Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Last Wish - Andrzej Sapkowski

‘‘Geralt,’ she interrupted sharply, ‘I climbed out of bed for you and I didn’t intend to do that before the chime of midday. I’m prepared to do without breakfast. Do you know why? Because you brought me the apple juice. You were in a hurry, your head was troubled with your friend’s suffering, you forced your way in here, and yet you thought of a thirsty woman. You won me over, so my help is not out of the question. But I won’t do anything without hot water and soap. Go. Please.’’

I’ve been meaning to read this book forever. I mean, it's the book series that inspired a really incredibly great video game - I mean The Witcher 3, obviously. It's a very good game I haven't played half as much as I should have. Kind of like the book, it starts out heavy and difficult to get into, but it's worth getting through it. 

The thing with The Last Wish is, I haven’t bothered to read it in Finnish because olden fantasy translated into Finnish is a little bit meh and I still don’t have a library card in Scotland (J, nudge nudge let’s go get me one), so it’s been one of those “one day I will” –things. A friend of mine convinced me to read it (it didn’t take much convincing, really) so that we could talk about it, and I finally, finally finished it. It took me a while because the language is a bit old and heavy, but at least I learned many amazing words!

The Last Wish is a collection of short stories and it would by all means do them justice to review them all separately. I’m not going to go into that, but let me just tell you right now that it’s worth your time as long as you’re not completely put off by fantasy and adventures. The book is told through many flashbacks, different incidents in the life of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher who’s shunned but society but kills monsters for a living. It’s mature fairy tales for adults – I think most adults would want to read that kind of stuff – with a lot of fantasy and a lot of insight into life.

'‘I got lost,’ lied the witcher. 

You got lost,’ repeated the monster, twisting his jaws in a menacing grin. ‘Well, unlose your way. Out of the gate, turn your left ear to the sun and keep walking and you’ll soon get back to the highway. Well? What are you waiting for?’'

The Last Wish is also the name of the main story (though it’s not the longest one), the one I’d maybe like to consider more important than the others. It’s a flashback to how Geralt met Yennefer, which is interesting if only because their incredibly stormy relationship is one of the main dynamics you’ll get to witness in the book. The Witcher 3 opens with a search for Yennefer so I’ve always been interested in who she is and what she’s like. She’s pretty awesome.

Pretty much all the female characters in the book (and in the whole series, I’m pretty sure) are described to be very attractive. Maybe it’s because we’re looking at things through Geralt’s eyes or maybe it’s just the fantasy element, but it doesn’t take anything away from their capability to be incredibly cool and interesting and actual personalities. I really, really appreciate that.

Yennefer in particular is great. I’ve probably already made it clear to any friends listening to my Witcher ramblings that I love her character. She’s interesting and balanced; she’s mean but nice but also off the handle. She can’t be controlled, but she has her very distinctive flaws. The quote at the top of the page is hers because I definitely relate liking anyone who'd bring you apple juice. I want to be her.

As far as characters go, Geralt is well made as well, incredibly cool and interesting as a main character. He’s cold and calm but every once in a while you’ll see that he actually does care. Apparently I would already have known this if I didn’t play such a mean Geralt in Witcher 3. Whoops. No regrets though. Anyway, Geralt has interesting dialogue with different people and monsters alike, that old-fashioned “I’d rather die than say what I actually mean” –sort of a thing I simply adore when it’s done well. And The Last Wish does it incredibly well, trust me. If I wanted to give someone a lesson in this fine art, I’d do well to save myself some time and hand them this book instead.

‘There’s no such things as devils!’ yelled the poet, shaking the cat from sleep once and for all. ‘No such thing! To the devil with it, devils don’t exist!’ ‘True,’ Geralt smiled. ‘But Dandilion, I could never resist the temptation of having a look at something that doesn’t exist.’

Every now and then the style gets very ambiguous; the readers are prompted to figure out by themselves what’s going on and what these things mean. Most of the time this worked and made things interesting. I felt like the book thought I was incredibly smart and then allowed me to demonstrate it. Every now and then however, I found myself wanting actual answers, for someone to tell me I was right and to clear up the few details I wasn’t completely certain of. I suppose I might figure something out on a second read (which will happen, yes it will) or reading the other books (also will definitely happen), but every now and then, rare as it was, it annoyed me.

All in all, The Last Wish is great. It’s a very very good book and I can’t think of a single reason why anyone shouldn’t read it and I was really happy to read something I can honestly like for a change. I’ll certainly read everything in the series, but first I’ll chill by reading something easy and light. It was pretty heavy, really.

Edit/ September 15th, 2016 - I came back to up my rating to 5/5. It was so good and I've been thinking about this book since I first read it.

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