THE LAST WISH is a series of intertwined short stories, many of which are interesting and creative retellings of European fairytales (such as telling the story of Cindrella with a striga!). Nine times out of ten, I would urge people to read the book before watching the film or the television show, but in this instance, I would actually recommend the opposite. The world of Geralt of Rivia is a complex one with many characters and details, and watching the show first really helps you imagine it more clearly, as well as giving you more of an emotional stake.
I loved the television show when I watched it. It was everything I had hoped Game of Thrones would be, and wasn't. There's an incredibly diverse cast, many of the women characters are strong and interesting, and Geralt of Rivia is a surprisingly compassionate and noble hero who is completely kick-butt but not at the cost of his humanity (although he might disagree). I fell in love with the world from the first episode and it doesn't hurt that Henry Cavill and Anya Chalotra are total babes.
Reading the book was an interesting experience because it was really interesting to see what changed in the show and what was removed. You're thrown into the action right from the beginning with a striga (vampire-like creature) and it never slows from there-- fight scenes, emotional conflict, court intrigue, magic. The book has everything! The arc with Renfri destroyed me inside just as it did in the show, and the trick Yennefer plays on Geralt for ogling her made me cackle just as it did in the show. But the chapter about Nivellen and his enchanted house (Beauty and the Beast?) didn't seem to be included, which is a shame, as I thought that was a really dark and interesting chapter. So Gothic.
THE LAST WISH is one of those books that will appeal to most people who love fantasy but will appeal more and gain more depth if you have a rich background in folklore and history. I grew up with tons of books of fairytales from a number of cultures, including Eastern Europe (so, things like The Shoemaker's Apron and The Glass Mountain) and the Middle East, some of which are referenced here. Like Sapkowski casually references Ifrits (spelled afreets here), which are Islamic fire demons!
I would honestly recommend this book to anyone who liked the epic fantasy world of Game of Thrones but felt let down by the characters and the representation. I loved Yennefer, who was allowed to be strong and complex but wasn't villified in the book. I loved the friendship between Geralt and Dandelion (renamed Jaskier in the show), and the easy camaraderie between them. I loved the morality in this world and how richly it explored the concepts of good and evil, the thin line between them, and what it means to be noble, right, and human, even if we don't see ourselves that way.
This is such a deep book and I loved it so much. I can't wait for the second season (and the second book). Seriously, I've been let down by so many fantasy novels, it feels good to see one become so popular that I actually really enjoyed.
4.5 out of 5 stars