THE LAST WISH, A BOOK BY ANDRZEJ SAPKOWSKI (BOOK REVIEW AND RECOMMENDATION)
In this post, I shall review The Last Wish, a short story collection by Andrzej Sapkowski. In my last post, I reviewed Time of Contempt, the second novel and the forth book in the Witcher saga. I had actually read the sequel to it and was planning to review Baptism of Fire. However, I decided to review The Last Wish instead.
The Last Wish is considered the first book in the Witcher series, even if it was published in 1993, a year after the publication of Sword of Destiny. The reason why The Last Wish is considered the first Witcher book is all due to do the chronology of the events it describes. The events described in The Last Wish take place before those described in Sword of Destiny. I have recently listen to an audio version of this book, so before I continue with other reviews, I want to review The Last Wish.
When I stared reading The Witcher series (sometime in June), I started with Sword of Destiny and followed with Blood of Elves, Time of Contempt and Baptism of Fire. Yes, I was aware that I was starting with the second book in the series ( mostly because the cover of the book said so), but I figured I can always read the first one when I happened upon it. However, I got so into the books that I read them one after the other. Now, that I have finally read The Last Wish, I can't wait to start my review. Before writing my reviews, I did read about events described in The Last Wish, so I was familiar with the plot. Surprisingly, that didn't ruin the way for me. The Last Wish is so well written! It's not a long book so it's perfect if you don't have lot of time on your hands.
THE LAST WISH, A BOOK BY A. SAPKOWSKI 5/5
The Last Wish could just be the best book in the series for me. It is definitely my favourite among the Witcher books I have read so far. The Witcher series started with short stories. In my opinion, the short story format works really well for this series, especially with the white wolf as protagonist. Geralt is an absolutely fascinating protagonist. He is not a typical hero. Geralt has a wicked sense of humour and an anti-political attitude towards the world. Once you learn more about this fantasy world, you start to understand Geralt and his philosophy of neutrality better. It's a dark and grim world filled with monsters of all kinds. Often it's people who turns out worse than monsters. The reader really has the opportunity to get inside of Geralt's head in this book. Most of Geralt's words are both quotable and memorable. He alternates between being seriously philosophic and wickedly humorous often.
'PEOPLE LIKE TO INVENT MONSTERS' QUOTE
While some episodes (short stories) in his book feature Geralt as a typical monster slaying protagonist, he often questions his job and wonders whether the real monsters are his fellow humans. Thus we get to see there are different sides to him. One quote really caught my attention, the one where Geralt explains why humans like to invent monsters:
“People," Geralt turned his head, "like to invent monsters and monstrosities. Then they seem less monstrous themselves. When they get blind-drunk, cheat, steal, beat their wives, starve an old woman, when they kill a trapped fox with an axe or riddle the last existing unicorn with arrows, they like to think that the Bane entering cottages at daybreak is more monstrous than they are. They feel better then. They find it easier to live.”
THE WRITING IS WELL PACED AND ENGAGING
What made this one the best book for me? Well, despite being familiar with the events this book describes, I immensely enjoyed it. I read the summary of these stories prior to reading them, but it didn't take anything from them. The pacing in this book is simply perfect. Every story has its own rhythm and atmosphere. The stories are unusual, unique and well connected. The writing is engaging and interesting. Take a look at this paragraph:
“The Witcher had a knife to his throat. He was wallowing in a wooden tub, brimfull with soapsuds, his head thrown against the slippery rim. The bitter taste of soap lingered in his mouth as the knife, blunt as a doorknob, scraped his Adam's apple painfully and moved towards his chin with a grating sound.”
Isn't that the most dramatic description of shaving you have ever read? Sapkowski knows how to keep the reader at his toes.
