Monday, March 09, 2009

The Last Wish – review

Author: Andrzej Sapkowski

Translator: Danusia Stok

First Published: 1993

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Geralt was always going to stand out, with his white hair and piercing eyes, his cynicism and lack of respect for authority… but he is far more than just a striking-looking man, He’s a witcher; his sorcerous powers, enhanced by elixirs and long training, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the vile fiends that ravage the land. But first appearances are often deceptive. Not everything monstrous-looking is evil, and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale, there is a grain of truth.

As guardian of the innocent, Geralt, the witcher from Rivia, meets incestuous kings with undead daughters, vengeful djinns, shrieking harpies, lovelorn vampires and despondent ghouls, and none are quite as they appear…

The review: I honestly think that this is the first time I have bought a book on the strength of a video game but the Witcher had such a strong story within the game that I wanted to experience where it came from.

The book itself is less a novel and more a portmanteau, with a series of shorts concerning Geralt wrapped around by an overarching story of his time in a temple recovering having defeated a striga. Indeed the story of the striga is the first story proper in the book and it is the background story referenced in the game. We get the description of a creature “four cubits high, shaped like a barrel of beer, has a maw which stretches from ear to ear and is full of dagger-like teeth, has red eyes and a red mop of hair. Her paws, with claws like a wild cat’s, hang down to the ground!”

The curse of being a striga can be lifted if she is kept out of her sarcophagus by the third crow of the cock. Of course to keep her out of the sarcophagus you have to survive the night.

In fact, as the book progressed, I read much that felt familiar because of the game and yet I do not think this would be an issue for a reader who had never played the game. A different, additional viewpoint to the experience is offered because of it, but the correct order would actually be book then game.

The second story concerns the type of vampire a bruxa, indeed as Geralt tries to discover what she is we discover that as well as bruxa she might have been a “moola, or an alpor. An ordinary vampire couldn’t come out in the sun.”

The remaining book is not concerned with vampires but is strong fantasy fair. Interestingly I have read two schools of thought. One likens this with Tolkien – normally a bad sign in fantasy, to be fair – and the other denies any similarities. Personally I could see it, though this was far from the operatic vision Tolkien offered. However it did capture that moment as the time of myth moves into the time of man, just as Tolkien’s vision did. It just did it in a very little way, focusing on the petty hatreds and vile prejudices harboured in man’s heart.

An interesting read. 7 out of 10.

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