Well here it is. The review you’ve all been waiting for. No, it’s not an early review of the new Deus Ex. Or Dead Island. Or even a game. It’s the review of the first Witcher novel to be translated into English! Four years after it was first translated! And is part of a gaming series that is currently PC exclusive! That I’ve never played! Lucky you…
First published in Polish in the early 1990s, The Last Wish, by Andrzej Sapkowski, is a collection of short stories about Geralt of Rivia, and is set before the two games that people in the UK may be most familiar with.
The book introduces us to Geralt, a human who underwent a series of experiments and mutations as a child to turn him into someone with both the strength and skills necessary for fighting the monsters that plague the medieval fantasy setting of the book. After a serious injury Geralt is recuperating in a temple. During his time there he recalls earlier incidents in his life, such as fighting monsters, or his first meetings with characters from the books and games, such as Dandelion the minstrel. This set up allows Sapkowski to give the reader an interesting introduction into both Geralt and the universe he inhabits. Even if you are familiar with the games, you will no doubt get a real kick out of these additional glimpses into this world.
It’s worth knowing, however, that this book is a reassembled collection of Sapkowski’s earlier short stories, which have been published in various magazines, and they have been fairly obviously placed within an overarching story. You do notice this structure and sometimes it can get a bit clumsy. For instance, one character just asks Geralt if he could tell her about the time he met Dandelion apropos of almost nothing.
By and large the segue between stories are skillfully handled and all of the stories within the book are both engaging and insightful into how Geralt’s world works, and his place within it. The individual stories are nicely varied and touch on more than just monster hunting, with the act of killing monsters often a backdrop to musings about wider issues such as the passing of time, relationships and race. The book does a really good job of giving the impression of an age that is coming to a close, with Geralt struggling to change with the world. Even when Geralt is doing what he does best - killing monsters - the monsters are usually fully formed characters offering some interesting moral discussions and depth to the story.
One final aspect of the stories that pleased me in particular were the slight twists on the Grimm fairy stories that crop up throughout the book, which never failed to make me smile.
As you would expect from an eastern bloc buster of a series (badoom ching!) that has books, TV shows and games made about it, The Last Wish is a really good read. I finished it in a couple of sittings and loved Geralt as a protagonist; interesting, mysterious and a bit of bastard when he wants to be. I’ll certainly be reading the first novel in the Geralt saga proper, Blood of Elves. As a trailer to the rest of the series – both books and games – it works excellently and I will certainly be looking forward to next year’s release of The Witcher 2 on the 360.