I absolutely love The Witcher (after randomly coming across one of the later books in the series). So I decided to do what every sane person would do – get all the books, all the audio books, all of the original Polish comics (and I say ALL) and read it from the start.
The Last Wish follows Geralt as he travels from one part of the land to the other righting wrongs, discovering mysteries and saving people. The stories might seem familiar because you’ve already heard them growing up. Like Cinderella:
Prince Hrobarik, not being so gracious, tried to hire me to find a beauty who, sick of his vulgar advances, had fled the ball, losing a slipper
Like Snow White:
That was my life until Stregobor and that whore Aridea ordered a huntsman to butcher me in the forest and bring back my heart and liver. Lovely, don’t you think?” “No. I’m pleased you evaded the huntsman, Renfri.” “Like shit I did. He took pity on me and let me go. After the son of a bitch raped me and robbed me.”
Geralt, fiddling with his medallion, looked her straight in the eyes. She didn’t lower hers. “That was the end of the princess,” she continued. “The dress grew torn, the cambric grew grubby. And then there was dirt, hunger, stench, stink and abuse. Selling myself to any old bum for a bowl of soup or a roof over my head. Do you know what my hair was like? Silk. And it reached a good foot below my hips. I had it cut right to the scalp with sheep-shears when I caught lice. It’s never grown back properly.”
She was silent for a moment, idly brushing the uneven strands of hair from her forehead. “I stole rather than starve to death. I killed to avoid being killed myself. I was locked in prisons which stank of urine, never knowing if they would hang me in the morning, or just flog me and release me. And through it all, my stepmother and your sorcerer were hard on my heels, with their poisons and assassins and spells. ”
The stories are all gorgeous and you’ll find yourself immersed in the beautiful writing.
The first story centres around a monster living in a castle, a strigoi of sorts, the dead but not dead child born of an incestuous relationship between the king and his sister. The child died at birth but then it continued to grow and feed on people until 14 years had passed and the Witcher happened to come around and take on the job of curing or killing the monster girl.
Promise you won’t laugh when you see how the fearsome Geralt looks like in the comics! (I did) 🙂
“People,” Geralt turned his head, “like to invent monsters and monstrosities. Then they seem less monstrous themselves. When they get blind-drunk, cheat, steal, beat their wives, starve an old woman, when they kill a trapped fox with an axe or riddle the last existing unicorn with arrows, they like to think that the Bane entering cottages at daybreak is more monstrous than they are. They feel better then. They find it easier to live.”
Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. He’s kinda special because he’s a member of a unique society of hunters – knives for hire – and skilled enough to recognise true magic from make-believe
“In order to become a witcher, you have to be born in the shadow of destiny, and very few are born like that. That’s why there are so few of us. We’re growing old, dying, without anyone to pass our knowledge, our gifts, on to. We lack successors. And this world is full of Evil which waits for the day none of us are left.”
And all stories we see have a little make-believe in them – and hereby hangs the magic of the stories.
“I thought I was choosing the lesser evil. I chose the lesser evil. Lesser evil! I’m Geralt! Witcher…I’m the Butcher of Blaviken—”
The imagery of this story really is a tier above what fantasy normally gives us nowadays. Geralt is traveling once again, and finds two bodies that appear to have come from an abandoned mansion. Upon further inspection, a cursed man named Nivellen owns the house. He was cursed by a priest to become a beast, but the house obeys his every wish. Traveling merchants even come from all around and trade their daughters to him for a period of time for currency. Nivellen has tried everything, and the curse is never broken! But when his newest girl, who ends up not being all of what she seems and who was responsible of the two bodies Geralt originally found, starts a fight with Geralt, Nivellen is forced to help him, and the curse is broken. Yes, this is legitimately a wrapped version of Beauty and the Beast.
There’s a grain of truth in every fairy tale,
Again in a new city, Geralt killed a monster and is looking for compensation. He goes to see a mage that he knew from before, and he asks Geralt to kill “a monster” for him. The monster ends up being a young girl, and when Geralt talks to her he realizes she is seeking vengeance for what the mage did to her. After her and Geralt “get to know each other”, she promises to back down because nothing good will come of it. Geralt awakens in the morning and realizes that she lied. He knows where she will be, so he meets her and ends up having to fight her. He wins, and she must die, but Geralt faces the question of what is truly evil, and refuses to let the mage to take her body.
“Only Evil and Greater Evil exist and beyond them, in the shadows, lurks True Evil. True Evil, Geralt, is something you can barely imagine, even if you believe nothing can still surprise you. And sometimes True Evil seizes you by the throat and demands that you choose between it and another, slightly lesser, Evil.”
