Classic Monsters: Sapkowski’s The Last Wish – It has a little bit of everything!

“Well, then Adda gave birth. And now listen, because this is where it all starts. Only a few saw what she bore, but one midwife jumped from the tower window to her death and the other lost her senses and remains dazed to this day. So I gather that the royal bastard – a girl – was not comely, and she died immediately. No one was in a hurry to tie the umbilical cord. Nor did Adda, to her good fortune, survive the birth.

“But then Foltest stepped in again. Wisdom dictated that the royal bastard should have been burned or buried in the wilderness. Instead, on the orders of our gracious king, she was laid to rest in a sarcophagus in the vaults beneath the palace.”

“It’s too late for your wisdom now.” Geralt raised his head. “One of the Knowing Ones have been sent for.”

“You mean those charlatans with stars on their hats? Of course. About ten of them came running later, when it became known what lay in the sarcophagus. And what scrambled out of it at night.”

– The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish is a collection of fantasy short stories about Geralt of Rivia, a witcher whose primary task is to hunt down monsters and destroy them. Most witchers task themselves only with that single job, but Geralt frequently finds himself unable to resist the urge to right the wrongs he sees around him. The stories are loosely tied, but all show Geralt’s persistence in making right the world’s wrongs.

If you’ve never played any of the Witcher video games (or even if you have!) let me tell you that the world development, the magic system, the monsters, and the incredible diversity is really what makes Sapkowski’s Witcher books so stunning. Geralt is a witcher – a human who has undergone rituals and experimentation to become a creature very human in some ways and inhuman in others, forged with the sole purpose of destroying the monsters that plague their world. Geralt’s world is full of monsters of all kinds, varying from region to region, all with lore of their own. Many monsters reflect our own lore (vampires and ghouls among others), and many are either unfamiliar to me or invented specially for this world. The incredible variety of the monsters of the Witcher stories give Sapkowski a lot to work with. There are discussions on prejudice and diversity, mercy and justice, and what defines humanity.

The characters in The Last Wish are subtle, sometimes boarding one-dimensional. Geralt is gruff and often callous with others, and entirely unforgiving with his acts of justice, and his occasional flashes of gentleness seem to enforce that archetype rather than discounting it. Dandelion is light-hearted and often nearly useless in encounters, and again sometimes seems more of an archetype than a true character. However, the development that is done still works for the plot. The characters of The Last Wish seem more like characters of legend moving through a dynamic landscape, so while this isn’t a great book to read if you really want to connect with the characters, it still stays interesting and often surprising.

In all, I will give The Last Wish an 8 out 10. This book only really tries to do one thing: it is a high fantasy plot in a setting that is high fantasy but also dynamic with modern concerns and larger-than-life characters. That one thing, though, is done extremely well, and I would highly recommend it for fantasy readers.

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