Geralt is a Witcher – a man for hire dedicated to ridding the world of monsters, while through his own training, he has become both more and less than human. Told as a mosaic of short stories framed by sequence where Geralt recovers from injuries, The Last Wish is reflection on recent events in his life, providing a perfect and stand-alone introduction to Sapkowski’s Witcher Saga.
Geralt travels through a land of change; the past is moving on and the future less clear. Old monsters are less common, while the monstrosity of humanity cannot be denied. He is constantly aware of his own differences from humanity – his superior senses and strength, his muted emotion and increased focus. A victim of many false perceptions and outright scorn, Geralt adheres to his unique moral ground as he searches out the true monsters and discovers his own humanity.
The familiar characters and settings of medieval European fantasy are all present – we have elves, dwarves, trolls, sorcerers, knights, kings and princesses along side creatures of Slavic lore – however, the tone and view seem older, with a depressive optimism that seems foreign to fantasy from further west. Sapkowski utilizes a dreary, yet poetic prose interjected with sometimes surprising droll-ish humor that perfectly sets the mood. The stories of The Last Wish offer their own unique perspective as they often re-imagine both familiar and unfamiliar fairy tales.
I can’t help but think that this tone is only possible from a place like Poland, still healing from the yoke of fascism and communism, and now in the grip of capitalism and unification of Europe. Prices aren’t the same, old ways die out, the faces of monsters have changed, and a unique depressive optimism rules over striking generational differences. This is what The Last Wish is about while providing fantastic tales for fans of genre and literary fiction alike.
Sapkowski is one of the best-selling fantasy authors outside of the English-speaking world. Do yourself a favor and read the familiar yet so different tales of The Last Wish. 8/10