The Witcher – The Last Wish

Last year (like a fortnight ago but it’s fun to say), @BookElfLeeds told me that she’d watched the first episode of the Witcher series on Netflix and thought it was a very ‘me’ show.

Two days later, I’d finished the entire eight episodes.

What can I say – the Elf knows me very well!

I had been vaguely aware of the Witcher as a series of games but never played them. And I hadn’t realised that they were based on a bestselling series of books and comics!

Which was terrific because I have Questions.

I really enjoyed the show, but was pretty confused for the first few episodes as it’s told across three different timelines but none of the main characters seem to age, so identifying the different strands was tricky.

Apparently, the first season was based on the short stories that predate the Witcher Saga.

The Books

There are eight books in the Witcher series – 2 short story collections and 6 novels. I began – as the song recommends – at the very beginning, with The Last Wish.

There are six short stories, set within a continuing frame story, focusing on Geralt of Rivia, one of the last remaining Witcher’s.

Blurb from Amazon

Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. He roams the country seeking assignments, but gradually comes to realise that while some of his quarry are unremittingly vile, vicious grotesques, others are the victims of sin, evil or simple naivety

While Geralt is recuperating from a battle wound, he reflects on some of the events of his life.

  1. The Voice of Reason (the frame story)
  2. The Witcher
  3. A Grain of Truth
  4. The Lesser Evil
  5. A Question of Price
  6. The Edge of the World
  7. The Last Wish

From the first word to the last, I was properly hooked. I’m a long term fantasy and science fiction reader and it is hard to deny that the vast majority of modern fantasy that I’ve come across has been influenced by JRR Tolkien.

So it was thoroughly refreshing to have all the fantasy staples (witches, dwarves, elves, knights, monsters and magic) explored in such a different way.

Sapkowski’s Geralt is – frankly – a bit of a grouch (though less so than in the show) and one of the last of his kind – humans deliberately and brutally mutated to hunt and battle monsters. He is reflective – only because he’s in a position where he can be, which seems to make his situation more relatable – taciturn and world weary.

His best friend Dandelion (Jaskier on netflix) is Geralt’s polar opposite – emotional, loquacious, brash and a womaniser. Dandelion is also a poet and it is thanks to him (I suspect) that the legend of Geralt survived (in the world of the books, if you know what I mean).

Despite barely featuring in this first book, Yennefer is easily one of the most compelling characters in it. While at a brief glance she appears to be a typical fantasy stereotype – sorcerer, cold, mercenary and beautiful; her every sentence counters this. More importantly, Geralt catches intriguing glimpses of the woman beneath the facade, which keeps reader and Witcher alike fascinated.

The writing is succinct, punchy and requires a reader to keep up. No detail is ever completely spelled out – you are meant to bridge the gaps. I really appreciated that the author chose not to spoon feed, it gave each short story a confidence in itself that I found as engaging as the respective plots.

I shall definitely be picking up the next of the prequel books, after I’ve read my January book club reads!

From Amazon

About the Author

Andrzej Sapkowski was born in 1948 in Poland. He studied economy and business, but the success of his fantasy cycle about the sorcerer Geralt of Rivia turned him into a bestselling writer and he is now one of Poland’s most famous and successful authors