The Last Wish Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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Audible Audiobook, Unabridged
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Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin.
And a cold-blooded killer.
His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world.
But not everything monstrous-looking is evil, and not everything fair is good...and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.
The international hit that inspired the video game The Witcher.
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|Listening Length||10 hours and 17 minutes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||May 05, 2015|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #277 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#2 in Fantasy Anthologies
#2 in Fantasy Anthologies & Short Stories (Audible Books & Originals)
#41 in Epic Fantasy (Audible Books & Originals)
Reviewed in the United States on June 13, 2016
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Top reviews from the United States
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It was interesting reading the books after playing the video games. "The Last Wish" is a collection of short stories contained within a frame narrative, and the first story is about Geralt curing a striga's curse. This story was also shown at the start of the video game. The video game's representation of that event matches the short story play by play. Similarly, the quote from the "Witcher 3" trailer is taken, almost verbatim, from another short story. In general, the video game felt very faithful to the books. The setting, the tone, the character, and the philosophical issues were all similar to those seen in the books. The character of Geralt is wonderful, and the game does him justice. That is to say, if you liked the video games, I highly recommend the books.
The books, however, are better than the video games. The setting is analogous to our own. The moral dilemmas that the books raise are meaningful ones that people grapple with all the time. The protagonist is noble, if damaged, and the storytelling is great.
Before I extol the virtues of the books, however, I will say that the writing style is not my favorite. Sapkowski leaves a lot unsaid. It sometimes isn't clear when the book is transitioning from a short story to a frame narrative, for instance. This also means that dialogue also contains a lot of implicit actions. I am used to a writing style where dialogue has exposition interspersed, so I expect a conversation to happen in a mostly synchronous manner without much time passing between one person talking and another, but Sapkowski often has a significant passage of time. That's not to say that it's unclear -- I can usually figure out what was done based on the dialogue, but it does often take some rereading. Geralt also likes to leave things unsaid (while he does have long monologues, he just as often makes his point with no words or few words), so this could also be a perverse instance of the medium matching the message.
Now the virtues.
While the setting is European folklore inspired fantasy, I think that it matches our setting more closely than a lot of books set either in our world or a world very close to ours. In Sapkowski's world, humans invaded a continent inhabited by many other sentient species and conquered them (and most of those sentient species had done the same thing a few millenia past). Now, there are attempts at a tentative peace. Witchers themselves come from an older age when monsters were rampant and threatened survival. Now, more often than not, the threat is not some stark monster, but human greed with a benevolent mask. Cities provide protection from natural threats, but people don't know how to deal with the intercultural exchange that comes from living with many other different people or with the anonymity that comes from living with many other people in general. Centralized power has helped the sciences and arts flourish, but it has also led to corruption and war, and despite growing resources, many people still are poor. The world is bigger than most people know, and most people aren't experts in the world around them, so most people have a hard time separating myths from reality. A person has to work to make money to live, and a person also has to comport themselves so that they can sleep at night.
That's a pretty good description of Earth in the twenty first century. Europe exploited or colonized much of the world (and many of the people that it conquered were simply the conquerors on a more local scale), but the world is now attempting a tentative peace. We still carry the legacy of an age where we had to fight for mere survival (witness, for example, the popularity of guns) even though the struggles we face today are things like neocolonialism. A country that was founded on the notion of freedom and immigration has become nativist and struggles with pluralism. People, lost in the crowd, fall through the cracks, so children get left behind, and mentally ill people become homeless. Most people in the most prosperous nation on Earth don't think that the government is working well, and it has been at war for 214 years since 1776. With knowledge all around us, it's hard to tell myth from reality. And we have to make money to live and live so that we can sleep at night.
But how? Most of our age old wisdom is what got us into this mess! Who do we treat with compassion, how do we identify monsters, and what do we do when we find one?
One of the reasons that I like the books better than the video game is that the books feature moral dilemmas more strongly. One of the first short stories, "The Lesser Evil," features two parties trying to convince Geralt to help them against the other. His response to both: "Evil is evil... Lesser, greater, middling... Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred... if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all." While most of the time in the video games is spent killing monsters, most of the time in the books is spent musing about philosophy, politics, and why Geralt refuses to kill things that most see as monsters. People invent many monsters, according to Geralt, because then "they seem less monstrous themselves."
Some of the moral dilemmas are confusing. In one story, Geralt kills a group of people who are preparing to massacre a village, and he feels guilty about it because he might have been able to avoid anyone dying. In another story, Geralt kills a group of thugs (rather than disabling them, which would have been easy), but never indicates that he felt remorse. This isn't an issue of ambiguity, but rather a lack of attention to some issues. His stance on most issues, like pluralism, is fairly consistent at least.