THE LAST WISH IS A PROFOUND BOOK IN MANY WAYS
I felt like there is a real depth to this book. While it retells classical fairy tales and reinterprets myths, it manages to raise many interesting questions. It explains both Geralt's views of the world and his beliefs. In other words, it's the perfect introduction into the Witcher universe. At some points in this book, Geralt seems at peace with his life, at others, he questions it. I thought this was very human. For example, at one point he doesn't want to a witcher anymore.
“You remind me, Geralt, of an old fisherman who, toward the end of his life, discovers that fish stink and the breeze from the sea makes your bones ache. Be consistent. Talking and regretting won’t get you anywhere.”
“Become a priest. You wouldn't be bad at it with all your scruples, your morality, your knowledge of people and of everything. The fact that you don't believe in any gods shouldn't be a problem—I don't know many priests who do.”
On the other hand, while Geralt speaks with an elf, he seems at peace with his profession and mutations.
“How do you find cohabiting with neighbors from whom, after all, you do differ somewhat?"
"I manage." The witcher looked him straight in the eyes, "I manage because I have to. Because I've no other way out. Because I've overcome the vanity and pride of being different. I've understood that they are a pitiful defense against being different. Because I've understood that the sun shines differently when something changes, but I'm not the axis of those changes. The sun shines differently, but it will continue to shine, and jumping at it with a hoe isn't going to do anything. We've got to accept facts, elf. That's what we've got to learn.”
BEING A WITCHER ISN'T EASY AND IT'S A LONESOME JOB
We also get a non-romantic view of Geralt's profession in his book. This is something that is present in other books as well. The witchers are often hated by ordinary people for their powers and skills. This is something that is repeated throughout the series. In general, people don't like witchers. Despite the fact that witchers kill monsters and thus obviously save lives, they are not exactly seen as heroes. In fact, Geralt is often attacked by people. There are some exceptions, though. Women seem to be particularly attracted to Geralt for some reason. A man who can kill a monster and this save lives must be attractive in some ways. The witchers are strong and brave, so some women might be attracted to them. Still, it's a rather lonely life.
“I visited towns and fortresses. I looked for proclamations nailed to posts at the crossroads. I looked for the words ‘Witcher urgently needed.’ And then there’d be a sacred site, a dungeon, necropolis or ruins, forest ravine or grotto hidden in the mountains, full of bones and stinking carcasses. Some creature which lived to kill, out of hunger, for pleasure, or invoked by some sick will. A manticore, wyvern, fogler, aeschna, ilyocoris, chimera, leshy, vampire, ghoul, graveir, werewolf, giant scorpion, striga, black annis, kikimora, vypper… so many I’ve killed. There’d be a dance in the dark and a slash of the sword, and fear and distaste in the eyes of my employer afterward.”
THE LAST WISH FELT MORE LIKE A NOVEL THAN A SHORT STORY COLLECTION
It felt more like a novel than a collection of short stories. It felt like it was a novel written as a collection of short stories as opposed as a collection of short stories that was turned into a novel. There seems to be a clear writing vision behind this book. The stories are not only well connected but they are the perfect introduction to the series.
THE FRAME NARRATIVE REALLY WORKS TO THE BOOK ADVANTAGE
The frame narrative frame was ingenious. It really tied all the stories together nicely. The book opens with Geralt waking in a temple where he is being cared for by head priestess. As he recovers from his wounds, Geralt travels back in time and remembers different adventures. Besides the framed narrative, I really enjoyed the conversations between the priestess and Geralt.
MANY STORIES IN THE BOOK FEEL LIKE TWISTED OR HORROR INFUSED FAIRY TALES
Compared to other books in the series, this one felt more horror infused. The description of Geralt's battles with certain monsters could be described as fantasy horror. Moreover, the descriptions of violence in some of these stories is quite graphic.
In my review of Sword of Destiny, I described Sapkowski's writing style as less graphic than George R.R. Martin but I might have spoken too soon. Speaking of George R.R. Martin, I giggled when I read Geralt saying this line: “No. I’ve no time to waste. Winter’s coming.” Doesn't that sound familiar? However, the Witcher book actually predate The Song of Ice and Fire saga hence it's just a coincidence. Moreover, the Witcher books were originally published in Polish so Martin couldn't have read them either. There are definitely some similarities in their writing style, especially in realistic and naturalistic scenes.