A Question of Price
This was my favourite story of the lot. Geralt meets Queen Calanthe when travelling and she has a problem. Her daughter is cursed to marry and the knight who asks for her hand is also cursed. The fun part was that the witcher knew that the princess and the cursed knight knew each other and manipulated the circumstances to allow their marriage despite his lower rank.
The queen was smart though. She knew that her daughter was seeing someone and because whoever her daughter married would automatically become king of Cintra due to the kingdom’s customs, she wanted to ensure an alliance with Skellige. That’s why the witcher Geralt was invited, under the name Lord Ravix of Fourhorn. The witcher demands an unusual payment. He says he will return after six years to collect it and in truth, the unborn child that the princess was carrying was his reward.
CIRI – the witcher’s true companion and trainee – much beloved by both him and Yennefer, was born a few months later and 6 years later, the Witcher came to collect her from her grandmother. Ciri’s mother and the queen’s daughter had been lost at sea for years and the grandmother brought up the child. She tried to hide it from the Witcher in a cluster of similar-aged children and said that if destiny wills it, he will guess which one is the child he needs to take with him. The Witcher, fearing this choice as well, refuses to make it and decides to leave.
“All around, everywhere you look, is dullness and uncertainty. Even something born of beauty soon leads to boredom and banality, commonplace, the human ritual, the tedious rhythm of life.”
The Edge of the World
Geralt and Dandelion have stopped and are looking for work. A local tells them about a devil who is up to no good. Side note, I listened to this on audio book and the devil’s voice made me want to murder someone. Good Lord, please, never do this if you are a voice actor. Anyway, the devil, named Torque, likes to play games and Geralt and Dandelion end up being captured. When they awaken, they find themselves among elves, still tied up, and hear all about how the elves want revenge on humans. The Queen of the Fields comes and saves them, and tells Geralt that he is destined for greatness and that they will meet again.
“Destiny has many faces. Mine is beautiful on the outside and hideous on the inside. She has stretched her bloody talons toward me—
The Last Wish
Be still, my heart – this chapter was everything I never knew I wanted in my life. Again, Geralt and Dandelion are together and decided to fish up breakfast. Dandelion ends up fishing up a djinn, or genie, in a magical vase. It ends up hurting Dandelion, and Geralt says what he thinks is an exorcism to make it stop. Dandelion takes a turn for the worst, and Geralt knows he has to act fast. He rushes Dandelion to a town, where he is informed that his best chance at survival will be a sorceress named Yennefer.
This is their origin story, and it ends up being everything I ever wished it to be. Yennefer is able to heal Dandelion, but she has an alternative motive; she wants to harness the genie’s power for herself. She also demands payment from Geralt, which she receives by possessing him to publicly punish men who have wronged her. He wakes up in jail, where he tells a mean guard to blow up, in which he does. Geralt doesn’t have any time to think about this, because Yennefer comes to town with the genie, which is destroying everything. Geralt is able to save the townsfolk, but while trying to save Yennefer herself, she refuses, and it looks like she would rather die trying to take the genie’s powers. Geralt then realizes the reason Yennefer couldn’t possess the power was because the genie is viewing Geralt as its master, and he has accidentally made two of his three wishes. Yennefer urges Geralt to make a third and final wish so she can try, but Geralt knows that the genie will kill her once the request leaves his lips. Geralt then makes his last wish, which none of us know what it truly is, only that it binds him and Yennefer together forever.
We knew Geralt fell in love with Yennefer as soon as he laid eyes upon her. There are so many theories of what he wished for, but I do not think we will ever get a confirmation. He could have wished for Yen to love him, but that is so un-Geralt, I can’t believe he would ever do that. He could have wished for them to have a baby, and since witchers are sterile that could be why Ciri comes into their lives, and would have still protected Yennefer from the genie. Hell, it could seriously be as simple and binding their lives together forever, which is why, throughout the games, it feels like the go through the same things together, even when they are not physically together. We will never know, but I sort of think that’s beautiful all in itself.
“Love and blood. They both possess a mighty power. Wizards and learned men have been racking their brains over this for years…”
This world, these characters, these adventures, all of it is truly above all the expectations I set before reading any fantasy novel. This is something special, that I can’t form the perfect combinations for words to be able to praise this enough. Please, give this world a try, whether it be the games or the novels, because this kind of perfection is beyond words.
Oh, and this book totally ends with Geralt and Yen having crazy “oh my God, we are alive still” sex, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Also, Dandelion is such an innocent little cinnamon roll, I can’t deal.
“During his life, the witcher had met thieves who looked like town councilors, councilors who looked like beggars, harlots who looked like princesses, princesses who looked like calving cows and kings who looked like thieves.”