Andrzej Sapkowski – The Last Wish (1993) Review

Translated by Danusia Stok, 2007

7/10

When Andrzej Sapkowski penned his first Witcher stories in Polish in the early 1990s, I doubt that he foresaw that 30 years later, the series would be an internationally known phenomenon with computer games, comics and TV shows. And frankly, I don’t really understand that either. Why did it get so many adaptations? Why, of all series out there, did this one get lucky? Apparently the books were a huge hit in Poland in the 1990s, and it was the Poles who first made a computer game out of it, and I think it is the games that eventually propelled the series towards international success. That is not to say that the books are bad… Let’s start at the beginning, with the first short stories.

The Last Wish (1993) is a short story collection and a natural point of entry for the Witcher books. It reads a bit like a sword-and-sorcery collection of the likes that Fritz Leiber or Robert E. Howard would write, something along the line of Solomon Kane, but the Witcher series has a much more fairytale-esque atmosphere with the kind of monsters that you would find in a Brothers Grimm collection and with a Central/Eastern European flavour added to that. So, besides dwarves and dragons and vampires (vampires themselves being of south-eastern European folklore), we also get strigas and rusalkas and other Slavic folksy creatures. It also has wizards, princesses, potions, curses and all that classical Disney and Shrek stuff. Some of the stories are deliberate deconstructions of known fairy tales like Snow White and Beauty and the Beast. Sapkowski successfully combines those old classical elements with a more modern approach of short story writing.

The Witcher himself, Geralt of Rivia, is presented as the dangerous, mysterious stranger. Like a nameless gunslinger in a Western, entering small towns to solve a problem. The whole mood of the stories is very much like what you would find in an American Western, but set in a fairytale environment. You know, a town is besieged by bandits and local sheriff can’t handle it, but throw the lone gunman a coin and he will reject the coin but still drive the bandits out and save the local sweetheart. But instead of a sheriff we have an alderman and the bandits are werewolves or vampires.

Geralt is quiet and competent. Ruthless. A bit of a power fantasy for men, really, and therefore no wonder that he sleeps with a lot of women in these stories. Sapkowski did not set out to make this a deep character study. Geralt can be a bit of mystery, especially at first when we simply don’t know much about him nor about the ways of the Witcher. Each story adds a bit of lore for us to build up a picture of the man while we work our way through the collection. As such it is a series of short stories that keeps adding stuff, and the dramatic tension of not knowing who he is or what the wider world is all about makes this an interesting read. Although, the nations, races, languages all feel invented on the spot as throwaway articles.

There are some problems on a sentence-level and I can’t make out whether the fault lies with Sapkowski or with the translation. Sentences don’t flow well, some word choices feel off and the dialogues feel unnatural. Sapkowski uses dialogue for a lot of exposition, and that’s all right, but characters make sudden leaps between topics, or connecting sentences are missing between paragraphs, which gives me the impression that something got lost in translation. The same goes for confusing efforts at sarcasm by the characters. It was not so bad that it made me quit reading the book, but something was noticeably off. 

All in all, the Witcher stories present an interesting fusion of styles and genres that appealed to me. I think the short story format works very well for this character and for the range of fairy tales it explores. It was fine, but I was not all that impressed with the writing and the world didn’t pull me in with a promise of greater things to come, so I am not rushing to buy any of the sequels.

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13 Responses to Andrzej Sapkowski – The Last Wish (1993) Review

  1. savageddt says:

    Ill be starting the series some time next year. Great review man.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bookstooge says:

    After this review, and the ones by Ola and Piotre and some others, I’ve decided that this is not for me. At best I’d have the reaction you had here. At worst, I’d say some really nasty things about it and possibly alienate those who really like it. Neither outcome is one I want 😀

    Do you have access to the tv series? Do you think you might watch that instead?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the TV series is the reason why I picked this up in the first place! I could immediately tell by the TV episodes that they were based on short stories, and I liked those episodes a lot. Now I will continue with the TV series and leave the books be.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. bormgans says:

    Pass. On the series as well 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • On the TV series as well? 😮

      Like

      • bormgans says:

        It seems cheap? My impression might be wrong. Have you reviewed it?

        Like

        • I may have a single paragraph review somewhere. Let’s see if I can find it…

          The Witcher (2019). Season 1. Based on Sapkowski’s books and the video games. What a breath of fresh air after Shadow and Bone! Even though The Witcher is not at all, say, innovative in any way. It is just plain old adult sword and sorcery, and having fun with that. The world-building is a bit haphazardly slapped together and the internal timelines are confusingly presented, but the short story format is very entertaining. Henry Cavill works fine as the titular Witcher, although his growl is a bit ridiculous (but likely inspired by The Witcher computer games). The production and fight choreography are excellent. I look forward to season 2. Toss a coin to your Witcher…

          Like

  4. piotrek says:

    Glad you liked it! As to the language issue… it was written in Polish, and not in the typical modern Polish, but a kind of pseudo-archaic version of our language. I looked at the English translation (although I think it was a different one…) and wasn’t that impressed – I think it might be difficult to translate properly. Sapkowski consciously and masterly plays with language, and our grammar is quite different from English…

    Liked by 1 person

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