When it comes to gore, I think it really depends on the book. Some books in the Witcher saga are more graphic, some less. In this book, there is both violence and gore, but it's never overbearing. I love Martin, I really do, but reading a page after page about this or that infected wound was too much gore for me. Sapkowski feels more balanced in his descriptions of violence, especially in this book, that is after all, not very long.
INDIVIDUAL REVIEWS OF ALL SHORT STORIES IN THIS BOOK
VOICE OF REASON PART ONE
The book opens with framed narrative, with Geralt awakening in a temple, more precisely in the Ellander's Temple of Melitele. A seriously wounded Geralt is still trying to make sense of things when he sees or rather feels a beautiful girl next to him. She is described somewhat poetically, although it turns out later, that she looks slightly different than Geralt imagined.
Geralt always imagines Yennefer it seems. This is also the book where Yen and Geralt's first meeting is described and let me tell you I wasn't disappointed. At start, Yennefer isn't mentioned directly just referenced (as usual) when Geralt hooks up with someone and he does it a lot. Women can't stay away from him. Who is the girl this time? It turns out that it is Iola, a servant priestess (or a pagan nun? not sure what title to use) who doesn't resemble Yennefer as much as it initially seemed to sleep dazed Geralt.
We don't get a lot of details about this religion that is practiced in the temple but the priestesses seem quite open in some ways. So it happens that Geralt and Iole make love and soon after fall asleep together. What happens next is a sort of flashback because Geralt is dreaming of his fight with the monster who wounded him. That is how the whole book is framed. Geralt is recovering in the temple, where head priestess Nenneke takes a keen interest in him, and so we get to hear stories about him as he remembers them. They are told in a third person narration but are focused on Geralt. Well written dialogue not only contribute to the portrayal of the Witcher and other characters, they make the book more dynamic and interesting.
“Nenneke felt the wound, washed it and began to curse. He already knew this routine by heart. She had started on the very first day, and had never failed to moan when she saw the marks left by the princess of Wyzim's talons.
'It's terrible! To let yourself be slashed like this by an ordinary striga. Muscles, tendons -- she only just missed your carotid artery! Great Melitele! Geralt, what's happening to you? How did she get so close to you? What did you want with her? To mount her?'
He didn't answer, and smiled faintly.”
What was the monster that seriously wounded Geralt? It was a striga. The first adventure story opens as the witcher finds out about the King of Temeria, Foltest's offer- a reward to anyone who can lift the curse on his daughter without killing her.
It is revealed that the striga is the punishment of sorts for the incestuous union between the king and his late sister, Adda. The name made me immediately think of Lord Byron's daughter Ada. I wonder if the man who was allegedly so in love with his half-sister that his wife accused him of incest wasn't the inspiration for this story, especially as the king seems like a decent man. His daughter - the striga, however, is truly terrifying: “Her Royal Highness, the cursed royal bastard, is four cubits high, shaped like a barrel of beer, has a maw which stretches from ear to ear and is full of dagger-like teeth, has red eyes and a red mop of hair! Her paws, with claws like a wild cat's, hang down to the ground! I'm surprised we've yet to send her likeness to friendly courts! The princess, plague choke her, is already fourteen. Time to think of giving her hand to a prince in marriage!”
Style-wise, there are elements of horror in this story. It's fantasy with elements of horror if you will. The king Foltest naturally wishes that his daughter not be harmed for the child is not guilty for anything. On the other hand, the child had killed many innocent people up to that point. The king actually grants Geralt permission to kill her if the curse cannot be lifted, for he has probably come to terms with the fact it might be inevitable. Geralt is shocked when he finds out the striga had been free for seven long years and is unsure whether the girl can live a normal life even if the curse is lifted. This story reveals a lot about Geralt's principles. Geralt is informed that other witchers have tried and given up. Many men were killed by striga. Obviously, Geralt doesn't shy away from danger and will do what he considers just. He is a straightforward man who tells he truth.
