THE LAST WISH (The Witcher Series)
Review by Matthew Chong
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Genre: Fantasy fiction - Sword and sorcery
This is a very peculiar book.
It doesn’t feature a dashing hero who kills some
warlord or gigantic dragon and lives happily ever
after. The setting is based on medieval Poland
(pre-gunpowder era) but unlike other fantasy worlds
that makes everything look ideal and nice to live in
(I’m looking at you Harry Potter) the universe here is a
very troubled place which is actually based on our own reality!
Racism here is rampant. Humans are the top dogs while elves, dwarves and hobbits are low class individuals. You have kings with ambiguous personalities (one king has an incest problem) and political back-stabbers. There are even druids and mages who complain about ecological problems all the time (like environmentalists today). Poland author Sapkowski is a very sarcastic author and he’s very skillful at injecting the dark realities of our life in a fantasy setting. You will see many other references to our real world as you coast through the book.
The Last Wish is a pretty short book. To establish the universe to a new reader, it comes in the format of an anthology with the sequels being full fledged novels. The main character is Geralt of Rivia. the book takes place in a temple where Geralt is recovering from a near fatal injury and during the healing process, recounts past events of his life to his doctor. The past events are then written for our convenience in the form of short stories.
Geralt is a mercenary monster hunter called a “witcher”. Monster infestations grew worse after the wars, so some hunters took it upon themselves to experiment with poisons and magic to alter humans into biological killing machines. The death rate among candidates is very high, but those who survive become faster, stronger and resistant to special blends of performance enhancing drugs.
The witchers succeeded in reducing monster population but in peaceful times, the number of witchers are reducing due to low demand of their skills and also the fact that they are frowned upon by society. Geralt is arguably the most successful among witchers but the book depicts his struggles against the prejudice people have against his kind whilst trying to make a living, working for people who shun him and in a world that is slowly losing its need of witchers. Stuck in such a dark world, the reader can’t help but pity the situation Geralt is in.
The most interesting concept in the book however, is gray morality. Geralt is extremely cynical and views the world in shades of gray rather than black and white. Geralt is not a hero and is sometimes pushed into making immoral decisions to survive, choosing the lesser evil when the moral and ethical choice is not present. In contrast, Andrzej is very talented at writing chuckle-inducing dialogue that pokes fun at the ironies the world operates on (which is sometimes relate-able to real life).
From time to time, Andrzej lightens the mood with some comedy and it really helps because otherwise, this book can be extremely depressing. A short story involving Geralt brawling with a sand devil is extremely funny but doesn’t seem at odds with the dark mood of the story at all. Sapkowski is very talented at balancing the dark aspects with levity.
I don’t have much criticisms for this book but I might have to mention that due to its dark nature, the book is quite violent. Geralt is also quite a promiscuous guy so there are many references to his sexual activity with random women. Mature readers won’t have a problem but this is not a book you should lend to your 10-year-old cousin.
This is a VERY good book and I highly recommend it. Since it started out as a Polish book, it’s free from the evil influences of Hollywood in fiction today. Translation of the series is very slow but after you finish this book I have no doubt that you will want to grab the sequel The Blood of Elves right away. I’d write a review for that book if you guys are interested but I might have to re-read the book first.
Image source: http://img1.fantasticfiction.co.uk/images/n34/n174718.jpg