Sapkowski also uses framed narratives to great effect. In framed stories, we often read of Geralt saying that he can't do something because of the Witchers' code, but in a framing story, he says, "I have at times hidden behind a code. People like that. Those who follow a code are often respected and held in high esteem. But no one's ever compiled a witcher's code. I invented mine. Just like that. And keep to it. Always -- Not always." Geralt is tormented, and framed narratives allow him introspection.
All in all, "The Last Wish" is great, and I'm happy to keep reading more books in the series! Note that "The Last Wish" is the first book, and the next book is "The Sword of Destiny," which is only available as a fan translation, and not "The Blood of Elves."
Nested within the framing story of Geralt recovering from the injuries sustained in the first of the stories collected in The Last Wish, the stories primarily serve as flashbacks to earlier events in the titular Witcher's life.
The first of those stories, and the source for the injuries, is a tale titled simply The Witcher. A king's daughter, cursed at birth as a striga from the king's incestuous union with his sister, has been preying on the population of Temeria. Many had tried to either lift the curse or kill the monster to no avail. Geralt offers his assistance and the assurance that he believes he can end the curse, but Geralt might have more difficulty doing so than he expects.
A Grain of Truth finds Geralt wandering off the beaten path, where he discovers two corpses with peculiar wounds. He soon discovers a large manor with an unexpected beast as a host. An interesting riff on the Beauty and the Beast narrative, A Grain of Truth provides the reader with a glimpse of the strange shapes love can take in Sapkowski's writing.
It's the third story, The Lesser Evil, that provides readers with the explanation for how Geralt obtained the pejorative nickname, the Butcher of Blaviken. Additionally, this story provides readers with a unique twist on the Snow White fairy tale, with a distinctly dark and sinister damsel at its heart.
A Question of Price introduces readers to "The Law of Surprise" and Queen Calanthe of Cintra. Another story with a curse at the core of it, we learn the power of destiny within the world of The Witcher, and we witness that love can be both blind and without judgment even in a realm brimming with cynicism like Sapkowski's creation.
The Edge of The World shares with readers the first adventure featuring Geralt and the bard, Dandelion. Tasked with ridding the farmland of Lower Posada of a devil while restricted by a wise woman to inflict no harm on the creature, Geralt and Dandelion discover that there is more going on than the peasant farmers suspect.
In the story, The Last Wish, we meet Yennefer of Vengerberg after Dandelion and Geralt accidentally release a genie from its captivity, resulting in Dandelion being grievously injured. Seeking assistance from the sorceress, Yennefer, Geralt finds himself a pawn in a game he knew nothing about. He must find a way to restore control if he hopes to save Dandelion's life as well as that of the duplicitous sorceress.
The framing story, The Voice of Reason, culminates in Geralt and Dandelion leaving the temple only to be waylaid by a company of soldiers who challenge Geralt to a duel. We also receive a glimpse into the fate the surrounds Geralt, one of blood and violence.
These stories are in no way chronologically lined up, and many of them will be familiar to those who have watched the Netflix series adapted from Sapkowski's writing. Similarly, the strangely fluid chronological delivery will feel quite familiar to fans of the series. There are, of course, deviations in the adapted material for the series, but the core elements of the stories are present, which makes what Netflix has done quite spectacular.
This series must be read in order. This is the first book. I can't wait to read more!
Geralt is having trouble finding work. No-one wants to get rid of the monsters anymore. Maybe because there are so few of them left. What's a Witcher to do without monsters? How will he earn his livelihood? Where will he fit in? It there room in the world still for Witchers?
***This series is suitable for adult readers who enjoy high fantasy with very little romance and slot of action and adventure :)
Top reviews from other countries
I agree with others that call the writing 'disjointed'. It stutters, short sentences that are good for fights but just don't fit with a relaxed dialog. I can't find a rythm in the writing, like those books that just take your breath out and force you to turn pages one after the other. The fights are quite good, but then there other things like rough and heartless sex scenes that make little sense (they would if the rest of the book was different, but as they are they add little). The reason for me to drop it is that the characters are all soulless. The witcher cannot talk straight, and if you take the character names out of the dialogs you don't really know who is talking. It feels like there are just a few characters that just change name and face and appear in different stories... I don't know, I cannot feel anything for them, just not my type of book. On top of it the stories don't seem to have much depth and add little to the witcher character. Perhaps the other 60% of the book is awesome, but after what I have read, I rather invest my time in something else.
In summary, hope you really like it (most reviewers loved it), but just in case take a peek at a chapter before buying it.
