changed.
These short stories are funny, exiting, sad, and interesting.
Most of them have all these elements, to some degree.
This book series went on to inspire The Witcher trilogy of video games, the third of which is one of the best games ever made.
It is, in fact, from that game that I was made aware of these books to begin with.
And I am glad that I have been able to spend this time with these great characters in the great world that has been built around them, both in the books and in the game.
I love how even the most unimportant side-character is given a characterisation, so that this world seems like a real living world, rather than feeling that the world ends where the viewpoint of the main character ends.
I love how that world is built up with a mix of Slavic paganism, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, dark fantasy, and the Middle Ages.
And I love how the worlds monsters are often more than just monsters, and have well-developed personalities all of their own.