I skipped reviewing Sword of Destiny for a few reasons. First, it’s similar to The Last Wish and everything I said about that book still stands for the sequel. It’s still a collection of short stories that are a bit more structured than the first book, in that each short story revolves around Yennifer in some way or another. The second reason I didn’t give that book a full review is because I went straight into the Blood of Elves. It was late and I finished Sword of Destiny and, without sleeping or taking a break, I opened the first chapter of the next book.
Besides the fact that the previous books were great reads, I was also curious as to how Andrzej Sapkowski would do writing The Witcher books in novel form. The character of Geralt works well in short form, with his different adventures and meeting new people around Sapkowski’s well-thought out world.
What I found is that Sapkowski didn’t change format entirely. Blood of Elves is a novel, yes, but the chapters are written akin to his short stories, with time gaps between them and not much thematically shared. Doing so allows for longer, more intimate looks into the world and Geralt, but it doesn’t create a strong continuing narrative or sense of plot. In fact, having read it all, I’m still not entirely sure where it was all going other than some people are after Geralt’s adopted daughter, Ciri.
In some ways, tries to be both a collection and a novel and both formats suffer for it. Without the connective tissue between chapters, it comes across as if the reader has missed key information between them. Without the varying adventures, the single plot thread shows it’s weakness. While I was hooked at the opening chapter with Dandelion and the training of Ciri, the book lost me quickly after that.
The previous books were interesting because of their world building, yes, but it was also how Sapkowski took classic fairy tales and myths and played around with them. The world is interesting and well-realized, but switching gears to focus on the political side of things doesn’t make for the most entertaining read.
The time we spend with Ciri and her training is great, but that’s because it’s focused and dabbles in that monster hunter lore. I wanted to see more of Geralt and Ciri together, training and going on adventures. That’s not what I got and I wasn’t convinced that what I was reading was necessarily better than that, either. I’m glad I read the previous books, because Blood of Elves relies heavily on the character connections that were introduced and explored beforehand. Alone, I don’t know if I would have liked the book much at all.
I will be reading the rest of these books, but the steam I had has been lost for the moment.
I had planned on playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt without going through the first two games. That proved to be too much for my completist heart, so I grabbed those games cheap on Steam. But, then, surprising myself, I found I couldn’t even start the games until I read the books. I don’t know why, this would have never happened when I was younger.
Here I am, then, reviewing The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski. A collection of short stories that was originally published in 1993, the book tells of the many adventures of Geralt, a Witcher. Witchers are hired to deal with monsters, though the public doesn’t love them. They’re a necessary evil and that makes someone like Geralt an outsider.
Each story tells of a different experience Geralt has dealing with either monster or man. Some of the stories are dark twists on classic fairy tales, such as The Beauty and the Beast. While that might cause eye rolling normally, as the “fairy tale but…” genre is running on fumes, it actually comes across fresh in this collection, even while being twenty years old.
What makes this book so readable is that Geralt is a fascinating character. Yes, there’s that classic lone wolf element about him, but he has more depth than just being gruff. In the few stories that make up The Last Wish, we see the Witcher as pragmatic, selfish, angry, compassionate, melancholy and vicious. He’s not a closed off tough guy, even though he has a thick skin. His friendship with Dandelion is actually rather touching, as it doesn’t appear Geralt gets anything out of it other than companionship.
The style of short story works well for The Witcher, as he goes from job to job. In a collection, we get to see the different types of monsters Geralt deals with, as well as the different lands he travels across. I’m interested to see how the style changes when I get to the full novels. It also makes sense that the Witcher was turned into a video game, as it seems ripe for side-quests.
The translation of these stories does a great job. The writing comes across relatively modern and I’m not sure how much of that is the original text. I never found the book to be dense, though sometimes the action could go on for a little too long. Maybe that’s why some people like reading these books, but I tend to find sword and magic combat to be a dull read. I was much more interested in the stories surrounding the world or the lives of the monsters Geralt is sent to hunt. Even the politics are interesting, mainly because each region and member of royalty acts different and unique.
I think, even if you had no interest in reading a new series, or playing the video games, that The Last Wish is easily recommendable. The frame story is self-contained, the tales throughout are quick reads and entertaining. On my own end, I’ve already bought the second anthology and plan on reading the main series. After reading this book, I think you might follow suit.