Subject: Thoth Read: *The Last Wish*, by Andrzej Sapkowski
Posted on: 2020-07-09 01:52:43 UTC
The Last Wish is a pulp fantasy short story anothology by a Polish author with a name I can't pronounce from 1993 that nobody outside Poland would care about and I would have never heard of if it weren't for the fact that a certain Polish videogame company founded the subsequent year needed an IP to base their first original game off of because they couldn't keep making money off translating and porting Baldur's Gate titles on account of the fact that Interplay had just gone belly-up. So they got the rights to adapt their favorite fantasy novel series as a videogame for a surprisingly small amount of money because the author never really believed in videogames.
The result, naturally, was The Witcher, a PC RPG that was largely overshadowed by the release of Mass Effect at the time. But it made enough money to bankroll two further installments, capping off in 2015 with The Witcher 3, the smash hit that really put CD Projekt Red on the map. Fame, fortune, card games, and Netflix series ensued, as well as a renewed interest in the original books in the english-speaking world.
But I haven't really experienced any of that, having not yet actually played the games or seen that Netflix series, so I'm purely concerning myself with this book, which is Geralt of Rivia's first outing. Feel free to compare versions on your own time (or just watch Dominic Noble do it. It's sort of his thing).
So... the book.
It's uneven, which is to be expected. These sorts of short story anthologies often begin with works that are extremely early in both the author's career and the development of the setting. But on the whole it's not as rough as it could be. The whole collection is tied together by a set of interludes that casts each story as one of Geralt's reminiscences. This works pretty well and the interwoven narrative isn't entirely without interest (although by no means would it stand up on its own).
Geralt himself is pretty good protagonist. A bit on the grim and moody side, but not without the odd bit of sarcasm and a willingness to add a bit of levity every so often. He's very likeable, but also intimidating enough to justify why people wouldn't like him (even dismissing the strangely pale skin, white hair, and unnatural eyes). He's talented and very good at his job, but he's not perfect, and he's not always knowledgeable about things outside his area of expertise. His sometimes cohort, Dandelion, is similarly likeable, bringing to mind characters like Mossflower's Gonff—Which is to say, he's the archetypal charming rogue. But none the less roguish or charming for it.
Surprising is the number of notably powerful female characters, especially for a setting that is more than a bit sexist. I'll admit that a few of them are rather similar, and they're hardly perfectly written, but the female cast is frequently determined, willful, and by no means reliant on anyone else to get what they want. And no, not all of them want to sleep with Geralt. As someone who wasn't expecting that much... yeah. I'm on board.
And then there's the worldbuilding. Which... uh... well, I don't know how else to put it but there's something of a Discworld-esque quality to it. Not in that it's humorous, but in that it's twisting fantasy and fairytale conventions in a very... human way. It does that thing Pratchett just loves to do of starting with the premise that some fantasy thing exists and then trying to arrive at how... real, actual humans would respond to it. So of course, the setting's Snow White is attacked by a "wicked witch" for what Geralt posits are entirely political reasons. Wizards aren't in town because they're boycotting a tax on their line of work from the government. Nobody wants Geralt to kill the local troll because he maintains the bridge and paying the toll is actually cheaper. I don't think it takes it as far as Discworld does, but even the little touches make the world of the Witcher stand out from your usual medieval fantasy stasis.
So yeah. On the whole, I liked the Witcher quite a bit, and if you have a lot of spare time on your hands for some reason, it's a good way to fill some of it.
Feel free to express your own thoughts or suggestions or whatever down below. Actually, please do: I wouldn't want the thread going to waste.