I had this already on my TBR before they announced the Netflix adaptation, but it wasn’t a huge priority. I figured I would get to it eventually, along with all the other fantasy series I’ve got on there (which I feel like is all of them). But I did want to check it out when I heard about the show, because I do like to try when possible to have read at least the first couple of books in a series before watching an adaptation. I’m for sure going to be all over that show in the fall. And I hope I like it better than I liked this first book, which technically isn’t even the first “book”, but a collection of sequential short stories, brought together by a frame story. (Apparently the first novel in the series is actually #3; book two is also short stories.)
The Last Wish is the first installment in The Witcher series, which as I understand it was developed into an even more popular video game (I’m not a gamer, so I have no idea, but I’ve heard friends who are talk about them a lot). Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, a young boy (although they can be girls as well) taken from his home at a young age and trained and modified to develop supernatural abilities. Witchers hunt monsters by trade, and they are fairly rare (I’m assuming this based on the response Geralt got from practically everyone everywhere he went.) Geralt himself is a bit unique because of his white hair (I don’t believe it’s explained yet why his hair is white). Each story focuses on one of his jobs, the first (and also first published Witcher story) is “The Witcher,” where Geralt is hired to kill a striga who is also the king’s daughter (and, ahem, his niece). This story is pretty standard for what you’ll find in the rest of the book: Humans that are most often more monstrous than the “monsters,” lots of conversations(which I actually quite enjoyed!), complicated motivations, and fairytale tropes either subverted, or made hyper-real (i.e. what would it actually do to a person to be turned into a beast?).
I feel like this book and I went on a journey together. I actually checked it out of the library twice, but I only finished after I’d finally given in and bought my own copy on Audible. I kept trying to read it on e-book, which is the only copy my library had access to, and on top of the format just not working for me (I can’t really do anything but romance or fanfic in digital form, no idea why), the book didn’t hold my interest. I returned it and put it on hold the first time after only making it through the first short story. And then I picked it up again almost a year later to try again, and that time I never even got as far as downloading the book to my phone before I had to return it again. The audiobook went much better almost immediately, but it still wasn’t my favorite thing I’ve ever read, for a couple of reasons.
The main reason I had a hard time with this is the same reason I have a hard time with most short story collections. I don’t do well with engagement when there isn’t an overarching narrative holding everything together. This was somewhat mitigated by Geralt being a continuing presence, as well as the side characters coming and going, the stories being told in chronological order, and finally the presence of that frame story. But at the end of the day, it was still a short story collection, which means every 30-60 pages or so (or the audio equivalent), you’ve got to start all over again with another story arc. Honestly, short stories exhaust me back to back, and they’re not as fulfilling on their own because most are too short for me to get emotionally involved. Still, for what they were, I did actually enjoy most of the stories here. I just wasn’t that engaged, overall.
The second reason is that aside from Geralt and some of the “monsters,” I did not care for any of the other characters, especially the ladies. Yennefer (Geralt’s love interest) was really offputting. I did not like their antagonistic relationship, and felt no sympathy for her. Sapkowski did not do a good job with her at all. I also thought the frame story was a bit of a disaster, both in terms of characterization, and in that it was confusing spread out over so many installments. I couldn’t keep it straight what was actually happening and just kind of wished it wasn’t there at all.
I keep wanting to try book two in this series, so I can finally get to the main story and see how it develops, but then I remember I have another whole book of short stories to get through and my interest wanes. If only my library had a hard copy! I feel like that would be easier to deal with. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll put off continuing until I see how I feel about the TV show.