As an entry point into understanding all the lore pulled from Sapkowski that entered the Witcher games, this one is fantastic. It added details to certain passages I’d read in the Witcher 3 codices and thensome. My personal favorite was The Lesser Evil, though for major plot purposes, The Last Wish and A Question of Price are definitely stories I’d recommend as reading prior to starting up the series itself.
THE LAST WISH
by Andrzej Sapkowski, Danusia Stok (Translator)
Orbit Books, July 2017
High fantasy, short stories
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies
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.
So I spent a great deal of time playing The Witcher 3 during June and much of July, and I feel like I’ve only gotten to the surface of the lore. Diving deeper would mean another hundred or so hours of a new playthrough, one that I wish I had a time turner for because there’s just only so much you can really do in a given day. That said, I absolutely loved the length and breadth of the game itself, and I owe it to CD Projekt Red for staying true to much of the book series.
All the same, when I finished the main plot and the DLCs afterward, I needed more of the characters. There was a lot of backdrop story being thrown in, interesting information mentioned in passing, as though the game itself is a true extension of the world created by Andrzej Sapkowski.
It isn’t. A true extension, that is. But it’s as effing close as it’s going to get for a while yet.
In any case, I wanted more material about Geralt of Rivia, Butcher of Blaviken, Ravix of Fourhorn, the White Wolf (yes, all his titles, and I’m sure he’s got more). So I went to the short stories that brought him to life.
The Last Wish is a set of short stories taking place in the Witcher universe. It is also a set of short stories that are fairy tale retellings–insomuch that the retellings base their origins from monsters and curses that would occur in the Witcher universe. (Seriously, I could spend all day talking about the Land of a Thousand Fables in the Blood and Wine DLC, but that’d make this review way too long…)
Sapkowski littered a lot of the short stories with fairy tale allusions, and sometimes even based a few of the tales from a European story or two. It was really entertaining to read, and I couldn’t help but squee in response to when I recognized a character or storyline from the game. (Let’s be honest, I mostly squeed because I also recognized the fairy tale retelling Sapkowski was pulling from.)
There were some stories that really resonated with me (a personal favorite was “The Lesser Evil”), and most of them I read from page to page, including the interlude chapters titled “Voice of Reason”. Nothing was unread, and I’ve gotten a much bigger understanding of the witcher universe now than ever before.
The book is organized into chapters, where each chapter is broken up into interludes. The interludes follows Geralt convalescing in a church of Melitele, and much of the short stories relate to an adventure he undertook in the past. Each story usually connects to his reminiscing in the present, and only the first short story, as well as the “Voice of Reason” sections, are in Geralt’s present-time.
Just a breakdown of each short story (with images thanks to many Witcher series lovers of the interwebs):
This one introduces us to how the witcher, Geralt, goes about in the world looking for contracts. In this case, we get introduced to King Foltest, the king of Temeria (a country that gets mentioned several times in Witcher 3). Foltest has a job for Geralt, a difficult one that involves lifting a curse without killing the cursed. It’s a great intro into the world, if you can get past the alleged (okay, mostly confirmed) incest between Foltest and his sister…
“A Grain of Truth”
This one was definitely one of the tales that used a fairy tale as a backbone from beginning to end. It starts off with Geralt encountering an “intelligent” monster who turns out to be a cursed nobleman. The tale the man tells is a spin of Beauty and the Beast as to how he got his curse, and it ends when “true love” is found. Well, sort of. There’s a grain of truth in that, I suppose.
Personally, I liked this tale because it reintroduced me to the monsters found in Geralt’s world. Also, bruxas are kind of badass. Scary and evil and monstrous…but badass.
“The Lesser Evil”
This is by far my favorite story of the collection. When I played Witcher 3’s DLC, Blood and Wine (which is SO WORTH), there’s a whole section where Geralt talks about his belief in people born under the Curse of the Black Sun. I only vaguely understood his allusions and reasoning, until I read “The Lesser Evil” and realized CDPR was pulling information from the story itself.
This short story tells of a girl who–like Syanna in Blood and Wine–was born under the Curse of the Black Sun, and Geralt had to choose between saving her life and saving someone else’s. In the end, Geralt ultimately did choose the lesser evil, because honestly, that was the only thing he could do. I loved this story of gray morals, and it really explains his moniker “The Butcher of Blaviken.”
“A Question of Price”
Again, here was another story that got alluded to in the Blood and Wine DLC! In this short story, Geralt assumes the name Ravix of Fourhorn so he can sit alongside Queen Calanthe for a mission “against destiny.” Turns out Calanthe’s husband was indebted to Urcheon of Erlenwald, who invoked the Law of Surprise, and thus was entitled to claiming Calanthe’s daughter, Pavetta, as his bride. Obviously Calanthe was having none of that nonsense, and tried to get rid of the man by having a witcher in their midst. Things get more surprising by the end of the tale, but there it is.
I bring these up because turns out, this entire story is pretty much the basis of what happens in the actual book series that deals with Ciri, a child who was invoked by Geralt’s own Law of Surprise. (Also, after glaring at Emrys, the Emperor of Nilfgaard, URCHEON OF ERLENWALD…this story definitely has a lot of relevance to the main story of Witcher 3).
“The Edge of the World”
The last two stories in the collection include Dandelion, my faaaaavorite bard and traveling companion. (I do not say this out of sarcasm, he is a most brilliant troubadour, and without his embellishments, we would never think the witcher as heroic, oh no!) This story deals with the problems Geralt has with elves in general. It gives a backdrop history of why there’s conflict between the elves and the humans, and the racism of humans against non-humans. Also, considering the Wild Hunt that’s after Ciri throughout Witcher 3 is made up of elves…well…
It’s a great story that adds to the general backdrop of Geralt, who tries–and mostly fails–to stay in the neutral zone. It is my least favorite because, eh, it took way too long to get to this conflict (the first half of the story was literally Dandelion whining–which was entertaining enough–but there was too much randomness with the fawn-type creature being there to begin with).
“The Last Wish”
Quite literally one of the first main quests you undertake in Witcher 3 is called “Lilac and Gooseberries,” and it is Geralt looking for signs of Yennefer’s whereabouts. I haven’t played the previous games, so wasn’t understanding the general issue of it all, but as someone who ended up romancing Yen by the end of the game, I definitely wanted to know more about Geralt and her first meeting.
“The Last Wish” was everything and more. It is arguably one of the best shorts in the collection (not my personal favorite for reasons), and the longest therein. The story itself is summarized in Yennefer’s character profile in the game archives, but nothing beats getting all that description and the battle with the djinn in story form. This was a good way to end the collection.
The final “Voice of Reason” tale also gave a glimpse to the other short stories in the second collection, and I kind of want to read The Sword of Destiny now…
4.5 out of 5 cookies! Really good intro. I’m not ready to get out of the Witcher universe yet. I want more!