“People like to invent monsters and monstrosities. Then they seem less monstrous themselves.”
TITLE & AUTHOR: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
SERIES: The Witcher, #0.5
GENRE: Fantasy/Short Stories/Retellings
FIRST PUBLISHED : January 31st 1993
MY RATING: 4/5
Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin. And a cold-blooded killer. His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.
A collection of short stories introducing Geralt of Rivia, to be followed by the first novel in the actual series, The Blood of Elves. Note that, while The Last Wish was published after The Sword of Destiny, the stories contained in The Last Wish take place first chronologically, and many of the individual stories were published before The Sword of Destiny.
So, I am one of the people very late to the Witcher party, as I haven’t read the books or played the games much prior to the Netflix show’s release. After I watched and loved the show (Hi Henry Cavill <3), I decided to read all the books, naturally, and instead of reading the novels, I started with the short stories, because apparently it’s the right chronological order for this series.
In The Last Wish, the Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, who is basically a monster bounty-hunter, goes on several adventures, or jobs, to defeat some beasts which often aren’t exactly what they seem on the first glance. Each story has a lesson of sorts, like in the Fairy Tales, and many of these stories are, in fact, Fairy Tale retellings, or based on well-know tales like The Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid, with a twist. The Witcher universe is of course fictional, but it is heavily based on Slavic mythology and folklore (The author is Polish), so these fairy tale retellings are filled with beings and monsters very familiar to everyone living in the Balkans, or Russia, or in between, but I’ll explain some unknowns for the rest of my readers.
The first story introduces us to Geralt, the Witcher of Rivia, and his general line of work. He is a mercenary who travels from town to town looking for jobs which often imply killing or capturing a monster which is bothering that town. In this story, Geralt is supposed to get rid of a striga (Inspired by strigoi, a sort of vampire), who is a child born from an incestuous relationship of a king and his sister. Geralt is an honorable and good man though, and since the striga is a monster because of the curse, Geralt would attempt to remove it and rescue the girl rather than kill her.
A Grain of Truth
In this story, Geralt comes across two mangled bodies in the woods, and after a further inspection, he finds an abandoned manor. There lives Nivellen, a cursed beast-man who can command his magical manor to give him food and shelter and defense. He is also given daughters by the traveling merchants in exchange for money, and the girl currently living with him is suspicious as hell and Geralt doesn’t like her. This story is inspired by the Beauty and the Beast.
The Lesser Evil
This story starts off innocently, as Geralt kills a kikimora (The Slavic mythology one is a female spirit connected to sleep paralysis and nightmares, but this one seems to be a gigantic spider.) outside of a town, and then searches for a castellan for the compensation. Instead, Geralt is thrown into a situation where he has to choose the “lesser evil”, between a priest he knows who claims a girl wants to murder him, and the girl, Renfri, who wants to take revenge on the priest. A real moral conundrum.
A Question of Price
I think this is my favorite story in this collection. Geralt comes to the court of queen Calanthe, who is hosting a party to find a suitor for her only daughter, princess Pavetta. A mysterious suitor shows up and claims Pavetta as a price for saving the life of her father once in the past. This is a non-negotiable deal in this world and is called ‘the law of surprise’. The suitor is then revealed to be under a horrible curse, so Calanthe refuses him, but Geralt helps him and as a compensation asks something that will change his destiny forever.
The Edge of the World
In this story, Geralt is with his friend, the rascal bard named Dandelion, when they hear about a mysterious devil ravaging a town. They are tricked and kidnapped by the creature and wake up to realize the real villain behind the ravagings are the elves. Here we find out the elves are the “lesser” race in this universe, and are in hiding after the people have pushed out their people and their ways. Geralt, being a morality queen, tries to solve what is basically racism.
The Last Wish
Oh I loved this story quite a lot too, because here we meet Yen. It’s the scene from the show, but here it’s quite different. Geralt and Dandelion fish out a djinn out of a river, and it seriously hurts Dandelion. Geralt rushes him to a nearby town where he hears of a powerful sorceress, Yennefer. She does help them, but Geralt doesn’t know she has an ulterior motive for this. Out of her desire for power, she causes djinn’s rage and it destroys the town, almost killing her and Geralt too, but Geralt fixes things up as always and he gets the girl too. :3
The Voice of Reason
Technically, this is the first story, even though it breaks off and then continues in fragments between all the other stories, in my version at least, but I put it last because it concludes the collection, and because The Witcher is a better introduction to the characters. This story gives us an inner view into what Geralt is like as a person, and how he became a Witcher, because Witchers are made, not born. The setting is a sanctuary given to him by a priestess he knows, and here he rests after being hurt, after all the events in the previous stories. He questions his line of work, his destiny and his love, and while this rounds up this collection nicely, it also opens up the story to the larger scheme of things which will be explored a bit in the next collection, Sword of Destiny, and in the novels.
Since this is not an anthology, but a short story collection, not only by the same author, but on the same subject/world/characters too, I can’t use my usual rating system where I rate each story separately and then calculate the score. I rated the collection with four stars, because this world and stories and characters are amazing and I loved everything, and I’ll definitely continue reading, but it didn’t wow me like A Song of Ice and Fire did, for example. I will continue with the novels soon and we’ll see how epic things get there.