As I said back in my July review, Andrzej Sapkowski has been one of those authors that has been dangled in front of me over years, mentioned in passing by Polish readers at various forums where I visit, both English and Spanish-language alike. But until this summer, I was unable to get a copy, due to the prohibitive import duties on the Spanish-language books (pushing the total cost to around $50 per book) and the lack of availability in English. But when The Last Wish, which is rather a collection of interconnected tales than a single unified novel, was released, I quickly moved to snatch a copy. I was not disappointed.
I enjoy stories that evoke images of fairy tales and myths, especially those of places with which I am not familiar, so the hints of Slavic rusalka and strega in these stories made the hunter/Witcher Geralt's quests all the more intriguing. Add to that a wry sense of humor and a compassion for those who often are villified for appearance alone in traditional questing tales, and the stage was set for me to have an enjoyable read. Here is an example of Sapkowski's writing that captures this sense of humanity:
"You've not changed a bit, Stregobor." Geralt grimaced. "You're talking nonsense while making wise and meaningful faces. Can't you speak normally?"When I finished this book, I was left wanting to know more, not just about Geralt and the "monsters" he would face, but rather about how Sapkowski would use these scenes to illustrate certain (often) uncomfortable truths about how humans treat one another. This made for one of the more pleasant and challenging reading experiences this year, thus landing The Last Wish on my Countdown for Best 2007 Novel.
"I can," sighed the wizard. "I can if that makes you happy. I made it all the way here, hiding and running from a monstrous being that wants to murder me. My escape proved in vain - it found me. In all probability, it's going to try to kill me tomorrow, or at the latest, the day after."
"Aha," said the witcher, dispassionately. "Now I understand."
"My facing death doesn't ipress you much, does it?"
"Stregobor," said Geralt, "that's the way of the world. One sees all sorts of things when one travels. Two peasants kill each other over a field which, the following day, will be trampled flat by two counts and their retinues trying to kill each other off. Men hand from trees at the roadside, brigands slash merchants' throats. At every step in town you trip over corpses in the gutters. In palaces they stab each other with daggers, and somebody falls under the table at a banquet every minute, blue from poisoning. I'm used to it. So why should a death threat impress me, and one directed at you at that?" (p. 82).