The last story in the book deservedly took third place in a magazine competition and sowed the first seed that created a universe. I enjoyed these original stories, discovering Geralt’s origins in pre-game events. (And these stories are echoed in-game.}
The collection is assembled to reflect the chronology of Geralt’s life, although we have yet to learn many things – and I look forward to reading more books. Sapkowski creates a brilliant and exemplary framing structure for these stories that gives them more impact – and adds to the unfolding plotlines that I know develop. (This is a writing technique that I need to learn.)
Some amazing and complex characters are introduced, including the sorceress, Yennefer, whose life is woven into a complicated relationship with Geralt that opens great possibilities. And then there is Dandelion, the bard whose tales and exploits are something else amusingly different. These are origin stories perhaps before the Witcher-universe had fully-formed, but the characters are relatable.
The tales are rooted in heroic deeds – even if Dandelion has a habit of re-telling them differently. The author demonstrates that he has been inspired by folklore. However, while the echoed fairy stories have a germ of truth, this is a grimmer tradition than Grimm, in a cutthroat environment. There are the Slavic monsters that a reader might expect but other mythologies play their part, adding to a rich tapestry.
The world rings with the realism of bloody steel and fangs, the smells of soiled streets and tempting food. The era doesn’t feel not static, even across so few stories. The times are changing and so are the people. Evolving? Maybe not - but sowing many seeds. This is a medieval world of superstition and persecution – and riven by discrimination that resonates today. Witch-burnings are inevitable, and nothing is black-and-white. Not all monsters are obvious or what they seem.
Is my interpretation coloured by exploring the game-world? Perhaps, but these are the roots of the legend that is Geralt of Rivia. I look forward to discovering how the writing evolved, and how the world of The Witcher builds in later stories and novels. This was definitely the place to start on my quest to enjoy how Sapkowski grew from a very good writer into a master craftsman.
Story – five stars
Setting/World-building – five stars
Authenticity – five stars
Characters – five stars
Structure – five stars
Readability – five stars
Editing – five stars
'The Last Wish' is a good introduction into the world of the Witcher, whether you come at it as the fan of the games or general sci-fi aficionado.
And even if you are neither there is something uniquely true about the human nature, the ever changing world and life in general that can be gleaned from it.
I read it originally as a teenager and in Polish, but years have passed, translations have occurred and the book is still very good.
The narrative flows easily, the plots are exciting and the translation from the author's native Polish is excellent. There were however a few instances in which I had to read the odd paragraph again where the sentences were rather awkward, but this in no way distracted from the story.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this introduction to The Witcher, and will definitely be reading more of the books in the series by this very talented, imaginative author.
People are quite defensive and annoyed when you bring up sexism in fantasy books, but for those of us who look at things at more than face value, then here are some thoughts on how the author deals with female characters.
In the beginning, I felt that yes, there was quite a lot of sexism - I don't mean BY the characters (which was obviously acceptable in Medieval times), but in how the characters are portrayed. It's very much a case of reading the book from a male heterosexual perspective - constant descriptions about women's 'assets', shirts being ripped open, and most of them there for some kind of sexual purpose. Plus there weren't any admirable female characters. Yennefer who some suggest is a 'strong female' was in my opinion just a self-interested lunatic. That may not be the case later in the stories (if she survives) but in books 1 and 2 she's not likeable at all. Even Queen Calanthe is questionable early on. It's not simply that they are flawed, but they don't have anything particularly nuanced about them.
So why did I keep reading if I found that annoying? Well because I love the genre and these stories were good fun and the stereotypes weren't really limited to women, in fact many of the males are no deeper than characters in fairytales. I thought the translation was brilliant - lot's of wit and fluent dialogue. In fact I wouldn't have known they weren't originally written in the English language. Plus there was intelligent messages in drawing the readers attention to the treatment of different 'races' and how we treat nature.
In terms of the sexism, more interesting female characters are introduced into book 2, and there are more references to them bucking the trend or - even better - their sexuality not being referred to at all. Geralt himself is a pretty decent, open-minded character and reverent towards the women in powerful positions, often more so than the men.
And that's the main reason why the books are so good, because Geralt is a great character, but he's not a cliched 'hero' who turns up to save the day in every story. People in the stories are always trying to figure him out, but very little is revealed of inner thoughts, you build a picture from his actions and words. His infatuation with Yennefer is irritating (but that's because she's irritating in my opinion) though it's part of what makes him multi-dimensional.
So I would recommend these stories if you are a fan of the genre and make allowance for the simplistic nature of the characters early on, as they become more complicated later