When one hears the word “fantasy,” one thinks adventures, unknown lands, sword fighting, quests, mythical creatures, kingdoms, knights, monsters, and heroes. These are but a mere handful of elements found in various works of fantasy fiction and also the reason readers will pick up these stories to read. Good fantasy fiction will whisk readers away from reality with every turn of the page, engrossing them in a fantastical world of make believe. The Last Wish, written by Andrzej Sapkowski, is a true fantasy novel. It is a prequel to The Witcher Series that inspired the popular video games for the Xbox and PC.
Geralt of Rivia is a witcher: an inhuman being that has been molded and mutated into a monster killing machine. Witchers are hired to protect villages and kingdoms and to kill the monsters normal humans don’t stand a chance against. After having been nearly killed during a recent assignment, Geralt takes refuge in Melitele’s Temple to heal. While there, he reminisces about different adventures and assignments he has had in the past.
For a prequel, The Last Wish does a great job of introducing Geralt. Readers even get to hear Geralt’s backstory directly from the witcher himself through dialog. This is nice for it is not as common as most think for the character to tell his or her own backstory. He is a very likable character: he can be the nicest person one will ever meet or one’s worst nightmare, he can be cordial and a dick at the same time, and he can be a paid witcher and an unpaid hero. Geralt is a complex character and one readers will love to learn more about.
There are more likable characters within the book. Dandelion, for instance, is the troubadour who occasionally follows Geralt on his travels and composes poems and ballads about the witcher. What makes Dandelion so likable is that he has a very unusual, but funny name and is an even funnier character. He is incredibly inappropriate and his character would almost seem like a joke, yet he is very good at his profession according to those in the story who listen to him. Dandelion is like the Donkey to Geralt’s Shrek. For female readers, Sapkowski has written some powerhouse women. The two that stand out the most are Nenneke and Yennefer. Nenneke is the head priestess of Melitele’s Temple and Yennefer is a powerful sorceress. They are two very different women, but they have two very similar qualities: they both care about Geralt (Nenneke more as a mother figure and Yennefer as a lover) and both women one would not want to mess with. Aside from these main characters, other characters are a bit tricky to follow. There are so many names and so many characters that it is difficult to follow the stories at times and, if and when a reader learns the names of one story, another story starts with all new names. It can be very similar to Irish mythology: there are so many people and so many names, but one only has to remember a handful of those names.
Regardless of the many characters readers only read a single story about, each tale of Geralt’s is unique and incredibly intriguing. For starters, witchers fight monsters; therefore, there are indeed monsters in The Last Wish. Every imaginable and unimaginable monster under the fantasy rainbow can be found in each chapter. Not all of the monsters make an appearance (one would have quite a few more pages to read if they did), but the ones who do not make an appearance are at least mentioned. What also makes Geralt’s adventures so intriguing is the fact that not all of the monsters are monsters. From the outside, these creatures may look like monsters, but Geralt is sometimes taken by surprise when the “monster” is actually a cursed human or has a broken spirit that is in need of mending.
These broken monsters are similar to the “monster” in the well-known fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” and this fairy tale is even hinted at in one of Geralt’s adventures when he must help a man who was cursed to look like a giant bear, but is only looking for a woman to love. Along with this fairy tale, a few other popular fairy tales are referenced in each of Geralt’s adventures. These fairy tales include “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” (in this story’s case, “Seven Gnomes”), “The Princess and the Pea,” “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Cinderella,” “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” “The Pied Piper,” and The Arabian Nights. Sapkowski does not try to steal the story line of any of these fairy tales, he simply references them and these could even act as “Easter Eggs” for big fans of fantasy and fairy tales.
For a prequel, The Last Wish is an overall well-written prose. It does jump around a lot, for the chapters read more like short stories than an actual novel, but as the book progresses, readers are able to better understand the way the story is set up and how it is told. The fight scenes, for the most part, are decent, but what it lacks in battle writing it makes up for in fun and witty dialog. Sapkowski is very talented when it comes to writing fantasy. He puts in all of the elements one would expect to find in a fantasy novel and he puts just the right amount of seriousness and humor to keep the readers wanting more. It is a very good thing that this is only a prequel for upon completion, readers will want to read more about the witcher and his adventures and can in the first official book of the series Blood of Elves.
Originally published at www.examiner.com on November 24, 2015.