Review: THE LAST WISH by Andrzej Sapkowski (2022)

Genre: Adult Fantasy Short Story Collection
Year Release: 2022 Deluxe Edition (2008 first English release, 1993 in Poland)
Buy Link: Physical Copy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: violence, gore, references to genocide, references to rape, fantasy racism, dismemberment, war

I guess I am on a Sapkowski kick. This time, I am returning to that Geralt tradition by rereading The Last Wish collection of short stories. An excellent introduction to the fantasy world of the witcher, where Geralt just wants to get by by slaying monsters and earning coin. In this one, we are introduced to mainstays of the series, like Dandelion (Jaskier), Yennefer, and several of the sorcerers and kings causing problems on purpose. A modern classic for all fantasy fans, these tales hold up especially with their specific brand of Eastern European exhaustion about the state of the world.

The brutal straightforwardness of this collection is a style of prose that’s pretty in line with my experience of Polish literature, but can be quite jarring for Western readers. The perspective on the role of heroes in fantasy stories comes with its own flavor of exhaustion as well, where idealism has taken a backseat to more pragmatic issues. Geralt, while having his own principles, still operates under the ebb and flow of work and payment, and ensuring that he still has employment opportunities later.

It’s so interesting reading this on the back of the second Hussite Wars trilogy book, Warriors of God. The themes are largely the same, specifically with regards to the role of gods, magic, and destiny, but the evolution and execution show maturity in a way that probably can’t be seen with many other creators. The worlds are obviously very different, between the non-specific European fantasyland of the Continent and fifteen century Poland, but it’s fascinating how themes transfer over between the two. The small folk suffer at the strange whims of their nobles.

I’m not going to spend any time comparing the stories to the show. In general, I think it’s a pointless exercise since the media are different, but I will say: if you enjoyed season 1 of The Witcher on Netflix, you will enjoy these tales. Let’s get to my favorites:

  • “The Witcher”
    • Fantastic introduction to the world and court politics of the Continent when Geralt goes to eliminate a Striga terrorizing a palace
    • More complicated than the initial task suggests with special considerations and creative solutions
    • Geralt is an expert, but he doesn’t know everything, and he is bluntly aware of these facts
    • CW: reference to incest, blood, gore
  • “A Grain of Truth”
    • This story features the more humanoid monsters of the Continent, namely a bruxa whose lover is a cursed man
    • A brutal story of ego and love gone wrong, gothic and violent
    • For reference, this is in Season 2 of the Witcher and Ciri does not make an appearance
    • CW: references to rape, blood, gore
  • “The Lesser Evil”
    • Geralt goes to a town and must decide if he should eliminate the disgraced princess or the sorceror
    • Phenomenal demonstration of the gray morality of the world, where violence only begets more violence, but it’s unclear when or where the cycle ends
    • CW: references to rape, references to torture, blood, gore
  • “The Last Wish”
    • Geralt and Jaskier summon a djinn and need the help of a sorceress to reverse the curse
    • Other problems ensue, like the beginning of Yen and Geralt’s belligerent sexual tension and long term relationship
    • Still my favorite upon a reread
    • CW: misogyny, blood
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