Review: The Last Wish

The Last Wish (The Witcher, #1)The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After spending almost two months enmeshed in the video game “Witcher 3: Wild Hunt,” I wanted to explore more of Geralt’s world. While the game itself was made very accessible to a newcomer in the series (despite being based on a book series and being the third game), I knew there was so much more going on that deeper fans would understand that I was missing out on. So here I am, having finished the first book, which is a collection of short stories.

“The Last Wish” made me realize how narrow my world can be sometimes. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? It makes it sound like this was a bad book. But it’s not.

“The Last Wish” was written in 1992. It’s been out there, all this time, and yet I was wholly unaware of it until it gained enough fans to warrant a translation into English. How many other wonderful worlds are out there that I’m oblivious to? How many amazing stories are there to discover? I’ve heard constantly that the fantasy genre is shackled to the formula set down by Tolkien, but it wasn’t until “the Last Wish” that I realized what a breath of fresh air it was to be in a different style of world.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still elves and dwarves here, but the core of the Witcher’s world, the skeleton of it is based on dark fairy tales. It’s not the same old fantasy, but it reminds me of the early days when I’d first discovered fantasy novels and that feeling of diving headfirst into a mythical world. I’ve grown jaded and bitter in my grizzled old age, having read so many stories that followed along the well-worn path. But “the Last Wish” proves that there’s more out there, more to be discovered. It’s a good feeling and a great reminder.

And the book itself? You don’t need to play the game to read this book; if you like fantasy AT ALL, it’s worth your time. But there’s a very good chance you’ll want to pick up a controller after spending even a little time in Geralt’s world. Either that, or the next book in the series. Either way, it’s worth your time.

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3 thoughts on “Review: The Last Wish”

  1. I read this over a year ago, maybe two, when I was playing Witcher (#1) and I largely agree. Sapkowski is drawing on Eastern European and Slavic themes the way Tolkien drew on Western European ones, and the result IS quite different: darker, and the raging “otherness” has not been stripped out by over-familiarity. By the same token, it has enough similarity to evoke recognition, for all that the twisted, shattered carnival-house mirror reflections leave you with an uneasy remembrance that these things have no love nor mercy for the ordinary daylight world. At the time I read this, no other translations were available; thank you for reminding me that this is no longer true. I need to hunt down whatever there is, and also get around to finally playing Witcher 3.

    I think it a shame that (from what I read in various forums), Sapkowski has no more love for his fans generated through the games than Tolkien had for his legions–despite that the game is fairly faithful to the books and emphatically done from a position of love for them. Or as Amanda Palmer might have said TAKE THE DONUTS, Sapowski! Or the flower. [Just finished reading The Art of Asking, which I would also relish hearing you take on if you haven’t read it, and/or don’t consider her The Most Hated Woman On The Internet.]

    The other recommendation I’d make is to see if you can hunt down the old sword and sorcery written by Charles Saunders. His Imaro books also draw on a quite different tradition.

    And continuing to think down that line, if you haven’t read “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, you’re missing a bet. I read it as a ramp-up to reading my cousin’s autobiography “Nigeria Revisited: My Life and Loves Abroad” (Catherine Onyemelukwe). She was one of the first Peace Corps volunteers, back in the mid-60s, and her marriage was considered worthy of a spread in Life magazine, and endless hatemail to her parents. Seeing the Biafran civil war from the inside enlightens today’s civil wars, and her current activism continues to be inspiring. Also recommended. She is not as skilled a writer as the others I’ve mentioned here, but she has one helluva story to tell.

    I certainly went far afield from my original comment, didn’t I! 🙂

    1. I have read “Things Fall Apart” many years ago, although I didn’t like it at the time (it was required for a literature class and I tended to hate everything I was forced to read for a class). I’ve actually been on a mission to reread the things I disliked in high school/college to see if my opinion has changed, which thus far it always has. I’ll give “Things Fall Apart” another pass when I get a chance.

      Added “the Art of Asking” to my Surface even as I write this response. I’ll let you know what my thoughts are when I finish it!

      Yeah, it’s grimly amusing to me how Sapkowski is on record as regarding the games as little more than “expensive fan fiction.” He definitely comes across as a total curmudgeon in the interviews I’ve read about him. In a way, though, it’s kind of refreshing; it reminds me of the days before social media, when authors and creators were more remote and inaccessible and could be grumpy if they wanted to be.

      Here’s a link to an interview about the Witcher 2, if you haven’t seen it. (http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-11-06-ever-wondered-what-the-author-of-the-witcher-books-thinks-about-the-games) My favorite part is his quote: “A story can only be contained in a book.” Um, yeah. No. That’s some serious old man yelling at clouds action right there.

      Won’t change the fact that I’m excited to dive into the next book. My hold arrived today, so I’ve got a lot to keep me busy!

      1. I would have totally missed Achebe were it not for seeing it go in and out from the library so often. It’s the closest to mainstream reading I’ve done in a long time (wow, that’s “mainstream?”… in my world it is) and I think much of its value came from informing, contextualizing, my reading of Nigeria Revisited. Thus, YMMV.

        ” old man yelling at clouds ” made me laugh out loud. Haven’t we been having that conversation for a few decades now? I think there’s no valid argument remaining that games are incapable of delivering deeply affective and powerful stories. Not all do, but not all novels are powerful and affective either. But then, I had my say on that back in 2010: http://kotaku.com/5538238/score (and never mind that Dante’s Inferno The Game turned out to be less than awesome).

        I also had to shake my head at the “I was here first!” to dismiss the game and those who found his books because of it (me included). Yes, he was and always will be the demiurge, but as Tolkien found before him (“Sorry, Sapkowski, Tolkien was there before you, so ‘first’ isn’t the slam dunk you’d like for it to be”), releasing your children into the wild means you cannot fully control the form and expression they eventually take. Hopefully it remains within the lines of copyright legalities, so the “demiurge creators” can continue to make a living from their own works, but after that…

        I’ll pull out my agist card and say that authors used to be highly accessible in the science fiction/fantasy world, a lifetime before the internet and social media. Conventions made us all compadres, and the grumpiest (Ellison, anyone?) were loved all the more for it. What the internet has given us is access to more distant authors than the ones who can show up for a Westercon.

        Still, publishers had a tight rein on some. I remember going to a talk at The Poisoned Pen when Aaron Elkins was on a book tour (probably in the 1980s sometime). The store owner (the renowed-in-her-own-right Barbara Peters) introduced Elkins as one of the authors who was a marvelous person, “wasn’t raised by wolves, and is allowed out in public …unlike some authors.” Even back then, self-sabotage did not serve one’s interests, and being a decent human being did.

        Like you, though, I am glad he’s continuing to write more.

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