Hi everyone! Today I’ll be reviewing The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowki, which is book 1 in The Witcher series.
This collection of short stories narrates light portraits of adventures. We have the background of what will be the main plot of book 3 onwards.
Geralt of Rivia, the main character, is a mercenary who has acquired supernatural powers. He is paid to destroy the monsters that are plaguing the world.
In terms of timeline, we have a framed narrative: there’s an outer frame where Geralt is recovering from his injuries at the temple of Neneke. The action at the present is on standby but intertwined with this we have stories of Geralt’s past as he reflects how he met certain characters and that’s where get the battles and the journey. The chapters at the temple are called “the voice of reason” and from looking back at the past we learn about certain monsters, characters that will become important in the series, and we also learn about Geralt’s identity.
The chapters on Geral’ts past are the ones that describe the folklore and legends. It’s interesting to know that Geralt contemplates how certain events have changed him.
In the stories we have a variety of characters and it’s a virtue of the series that we get an insight into their psychology. There’s an emphasis on the characters that will later on become more important, so not all of them are developed equality. Of particular interest, there’s Dandelion (if you’ve seen How I Met Your Mother, think of a medieval Barney). Dandelion is a troubadour and a womanizer; he sings about his conquests during his travels.
Nenneke is the high priestess and she is very defendant of the way she lives with the women at the temple.
On the side of the monsters, each story focuses on one in particular, and it goes as follows:
Striga: she’s not actual vampire in these series but a reformulation of them. She is a princess who was cursed and now attacks the villagers at night.
Next we have a recreation of the Beauty and the Beast story only in this case, deceit come from Beauty and not the Beast.
Renfri, a rewriting of Snow White, is my favorite character. She’s no longer a princess but a very well trained killer. And the dwarves are like gangsters.
Yennefer is a witch. She becomes a predominant character, as Geralt falls in love with her and is trying to find her.
Some of the themes that we have in this novel are:
* Otherness: Geralt struggles with outward otherness as he fights monsters but also with inward otherness as he isn’t completely human either. He tries to hold on to humanity but he is in the threshold between being human and a supernatural creature.
* Good vs. evil: both humans and monsters display good and evil traits; none of them is entirely good or evil but rather in a spectrum; it depends on the situation. Geralt often questions this; he makes mistakes in judgment and he regrets this. Many times he wants to remain neutral but the situation forces him to pick a side. He’s always battling with his decisions.
*Women’s position in society: this is a medieval world, women didn’t have a voice unless they were from a powerful family. However, many characters here take matters on their own hands, often serving justice on their own. There are many stories about rape and games of power.
I’m not sure if Sapkowski has read Gothic literature but his writings seem to have an influence from Bram Stoker and Isak Dinesen in terms of settings and story building and also from Angela Carter, mainly in the depiction of female characters that use their sexuality to voice their individuality and power.
We have a strong presence of numerology, mainly in the number 12 representing cycles, and 7 as perfection and the joining of the celestial with the terrenal. There are also several pagan rituals and seasonal changes. It resembles the atmosphere of Lord of the Rings and high fantasy in general where you get a mixure of nature, magic, and supernatural creatures.
The stories also depict social stratas, not only in the medieval ones (Kings, servants, etc) but also among monsters. The elves can take over a demon, then someone dominates dwarves, etc. There’s a war between races but also between ceatures.
There’s a strong use of chromaticism in the stories which I think enhance the atmosphere in a beautiful manner. The stories about the Striga and Renfri are plagued by the color red and violence, both related to sexuality. Beauty and the Beast has blue hues and moonlight that relate it to mysticism and softness. The stories set in the forest are filled with green and brown, relating the themes to harvesting. Geralt’s time at the temple is surrounded by white, giving a sense of tranquility and reflection.
My only problem with this book was the translation as sometimes it was difficult to follow, the syntax was weird and part of the story and world building are lost in it.