Like a large majority people who have recently been caught up in the excitement for The Witcher 3, I was somewhat unfamiliar with the world and lore of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Geralt, having never played The Witcher or The Witcher 2.
As a console gamer, I never had the chance to play the original game in this trilogy. I got my original Xbox 360 late its life cycle, and so The Witcher 2 ended up slipping under my radar.
So I booted up the Googles and decided to do a little research into this world before punching my ticket to visit it – I was curious to know if there were any major story elements worth knowing about before putting the disc into my PS4.
What I didn’t expect was the sheer expanse of the universe that Andrzej had created.
I also hadn’t realised that The Witcher stemmed from a series of novels.
Books, comics books, a two season TV show, a movie (known as The Hexer), as well as a board and ard game are all products of the world inhabited by The Witcher.
I had no idea that this Polish property was so popular and had spread so far. Curious, I did what what any reader/writer would do: rather than read a condensed version on Wikipedia, I decided to read the books.
The Last Wish, published in its native Poland in the long, long ago of 1990, before being brought to the UK in 2007 (2008 for the USA), is a collection of short stories based around the journeys of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher (read: monster bounty hunter) that travels the land dispatching monsters for money.
Geralt comes across as a quiet, thoughtful type, initially, with not much in the way of any major character development for the longest while, which is a shame. It is difficult to generate an immediate connection with such an introverted character, and we aren’t given too much insight into his background or inner monologue, stymying any opportunity to understand his characters motivations outside out “hunt monsters, get paid, repeat”.
Thankfully this does change over the course of the novel, but it’s a long process that asks a bit from the reader in order to stick with it. Once a few more glimmers of personality start to shine through, Geralt becomes a much more intriguing character: his back story, his place within this world, and the way he conducts business become character building, fleshing him into a hero worth following, as opposed to the two dimensional hunk of meat with white hair he begins as.
Each short story has a sufficient arc that runs through it, meaning that reading this book can be absorbed in satisfying doses, rather than mammoth reading sessions, if you so choose. Due to its very nature there are stories that are stronger than others; the later, due to the character development, tend to have a lot more substance to them, but the earlier stories do contain some great heavy action focus that only hint at insight into Geralt’s deeper motivations.
The very first story in this collection, The Voice of Reason, is actually a great example of this. Primarily action orientated, Sapkowski does a fantastic job of outlining Geralt as a concept, filling in the blanks with action: his meticulous nature, his awareness of the monster and how to deal with it, etc, all paint a portrait of a man who is knowledgable on these matters, monster hunting and its ilk, without necessarily letting us get to close to him. The impersonal nature of this initial meeting between character and reader may be fully intentional and, if it is, is just as cold an interaction as the author may have intended.
This experience can be ostracising for some, and the novel does run the risk of turning away a few who may want a meatier protagonist when they first crack the spine, but stick with it and Geralt does grow as a character, especially by the end when Sapkowski uses Dandelion to great comic effect as an appropriate foil to the sterner Geralt in the titular short story, The Last Wish.
But is The Last Wish as a book worth your time?
Sapkowski does a good job of crafting his universe, building a vibrant, interesting world filled with monsters for Geralt to hunt and villages for him to help, written in an accessible style for its high fantasy genre. The book itself is somewhat disjointed in places due to its short story structure, but the overarching connective thread really helps to tie the novel together by its conclusion.
If you are unfamiliar with The Witcher world heading into the video games, reading the books rather than diving straight into Wikipedia or YouTube will provide a fuller experience of what Sapkowski had originally envisioned, allowing you a greater understanding, and deeper appreciation, of Geralt of Rivia and his adventures.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m pretty sure I’ve got to go install a multi gigabyte patch just to get to the damned start screen of The Witcher 3.
I’ll probably have enough time to read the second short story collection, The Sword of Destiny, in the mean time.
Steve Russell // @stevetendo
What did you think of The Last Wish, and, for those who have read them already, is it worth reading The Sword of Destiny or just shall I jump straight into Blood of Elves?
Additionally: have you played The Witcher 3 and read the books as well? I’ve love to know your thoughts on how the two compare! And, finally, is it worth picking up an old copy of The Witcher 2 to play through on the 360? Shout out below!