Review – The Last Wish

Posted January 29, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Last Wish by Andrzej SapkowskiThe Last Wish, Andrzej Sapkowski

I’ve been meaning to pick up the Witcher books for a while, and my wife watching the series was a spur to actually pick the first one up. I didn’t watch it myself, but I’ve heard and seen enough about it that I knew I’d be interested. So in I plunged! And plunged and plunged, given I read this all in one day, with breaks to work and go for a walk. It’s very easy to read: I can’t judge the accuracy of the translation, but it’s good quality in that it barely feels like a translation. (Though I question the spelling of dandelion — “Dandilion”, really?)

The structure of the book is interesting: mostly disconnected episodes that illustrate the world and things about Geralt, with interludes in between them that bring us slowly toward understanding the current state of affairs. It doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat bow: there are questions remaining about all kinds of things, which no doubt the other books will help to resolve. It’s definitely not entirely satisfying on its own, but it sets the stage quite well.

I’m not always sure what to make of the gender politics in the book. There are several female characters who are largely treated as equals with men, but that is usually because they hold power of one sort or another. It’s less clear what non-royal and non-magical women are like; we really don’t see many of them. And when we actually see Yennefer, there’s the whole spiel about sorceresses being primarily ugly girls who made themselves beautiful through magic, and how they all have the resentment of ugly girls (because all ugly girls are resentful) even though now they’re pretty. It’s a bit… reductive, and I didn’t enjoy that part.

There’s also something opaque about the writing: it’s hard to understand why things are happening as they are, because you have to guess just as if you were there. We’re used to books giving us a bit more insight, weighting every action with significance; here, the really significant stuff is super-telegraphed in comparison to the relatively sparse narration.

Still, I’m quite intrigued by the world, and entertained by the fairytale stories that are adapted into it (Snow White, Beauty and the Beast) and given their own flavour. It was really more-ish while I was reading it, even though I have more doubts now I’m no longer reading it. I’m not sure whether I want to read the whole series, but I definitely want to try the next book.

Rating: 3/5

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One response to “Review – The Last Wish

  1. Having also just read and reviewed the book I concur with much of what you said. As to its gender politics I’m inclined to put that down to Sapkowski’s tongue-in-cheek humour, playing with sword-and-sorcery conventions while teasing the reader to work out what his attitude really is. I don’t think I’d necessarily read this again but I’d certainly give the other novels a go — just not immediately!

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