Book Review: ‘The Last Wish’ by Andrzej Sapkowski

‘Evil is evil…Lesser, greater, middling, it’s all the same.’

Last Wish book

My first exposure to the world that Andrezej Sapkowski created took the form of the critically acclaimed Witcher games by CD Projekt Red following the adventures of an amnesiac monster hunter named Geralt of Rivia.

The loss of Geralt’s memory ensures the player does not have to have a prior knowledge of the books the game was based on before picking up and playing, as the games are set after the events in the books, and Geralt cannot remember what happened.

That changes by the final game, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, as Geralt has regained his memory, and his past from the books drives forward the story in the games.

One of the missions in that game is named the Last Wish, which calls back to the very first book in the Witcher series, a poetic curtailing of the world that Andrezej established.

But before we look at the end of the story we have to turn back to the begining if that story and that is what The Last Wish gives us.

The Last Wish has a non-standard narrative structure, taking the form of a series of short stories that establish who Geralt of Rivia is, tied together by the overarching narrative of Geralt reflecting on his during a time of recovery following an injury during a particular monster hunt.

This particular structure does leave you feeling like you are watching the clip show episode of your favourite TV series, but the fact that these stories are new prevents the creeping boredom that can be evoked by the often overused TV trope. Instead we are shown who Geralt of Rivia is by being given a selection of stories, such as might be told by a travelling bard, for us to understand who he is, even if we do not fully understand where he has come from by the end of the book.

The writing style is simple but paints an effective picture of a well-realised world where folklore and fantasy blend together with a realistic medieval setting. I understand the world well very early on in the book, but still have questions about the mechanics of its ontology, which is how a fantasy world should be introduced. The characters in the world don’t fully know and explore the mysteries of the world at the same time as we do.

The book is translated into English from its original Polish and so I will put some of the simplicity down to being lost in translation, as the rest of the world building is effective enough that simplicity is not distracting or unwanted.

A good sense of humour pervades the book with a smile being brought to my lips on several occasions, whether that be by characters own wit or happenstance to unexpected retellings of classic folklore tales.

If you enjoyed watching The Witcher on Netflix, this book is a nice read to see the source material, however all bar-one story in the Last Wish made it into the Netflix series, meaning you will not be reading much that you are not familiar with, and the Netflix Series is fairly close to the source material save for a few minor variations such as would be expected from any adaptation. As such if you read the Last Wish you will know a large portion of what to expect from the Netflix series and vice versa.

I fully enjoyed reading this book, it was a short but fun, slightly pulpy experience, which felt more than the sum of it’s parts by the end.

Having read this book I am now itching to read the rest that Andrezej Sapkowski has to offer. It is not the finest fantasy story ever written, but it is undeniably interesting and fun read, that does not overstay its welcome, and has left me wanting more.

One to Watch: The Witcher

‘Toss a coin to your Witcher…’

The Witcher Poster.jpg

So you watched Game of Thrones and were hooked. The deep character arcs, the bleak setting, the political intrigue and of course, the sex and violence. It was all looking so good…until Season 8 when it all turned to ashes. You never thought fantasy could work for you, and now you’re not sure what could compare to Game of Thrones at its peak. What could bring that excitement back?

From amongst those ashes, The Witcher steps up to the wicket with a grim-faced Henry Cavill leading the team, and boy does he hit it for six.

The Witcher follows Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher, a monster-hunter for hire, as he tries to live his life avoiding and navigating the schemes of mages and kings as destiny thrusts him into the limelight.

The Netflix series is 8 episodes long and is based on the book series by Polish author Andrezej Sapkowski. This is the same book series that was adapted into the award-winning ‘The Witcher’ video game trilogy, which has set the standard for immersive and narratively compelling sandbox games. But the Netflix series should not be reduced to comparisons to video game adapted movies; it is so much more.

The first point to note is that the video game series is set after the conclusion of Andrezej Sapkowski’s books, whereas the Netflix series based on the books themselves, which forms an interesting prelude for those who want to go on to play The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt.

The acting and action are gripping and bloody and the political plots that are set up are intriguing; all the hallmarks of an exciting fantasy story. The story is not entirely linear, which can be confusing, however when I realised what was going on I found it enormously satisfying to piece together. Some of my friends enjoyed this less, and whilst it is not an issue I had with the series, it is definitely a matter of personal taste as to whether or not this element of the series would be enjoyed. One complaint I do have about the non-linearity of the storytelling is that several character relationships advance off-screen, which can make it hard to understand who has known who for how long at certain points. I think this could be remedied by having a few more episodes to the season to expand on these connections, but I believe that the directors have provided an excellent series given its relatively short number of episodes.

My only other complaint about the Witcher is the CGI in places is janky, and clearly on a TV budget, not a film one. This is not fatal to the series and understandable given this is an untested TV IP. Hopefully, future series will be given a higher budget to correct this.

Witcher BAnner

I thoroughly enjoyed this series and cannot recommend it enough to people who enjoyed Game of Thrones or who have played The Witcher video games. I am already itching for a season 2, and have started reading the book series to get my Witcher fix.

My final recommendation is not to watch this series on a commute. There is a significant amount of nudity, particularly in the early episodes, which might make for an uncomfortable public viewing experience.