I'll clarify now that I have no history with the games, or previous attachment to this world. Going into this book completely blind. What drove me to read it was a love the fantasy genre, and constant recommendations by other fantasy fans. EDIT: Also being motivated by the upcoming TV show. I like to get my own version of the story implanted when I can.
So, now that it's done… wow. The Last Wish is an impressive book. I'll start with the structure. It appears to be a collection of novella length stories, but since it's interwoven with a frame story that organically introduces characters and elements we're about to see within the adventure stories themselves, it gives it a level of cohesion I don't often see in these types of books, making this feel less of a collection and more of an masterfully crafted novel.
As for the stories themselves, I was very, very surprised. Other than the opening story, they're never quite as simple as 'Geralt hunts down an evil monster'. I guess I was expecting some sort of pseudo-mystery element, as in 'Geralt searches for clues, has an fight scene.' But no, these are beautiful stories with incredibly poignant themes, well developed characters driven by natural motivations, sharp dialogue, and some rich prose. (Seriously, this book feels good to read at times) I loved how every story is a subverted take on a classic fairy tale – you've got the Snow White tale, with a murderous snow white and a pack of goons to replace her dwarves, which explores the theme of choosing between two evils to vainly attempt a good outcome out of it. There's the Rumpelstiltskin tale, only this time bringing into the fray themes of the degradation of the elven culture and oppression & inequality that comes with it. And of course, the titular final story which puts a heartwrenching twist on the Aladdin tale. Nearly every story here was incredible. The only one that didn't impress me was the one with the bear-man who raped that girl. Found it a bit hard to sympathise with the guy.
Geralt himself is a fantastic character, too. I was expecting medieval batman, so I was a bit floored by the strength of his characterisation. Not only does he grow and evolve throughout the book, but his experiences change his worldview in real time. He has a code of ethics which is brought into question several times, and his relationships with various characters is the real heart behind much of the book. I appreciate that he's not completely gruff and stone-faced – he has a lighthearted, witty side to him too. It makes me excited to see where his story arc, particularly his relationships will go, as most of what we see here is just planting the seeds and even that was still excellent.
So yeah, I'm really glad I read The Last Wish. It's a great collection of stories with genuine heart and character. One of the best books I've read in awhile and I'd say one of the strongest first entries in the genre I've read.
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