The Last Wish is an anthology chronicling six of the Witcher’s adventures, a seventh one interspersed between them. These are good stories, one and all – though a few are not without issues. Most of them are based on familiar fairy tales – “A Grain of Truth” incorporates many of the elements of Beauty and the Beast, while “The Lesser Evil” borrows from Snow White – offering a few different interpretations of that tale, in fact, each one darker than the last. Even those not directly based on existing material borrow from folklore; so, for example, the eponymous story, “The Last Wish” begins with the discovery of a djinn. That is, with the sole exception of “The Voice of Reason,” which, as the connecting tissue between all these other stories, is wholly the author’s own.
If you, like me, come from playing the video games and are reading (or planning to read) the books in preparation for the Netflix series, this will be a treat. “The Witcher,” the first of the stories, will be somewhat familiar to you if you’ve played The Witcher (2007); it’s the story of Geralt squaring off versus a striga, King Foltest’s cursed daughter, in order to lift the curse off her. This was a great introduction, on account of displaying the way a witcher is treated by everyday people, with equal parts hate and fear; it was also full of action, quick and brutal. No complaints about this one, 5/5.
“A Grain of Truth” borrowed heavily from Beauty and the Beast with the tiny difference that the Beast went through beauties one a year. Some expected twists, and some unexpected ones make for a solid second outing. 4/5, since I enjoyed it a pinch less than the previous one.
“The Lesser Evil” is a story I was very interested in reading, once I realised where it was taking place in. In the Witcher games, one of the nicknames used for Geralt is “The Butcher of Blaviken” – this is the story behind how he got that. Add to this a deeply philosophical, impossible choice Geralt is forced into making – as the title suggests – and you have perhaps the strongest story of the lot. 5/5
“A Question of Price” is a whole lot of fun. Geralt is forced into playing masquerade for the powerful Queen Calanthe during the showing of a young, beautiful princess. There, he is offered a job, declines, is offered the opportunity to render service into the queen, attempts to decline and is discouraged by said queen at a heavily implied threat of awfulness happening to the poor witcher…and that’s just the night’s beginning. It gets crazier from that point onwards, and continuously entertaining. Some Rumplestiltskin motifs push this to a 4.5 out of 5; I’m holding out on the 5/5 because some of the action wasn’t as clear as in the previous stories. But the intrigue, the revelations, and that last line of Geralt’s…excellence.
I didn’t like “The Edge of the World” as much as the rest of the stories. Perhaps because the ending was somewhat anti-climatic. First time we see Dandelion and Geralt travelling together, first time Geralt is forced into a ridiculous contest of wills against a ‘deovel’, first time pure-blood elves are introduced. There’s plenty of good, too – the conversation between the Aen Seidhe elf and Geralt, in particular. 3.5/5.
“The Last Wish” I was somewhat familiar with due to the fact that a side-quest from Witcher 3 is heavily based on it. That said, knowing some of what happens didn’t take anything away from Geralt’s first meeting with Yennefer. It’s sexy, it’s laugh-out-loud funny and occasionally cruel, and knowing its ending took nothing away from my enjoyment. Yennefer is scary. 5/5.
A solid short story collection, The Last Wish was an excellent introduction to Geralt of Rivia’s world, a mixture of Western and Eastern folklore, a world in flux, where monsters are a fact of life but are growing fewer, and the very earth changes underneath the humans’ care. It’s a world that forces Geralt to question more and more often whether witchers are necessary, and if they are, for how much longer? What role is there left for them, what place?
You’ll enjoy this anthology if:
- You like monster hunting;
- Morally grey stories are your thing;
- Geralt. Just Geralt. He’s among the coolest, signature characters in fantasy in recent decades;
- Fairy tales and folklore;
- Sexy sorceresses without scrupules do anything for you!
- And more! Prob’ly.
I read this one over a buddy read with my friend and fellow booknest.eu reviewer, William Gwynne! Thanks for tagging along, Will, this was a lot of fun!