The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, tr. Danusia Stok (1993, 2007)

I have not written a book review in quite a while. My last one was Stet by Diana Athill in July 2019. A month later I had my baby and though I tried to read during feeds or when he was asleep, it just never really happened – I started a couple of books but just had to give up after a while. Nothing can prepare you for quite how intense and exhausting it is to care for a newborn baby. Looking back I can’t believe I thought I’d be able to read at all.

Only now, when he is five months old, nearly six, have I been able to do any real reading. In the last month or so I’ve been able to read magazines and articles, and so I figured I could read a whole book eventually – my little one is much more awake and active than when he was tiny, but he can also amuse himself with toys for a bit, and he still has feeds and sleeps long enough for me to read something. And now, though I’m still always tired, as you are when it’s been almost a year since you’ve slept through the night (no one prepares you for the wakefulness of some nights during pregnancy…), I am used to it, and not quite so overwhelmed as I was in the newborn days. Back then (a lifetime ago) he slept for hours at a time and I would lie down and sleep on the sofa when he did; now it’s just forty minutes or an hour after a feed, asleep on me. So I can’t sleep too in that time, and I realised the time I spent on my phone, even if I was reading an article or whatever, could be spent reading an actual book. Once I realised that I felt like I could get a grip on things, finally. It was incredible to me that it had been months since I had read a book. Months since I had done the thing that makes me feel safe and happy, makes me feel satisfied and restored; that makes me feel like myself.

I find a particular joy in taking the baby out in his buggy, and this was only improved upon by making an outing with him to Waterstones a couple of weeks ago. I’d not been there in what felt like forever (though I think I must have gone there to buy Christmas presents?) and I was just very excited. I even bought a snazzy tote bag to take my books home in – and I bought five of them! Granted one was for my husband, but still. I took my time and chose what I wanted, some that I’d been keen to read for a while, and some I just stumbled across. The final book I chose was The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski (translated by Danusia Stok). As you may know this is the first in the series of books that both the video game and Netflix series The Witcher are based upon. I loved the series so I thought I’d give the books a go – always the way with me. I’m not a big reader of fantasy, but when you haven’t read a book in months you’ll go for anything you might enjoy. I certainly didn’t want to read something I felt I should read, if that makes sense.

And yesterday I finished reading The Last Wish – for the first time since early August I finished a book! I’m still basking in that feeling. I feel like I’ve achieved something that wasn’t baby related. Almost everything in my life and in my thoughts is baby related at the moment and has been for a long time, even before he was born. It has been blissful to be able to read. I’ve mostly read during feeds, especially before bed. It’s made me feel calm like nothing else. Finishing a book is one of the best feelings I know, and today I got to feel that again.

The book itself was very enjoyable and easy to read. Sometimes you can tell it’s translated as the language gets a little clunky here and there, with laboured phrasing or speech patterns. But that also might just be the writer. There are also some terrible descriptions of women, with unnecessary focus on breasts and how pretty or attractive the women are (or aren’t). You can tell it’s written by a man. And I think you can tell that it was originally published in 1993 in this way as well – I think these days you’d have to be a bit more socially conscious and not be as dismissive of women as this book can sometimes be.

There are a lot of great things about The Last Wish. There are excellent characters, not least Geralt himself, and the story is engaging, with a good mix of action, drama, and smaller more personal moments. I think Geralt as a character and the concept of a witcher are excellent and quite original, and more detail about him is slowly revealed in such a way as to keep you interested. There are also lots of amusing references to stories in the fantasy world that are very similar to our own fairy tales, such as Snow White, and Rumpelstiltskin.

The book has one framing story that forms every other chapter, and in between are various episodes from Geralt’s adventures. My only issue with this was that you’re not always sure when those adventures happened in relation to the framing story – and that this structure means The Last Wish is sometimes referred to as a book of short stories, and sometimes as a novel (for instance on the front cover it’s a novel, but on GoodReads, Wikipedia, and the publisher website it’s referred to as a book of short stories). I’m not sure what it officially is, but it doesn’t really matter. It just matters that it’s the first book you’re supposed to read in the series, and it’s a fantastic introduction to the character and his world. If you’ve seen the Netflix series then most of the stories in this book will be familiar, but as you might expect they are often fleshed out with a bit more detail, and there are some variations in some stories that differ from the series. It’s quite an easy book to read and generally I’d say that if you liked the Netflix series then you’ll like this book. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll read more of the books in the series, but I can see them providing an easy diversion between more challenging or difficult books. And honestly I’m just so pleased to have read an entire book (and to have written this blog post!) that I’ll always think of The Last Wish fondly.

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The Last Wish was originally published as Ostatnie życzenie by superNOWA in Poland in 1993; and in English by Gollancz in 2007. I read the 2008 Gollancz papaerback edition (pictured).

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