The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, Translated by Danusia Stok

Like most Americans, my first exposure to Geralt of Rivia and the wider world of The Witcher was through video games. It wasn’t until a short while later that I opted to check out the books upon which the video games were adapted. The Last Wish, a collection of seven short stories, was the first I’d read from Andrzej Sapkowski, and the tales were enthralling. Sardonic humor, entertaining dialogue, fast-paced action, captivating characters, and off-beat references to well-known fairy tales made famous through Disney bastardization produced a wholly original fantasy realm in which Geralt plied his trade.
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.

The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski: Narrated by Peter Kenny

Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Tower of Fools won’t necessarily appeal to fans of his far more popular The Witcher series. While elements of his distinctive writing style carry over to this first book of the Hussite Trilogy, the story itself is a major departure from what readers might expect.
The Tower of Fools is more akin to Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver (the first book of The Baroque Cycle) or Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, in that it’s a dense fantasy tale firmly embedded within true European historical context. Whereas The Baroque Cycle transpired in a fictionalized version of the late 1600s to early 1700s, and Clarke’s novel took place in the 1800s, Sapkowski’s trilogy inserts itself into Eastern Europe of the 1400s.
We are introduced to Reinmar of Bielawa, an unlikely and peculiar hero, as unwanted adventure is thrust upon him by virtue of Reinmar caught in the process of a different sort of thrusting–with the wife of a member of a wealthy and powerful family. On the run from vengeful aristocrats (and those working on their behalf), the inquisition (for being a magician and heretic), and sinister forces with unknown motives, Reinmar finds himself on a meandering scramble across the Eastern Europe of the late Middle Ages.
Populated by an almost intimidating cast of additional characters, while not as bad as Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow–a book I’ve never been able to finish–it becomes challenging at times to keep track of precisely who is who. Strange acquaintances along the way become friends, friends become enemies, and enemies become victims of the peculiar sort of charmed life Reinmar seems to live. With the familiar wit and subtle comedic writing Sapkowski brings to the narrative, we witness an extreme example of fortune favoring the fool. As Reinmar stumbles from one bit of trouble to another, dragging unfortunate allies with him as he careens from frying pan to fire and back again.
Densely packed with historical events and figures of the Hussite Revolutionary period, The Tower of Fools is as much a history lesson as a tale of fantasy. Though Sapkowski’s novel incorporates elements of magic, witches/sorcerers, and supernatural beings aplenty, the narrative is so deeply fixed in a foundation of historical veracity that it all feels more textured and real than it might otherwise. Of course, those familiar with The Witcher are well aware that the author is capable of fleshing out a fictional world without the benefit of drawing the fine details from real-world history. It’s a nice touch, though, being able to explore a historical period many of us aren’t familiar with.
The titular Tower of Fools–though referenced at numerous points throughout the story–makes an appearance in Chapter 26, at almost the end of the book. It could be argued that the wider world we witness in the book is the real Narrenturm, and the whole of Eastern Europe and the Holy Roman Empire makes up the real Tower of Fools.
Though the story is not one that I can praise in more than peculiarly specific ways, the narration provided by Petter Kenny is spectacular. This narrator is impressive, to put it mildly. He successfully tackles various accents, dozens of characters, as well as songs and chants performed in Latin and other languages, all with a clarity and quality that almost astounded me.