Confession: My Witcher experience to date has been a bit arse over tit. I appear that have done everything completely backwards. My first introduction to the series was the TV show earlier this year, which then prompted me to purchase The Witcher 3 (Which I’m not very good at—I’m going to blame the Joy-Con drift). So after all that, I thought I should start with one of the books.
The Last Wish is made up of a series of short stories and is the rough backbone for the first series of the TV show. For those of you who have not dipped your toes into this series yet, Witchers are wandering monster hunters by trade, skilled in both weapons use and in magic. Has your town found itself plagued by some terrible beastie? Find a Witcher to deal with it.
Most Witchers are taken into training at a very young age and are put under a kind of magical experimentation that gives them extra powers. Geralt of Rivia—the main Witcher of the title—went through additional trials that killed most of the other children subject to them. This makes him a great deal tougher than most other Witchers, and more distinctive too, with his white hair and cat eyes.
The Last Wish consists of seven short stories that boil down to seven different jobs Geralt has had to undertake. Perhaps as a consequence of his reputation, Geralt finds himself battling political chicanery as often as he finds himself battling monsters. This usually results in Geralt getting the short end of the stick for his efforts, rather than riches—no wonder he comes across as so sullen.
Geralt gets called up to help a king rein-in a fearsome Striga, but has his job hampered when it turns out oop, he can’t kill her—she’s also the King’s daughter. And his niece too. Lovely. His attempt to try and be the lesser of two evil in the town of Blaviken leads to him just flat out losing, full stop, while getting his reputation dragged into the mud by the wizard Stregobor. And there’s a certain queen who I bet really regrets inviting Geralt to dinner to do her dirty work. I get the impression that Witchers are a little like the lone gunman characters out of Westerns: everyone loves them when they’re doing the town’s dirty work and meting out justice, but they sure as hell don’t want someone with a reputation such as theirs lingering around once the job is done. No wonder Geralt needs a mate like Jaskier/Dandelion around. (By the way, the two of them are so much more friendly in the book!)
But what really surprised me though is that below the surface, most of the stories in The Last Wish are actually fractured fairy tales. I really didn’t notice this so much in the TV series, but it’s pretty evident here. ‘The Lesser Evil’ is, at its core, a subversion of the Snow White story; while ‘A Grain of Truth’ has parallels to Beauty and the Beast; albeit a version where most of the women found the beast hotter than Prince Adam. It also has a bonus vampire. When I started reading the book, I got the impression that Andrzej Sapkowski was taking a great deal of enjoyment in twisting apart these fairy tales. But then I read this particular interview, and now there’s no uncertainty about it. I lay odds he was downright gleeful when tearing these traditional stories apart.
Two other things that also stood out were the book’s structure and writing style. The short stories are set around a framing narration, and it took me a little while to realise that they were in reverse chronological order—the TV show was not the first to fudge around with timelines. The second thing is the style of the dialogue, where characters frequently monologue at others to provide exposition. Often, this involves someone talking to (or at, really) Geralt, who’s usually a pretty taciturn chap; or Geralt talking to his horse, Roach, because bugger other people. It’s rather odd and puts me in mind of older Sci-fi writers, but it does have it’s charm.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Last Wish. There was no Henry Cav to perv on, sure, but the monster ripping, mythology twisting and dry humour that permeated the book were entertaining enough in and of themselves. Also, the fight scenes, while graphic, are nowhere near as gruesome as the ones in the game—thank Christ. (That bloody fetus-demon thing. *shudders*) I’ll definitely find myself looking out for the next book or two while waiting for the next part of the series.
For Bingo, the is Adaption. Because, of course, it is.