The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by Danusia Stok
“Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin. And a cold-blooded killer. His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world. But not everything monstrous looking is evil, and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.” – Danusia Stok
Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy epic The Last Wish is the first installment in The Witcher series. It is a collection of short stories chronicling the adventures of protagonist Geralt of Rivia.
Geralt is a witcher. He is a monster hunter for hire and possesses superhuman senses, reflexes and strength due to mutations he was subjected to at young. As a consequence of these mutations, witchers are not deemed strictly human – as a trade-off for their abilities, they are stripped of emotion and sentiment, which is arguably what makes us human in the first place.
The Last Wish delves into several complex themes, such as exploring Geralt’s (apparent) lack-of humanity. Although he is supposedly devoid of emotion, he often encounters difficult decisions, which impose a strain on his sense of justice. Witchers are expected to go about their business in a very straightforward fashion – get paid, eliminate the threat. The greatest confrontations in The Last Wish do not come from the tense, masterfully written action sequences, but rather the moments in which Geralt’s internal moral code are challenged. Geralt is often faced with differentiating between “monsters” with tusks and sharp teeth, who at times seem more human than the ones calling for their execution.
The undertones of racism against nonhumans (dwarves, elves and even Witchers themselves) manifests themselves in The Last Wish in fascinating ways. In the world of The Witcher, dwarves and elves are minorities and are met with distrust and oftentimes aggression. Geralt, being a mutated human (so essentially, simultaneously human and nonhuman), stands on the border of this racial conflict, unable to take sides. Furthermore, Witchers do not delve into politics or take sides therein – an interesting anomaly in a world that is fraught with monarchs waging war and seeking to increase their dominion.
The Last Wish is a complex and thematic set of short tales with much to offer for fans of the fantasy genre. The action was tense and gripping and Sapkowski’s intricately crafted world is believable and absorbing – I can’t wait to pick up the second installment in the series.