US – Orbit ISBN 978-0-316-2918-4 May 2008
UK – Gollancz ISBN 978-0575077829 June 2007
English Translation by Danusia Stok
Adrzej Sapkowski is Poland’s preeminent fantasy writer, having won their genre’s most prestigious award, the Zajdel (the Polish equivalent to the Hugo). Furthermore, his most recognizable creation and subject of The Last Wish, Geralt de Rivia is the basis for a computer game published in October. It is with that type of preamble that Sapkowski makes his splash into the US Fantasy market through Orbit Books, one year after the first English translation was published by Gollancz in the UK. Geralt is a monster hunter, a magic wielding cross between a bounty hunter and mercenary. While his own character, Geralt reminded me at times of Indiana Jones, Elric of Melnibone, Doctor Who, and Batman. Like those characters, Witchers are viewed with a great deal of rumor, fear, skepticism, and prejudged notions.
The Last Wish isn’t so much a novel, but rather a set of interconnected stories, told themselves within the frame of another story, The Voice of Reason. This story works very well as Geralt tells some of his past adventures to various people in holy place where he wakes. Much rumor and assumptions are made about the monsters Geralt hunts in this book and unraveling these assumptions along with those surrounding Geralt proved to be perhaps the strongest element of these interconnected stories.
The Witcher introduces our protagonist in a typical bar-room brawl. Before Geralt winds up killing three men, the other characters in the bar deride Geralt for being a Witcher, a mutant and an outcast. The quick fight and hushed whispers of the other characters help to paint a picture of Geralt and Witchers that emerges over the course of the stories in this book. Soon the real action of the story takes place as Geralt is recruited to fight a striga, a female transformed into a monster. Sapkowski’s layered plot in this short story illustrates a commendable ability to pack a great deal of story into a relatively small amount of pages. A bit of internet investigation suggests that this story is the most popular and most widely translated of Sapkowski’s Geralt stories.
The second story titled, A Grain of Truth, again was more than the surface implied, which is true of both Geralt and Nivellen, the monster he is hunting. Similar in appearance to a bear, Nivellen is a man cursed for a past wrongdoing. Elements of this story reminded me of Jeffrey Ford’s Cosmology of the Wider World. We learn a bit more about Geralt in this story; he is not simply a heartless monster hunter.
The Lesser Evil tells of how Geralt tries to collect a reward for a monster he killed and is soon led to make a difficult moral and emotional choice. Here, Geralt meets a wizard, Stregobor, who seeks Geralt’s aid in eluding a monster. The world in which Geralt makes his living is fleshed out further in this story and shows Geralt at an impasse between two opposing characters, questioning his own judgment.
Thrust into high society, Geralt plays the role of a nobleman in A Question of Price. While many of the same prejudices people have about Geralt and his kind hinted at in The Witcher are present in this story, Sapkowski does a fine job of fleshing out the character of Geralt and what Witchers are and how they become that way.
We are introduced to Dandelion the bard, a Moonglum-ish sidekick for Geralt in The Edge of the World, which recounts their first adventure together. A devil and Elves come into the plot as farmers are being forced to give up much of their grain to the devil. Geralt and Dandelion uncover a deeper plot as the story progresses, fighting the “devil” and getting into trouble with the Elves.
In The Last Wish, Geralt and Dandelion cross paths with a sorceress by the name of Yennefer, who may play a larger role in future Geralt stories. A nice amount of sexual tension bubbles over between Geralt and Yennefer as they try to rid an area of a malevolent genie. Also in this story, the varying classes of magic-wielders are further broadened, lending an even more magical overtone to the already fantastical setting.
Reading these stories was rather refreshing in that the magical elements were somewhat familiar, but reinterpreted through the myths and folklore of Sapkowski’s Polish/Slavic background. The vague familiarity also worked very well to lull you into thinking you knew what might happen only to reveal by story’s end “what really happened.” The interconnected collection and “story within a story” framework is a great introduction to Geralt and the fantastical world in which he resides, only hinting at the depth of the world and intrigue of the character. A teaser at the back of the book suggests that The Blood of Elves, the first truly novel length Witcher story will be coming out in the future. I look forward to reading it.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford
Copyright © sffworld.com. If quoted please credit "sffworld.com, name of reviewer".