Hey everyone! Today I have a book review of The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski.
This book and the next one are a collection of short stories that introduce the world of The Witcher: they narrate life portraits of the adventures of Geralt of Rivia; how he met certain characters, and what happened that created his current situation. From book #3, onwards, we have the novels and it’s very interesting to have the combination of short stories as an introduction and then the novels as the development of the story.
In this book we learn that Geralt of Rivia is a mercenary who has acquired supernatural powers; he is paid to destroy the monsters that are plaguing the world. The time and setting was a bit confusing at first: in the present, Geralt is recovering from his injuries at the Temple of Melitele; as he stays at the temple and sees other characters, he reflects on how he met them, or what happened that led to another situation.
The chapters on the present in the Temple are called “The Voice of Reason”, and those are also moments when Geralt is reflecting on everything that has happened so far. Then, alternating those chapters, we have the actual short stories where he narrates snippets of his life when he dealt with a certain monster, when he met a certain character that is now important to him and so on. So we get this construction of his past through his reflections of the present.
The short stories are the ones that deal with folklore, fairy tales, legends and all the monsters that he has dealt with so far, and those are very very interesting, but it is also great to have a reflection of the present-time and how that changed for him. *spoiler alert*: the book actually ends with him recovering and then leaving for another adventure. The present is on standby and we get all the action from the events of the past.
There are so many characters in this collection, and I think that that is one of the virtues of Sapkowski’s writings: each story features several important characters so it would be kind of impossible to develop them all. Some of them are the focus of the stories and play an important part in Geralt’s life, and I would say those are the main characters of which we get more development and character depth. On the side of the humans, we have Geralt who is the protagonist. We also have Nenneke who is the priestess at the Temple that he’s staying at, and we have Dandelion who is a troubadour that reminds me a lot of Barney in How I Met Your Mother. Nenneke seems to be very defendant of the way that she lived with the women in the Temple and how liberal they are, and Dandelion is sort of a womanizer that sings for every conquest that he has.
On the side of the monsters, there is a predominant one in each story. The first one we have is a striga, which is a different take on the legend of the Vampire. She is not an actual vampire in this story because we have other types of vampires, but she’s a reformulation of the legends of the striga. We also have a Nivellen, who is featured in a rewriting of “The Beauty and the Beast”; Renfri, who is my favorite character in the book, and she is the rewriting of “Snow White” (only she is no longer a princess, but a very well trained killer). In the last story we have Yennefer who is a witch, and she becomes an important person in Geralt’s life.
I would say that the main themes of the short stories are Otherness, of course in the way that Geralt deals with this Otherness that is represented by the monsters, but also an Otherness within because he doesn’t know if he’s human or not, or he tries to be human even though he isn’t. And also how other humans represent an Otherness to him, because he is kind of like in the threshold between being a human and a super natural creature.
I also noticed certain influences of gothic writings, mainly Bram Stocker’s Dracula, but also Isak Dinense’s writings, and maybe Angela Carter as well, especially in how they deal with female characters and how these female characters use their sexuality as a form to voice something.
Another thing that I liked a lot was the presence of cycles and pagan rituals such as having several stories and numbers that remit to a completed cycle. For example, the number 12 that alludes to the 12 months of the year, and the number 7 that is the correlation between the celestial and eternity as a whole. We also have several seasons present and several pagan festivals. Those aspects reminded me a lot of Lord of the Rings, and this type of homely natural environment that is very particular to fantasy and that I like a lot. It also reminded me a lot of the days when I was reading a lot about Wicca and trying to practice some pagan rituals. So that was fun to see in the collection.
Another theme is the presence of social strata, and it’s very interesting that, apart from the obvious Medieval strata such as the Kings and the troubadours and farmers and pub owners and slaves, we also have strata among the monsters; so for example: the elves can take over a forest demon, and Shirke, who is a monster that was born after the Eclipse, can dominate the dwarves. This world is not only humans versus monsters, but that there are several divisions among each group, and the way that they interact with each other create a very peculiar view on the world.
I also found the presence of chromatism very rich, and I think that enhanced the overall atmosphere of each of the stories. For example, I think the story of the striga and “Snow White” are dominated by the color red, and the presence of violence related to sexuality is deeply tied into the story. The one about “The Beauty and the Beast” is dominated by blue hues that are lit with the moonlight so it has an atmosphere of mysticism and love, and something more transcendental. And then there are stories about the forest that are deeply connected with color green and brown, and that also brings a feeling of harvesting and pagan rituals. And for example, the chapters called “The Voice of Reason” when Geralt is in the Temple are dominated by these white tones that actually provoke like a feeling of calmness, of tranquility and reflection, and that is what happens in those episodes. So it is very interesting how the chromatism enhances the mood of each of the stories.
There is also the questioning of good and evil. Both monsters and human come in different shapes and sizes, I don’t think any of them is entirely good or evil, but they are all in the thresholds of that division and it really depends on the situation. He often questions this, and he is unable to find an answer, and he just tries to do what’s best given the situation, but he makes mistakes in judgment and he makes mistakes that he regrets as well. Many times he wants to remain neutral, but the situation forces him to pick a side, and he’s always battling with his decisions because of this. There is also a questioning of women’s position in society because this is a medieval world, it’s really developed in the way that women didn’t have a voice or power, unless they were born in a rich family, or unless they took matters on their own hands, and took justice on their own hands. There are several stories about rape, and also about games of power that led to certain women to be outside of society and the stories explore how they came back, either for good or for bad.
My only problem with this book was the translation. I read that the translation of the first book also translated the third book, but books two, four and onwards are translated by someone else. The translation of this book made it a bit difficult to follow what was happening, and it actually required a rereading with the audiobook to understand some of the things that were going on. The syntax was a bit off at times, and it was very confusing, but, once I reread it, I managed to understand the stories pretty well.
Even so, I really liked the way that the stories were narrated, the witty, sarcastic humor that The Witcher has, and some of the things that were left between the lines and that once you pick them up are either hilarious or very terrible. I really love this book, especially the second time that I read it was a very interesting world with very unique characters on situations, and the way that Sapkowski took fairytales and folklore and legends and adapted them to his book was very unique and very impressive to see how he constructed this entire narrative. What I liked the most was the presence of monsters, that are interacting with humans in a different way other than the monsters being something bad. It was very interesting to see this world building, the characters, the places, and also the philosophical commentary on certain situations. And I cannot wait to start reading the second book.
Have you or your students read The Witcher?
Lots of love,