review: the last wish

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski (1993)

Because the book is always better than the movie, right? Or in this case, the television show. Well, I’m actually not so sure if that applies in the case of Netflix’s adaptation of The Witcher stories by Andrzej Sapkowski. I think I’ll need to read another book in this series before fully making up my mind where the question is concerned. And yet there is a lot of good stuff to love and enjoy in The Last Wish, which is a collection of short stories featuring Geralt of Rivia. I started here because everything I read on line said to start here. As I understand it, the six stories in this collection are the first stories chronologically, even though they were not published first. Being new to the books, I’d say The Last Wish is a good place to start. On a budget? I paid full price for my copy of the paperback edition of this book, but you can probably find a copy in your local used bookstore and there is an edition of the book available through my local library (they have it as an ebook, audiobook, and physical book). Just know that with Netflix’s recent series adaptation, these books will be hot commodities (all of the copies at my library are checked out!).

So you’ve watched The Witcher on Netflix and you think maybe you want to read the books? If that’s your motivation, then I think you’ll enjoy the stories in The Last Wish. There are six stories in the book, and all but one of those stories were turned into episodes of the Netflix series. If you’re interested, here’s a handy list of which story corresponds to which episode:

“The Witcher” = Betrayer Moon (episode 3)
“The Lesser Evil” = The End’s Beginning (episode 1)
“A Question of Price” = Of Banquets, Bastards, and Burials (episode 4)
“The Edge of the World” = Four Marks (episode 2)
“The Last Wish” = Bottled Appetites (episode 5)

Now if you’re only familiar with the Netflix adaptation (and this very much applies to me) then there’s some other information you might want to know before deciding whether or not to read the books. One, you’re not going to get a single glimpse of Ciri, as she doesn’t show up in any of the stories in The Last Wish. Two, if Yennefer’s story and her character arc are your favorite things about the Netflix series, then you need to know you’re not going to see any of that in The Last Wish. On the other hand, when we meet Yennefer in “The Last Wish” it already feels like we know her. Three, you will see Yaskier, the bard; however, in the stories, his name is Dandilion. Four, if you’re one of those viewers who wanted Geralt to have more screen time, then you’ll get what you want in The Last Wish, because the stories are more tightly focused on the witcher as he moves from place to place in search of monsters and payment for destroying them.

The stories are told by a third-person omnipotent narrator who mostly focuses on Geralt but occasionally focuses his gaze on other characters. Like the Netflix series, the stories in The Last Wish move back and forth in time, so you’ll have to pay as much attention to when things are happening while you’re reading as you did while watching the show. One thing that the stories have that the show doesn’t (yet?) is an ally for Geralt in the form of Nenneke, a priestess who gives him a safe haven and tries to heal his injuries. Prior to each of the stories is a short narrative titled “The Voice of Reason”. It is in these short narratives that we see what is going on with Geralt during his stay in Nenneke’s temple, filling in some of the gaps the stories leave wide open.

The main reason, at least in my opinion, to read the stories in The Last Wish is to gain greater context and insight that the Netflix series either chose not to portray or makes entirely too subtle (perhaps winking at viewers who have already read the stories). Not surprisingly, I felt this most acutely while reading “A Question of Price” and “The Last Wish” because both stories provide a lot of context the episodes are missing. Not to give any spoilers, but in “A Question of Price” you learn something important about Geralt that the show hasn’t yet revealed and in “The Last Wish” you get a little closer to understanding the third wish Geralt makes and how it binds him and Yennefer (and to answer the question I know you have, no, the exact words of Geralt’s wish aren’t given).

One of the reasons to stick with the Netflix series and not read the books is that the show does a much better job of representing women and showing their agency to control their own lives while at the same time portraying the ways in which women are forced to navigate patriarchal systems and societies. The series is made for a 21st century audience. In the books, there is much more of a patriarchal, gender-biased attitude toward women. Perhaps this simply makes the story collection a product of its time. Perhaps it’s a silent indictment of such attitudes, particularly given Geralt’s views on monsters and humans—namely, that sometimes the monsters he encounters show more humanity than the humans who would have them destroyed.

I wouldn’t have picked up The Last Wish on my own, but I will say I did enjoy reading the stories. The next book in the series (or at least, the next book all the lists say I should read next) is Sword of Destiny. It’s not yet on my bookshelf but it’s on my list of books to read.

Have you read The Last Wish? What did you think?