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For those who came to know about ‘The Witcher’ through the video game series or the new Netflix series, you must not overlook Andrzej Sapkowski’s original book series. His first book in the series, ‘The Last Wish’, provides the reader with a deep insight into the lore of this fantasy world whilst not throwing you in the deep end with a complicated plot. For old fans and new, this book cannot be ignored.
‘The Last Wish’ is an incredibly useful place to start Sapkowski’s expansive ‘The Witcher’ series. Structurally, this book is a collection of short stories with loose connections linking the tales; some may feel that this story-telling lacks definitive direction, yet I never felt that the stories were disconnected. Each short story explores a different element to the world of ‘The Witcher’, whether it be beasts, elves, war or politics. These stories are incredibly unique, making the novel stand out in a crowded fantasy genre. For people familiar with the video games or Netflix series, you will have a vague idea of what to expect, but for anyone coming into the series knowing very little, you may think that it is occasionally too geeky. That being said, there are many heart-felt interjections throughout the book, allowing for strong character development. Equally, the short length of each story makes the book an incredibly pleasant read.
Having initially jumped into the book series with ‘Blood of Elves’ I came to regret not reading ‘The Last Wish’ first as there is no doubt that Sapkowski has created a complex world. The background information this collection provides is absolutely necessary for anyone wanting to become wholly absorbed into Sapkowski’s beautiful story-telling. If you are not sold by the short story structure of ‘The Last Wish’, the overarching story of the novels begins with ‘Blood of Elves’. However, it is likely that you may feel rather confused if you start with that title. Through ‘The Last Wish’, we learn more about Geralt, Yennefer and Dandelion, providing a strong foundation upon which the characters develop in Sapkowski’s later novels.
Interestingly, the first season of the television show is mostly made up of the short stories within this collection. If you enjoyed the Netflix show, this book will expand upon many of its most powerful scenes such as the Striga fight, the banquet and the controlling of the Djinn. Also, it provides more exposition upon the centrality of destiny and the law of surprise. However, Yennefer is only introduced in the novel towards the end, so if you are seeking to read more about her character, this book may not be for you. With the short stories taking place before Ciri was born, she is another major character in the Netflix show that is lacking from this book. However, the book provides far greater depth than the on-screen adaptation. Therefore, if you are a fan of the television show, the book will not disappoint you due to the additional details it provides.
It is worth noting, however, that this is not Game of Thrones. It is incredibly different despite belonging to the fantasy genre. Whilst Game of Thrones, arguably, focused on political intrigue and war, ‘The Last Wish’ instead explores magic, beasts and monsters. The world created through these short stories is utterly absorbing, clearly benefiting from the application of Slavic mythology that inspired Sapkowski. Whether familiar with the series or not, this book should undeniably be placed on your reading list for 2020.