Geralt sets to his task and decides to spend the night at the old palace which houses the striga. Everyone had moved to a new palace, leaving the old one abandoned. Geralt is led by Lord Ostrit from Novigrad, who tries to bribe him into abandoning the job, as the striga can be used as proof against king Foltest. Geralt isn't interested in the offer and uses Ostrit as bait. Beside it being a sort of a funny moment, it also shows that our protagonist isn't easy to bribe. The monster slayer is bribe resistant.
What follows is a rather bloody and graphic battle between Geralt and the truly terrifying striga. Unable to defeat it with force, Geralt outsmarts the stiga. He seals himself into its crypt, together with the corpse of striga's unfortunate mother. Geralt seals the crypt with the help of witcher magic and falls asleep. Once the striga is forced to spend the night outside its lair, the curse is lifted- or so it seems. Morning arrives and Geralt approaches the girl, who looks normal. However, the girl still attacks him. Geralt finds it difficult to hurt her in her present normal form. Taking advantage of that, the girl bites his neck, seriously wounding him. In fact, she nearly kills him. Geralt manages to kick the striga unconscious before he faints. Fortunately, Geralt is found by king's man and both he and the girl are thus saved. Well, sort of. The girl might never be normal. Geralt is informed she spends her time crying. Geralt is severely injured and he comes to his senses in the temple. So, the story comes full circle.
“Geralt looked out of the palace window for the last time. Dusk was falling rapidly. Beyond the lake the distant lights of Wyzim twinkled. There was a wilderness around the old palace – a strip of no-man’s land with which, over seven years, the town had cut itself off from this dangerous place, leaving nothing but a few ruins, rotten beams and the remains of a gap-toothed palisade which had obviously not been worth dismantling and moving. As far away as possible – at the opposite end of the settlement – the king had built his new residence. The stout tower of his new palace loomed black in the distance, against the darkening blue of the sky.”
THE VOICE OF REASON PART 2- Once again, the framed narrative places us into the temple. It's morning and as priestess Nenneke awakens Geralt and Iola, she asks Geralt to hear his fate and take a part in a trance with Iola. Geralt doesn't want to and cites his lack of faith as a reason. Nenneke dismisses his reasons, but Geralt still refuses.
Don't you think”—he smiled—“that my lack of faith makes such a trance pointless?” “No, I don't. And do you know why?” “No.” Nenneke leaned over and looked him in the eyes with a strange smile on her pale lips. “Because it would be the first proof I’ve ever heard of that a lack of faith has any kind of power at all.”
“As I said, your view on religion is known to me, it’s never particularly bothered me and, no doubt, it won’t bother me in the future. I’m not a fanatic. You’ve a right to believe that we’re governed by Nature and the Force hidden within her. You can think that the gods, including my Melitele, are merely a personification of this power invented for simpletons so they can understand it better, accept its existence. According to you, that power is blind. But for me, Geralt, faith allows you to expect what my goddess personifies from nature: order, law, goodness. And hope.”
A GRAIN OF TRUTH
This story is a modern interpretation of Beauty and the Best. While riding through a forest, Geralt comes across corpses and inspects them. There are two of them: a man and a young girl, both with strange wounds. Following their traces, the Witcher arrives at a seemingly deserted house.
Upon approaching the house, a beast resembling a bear, tries to scare him away.
“The witcher's right hand rose, as fast as lightning, above his right shoulder while his left jerked the belt across his chest, making the sword hilt jump into his palm. The blade, leaping from the scabbard with a hiss, traced a short, luminous semi-circle and froze, the point aiming at the charging beast. At the sight of the sword, the monster stopped short, spraying gravel in all directions. The witcher didn't even flinch. The creature was humanoid, and dressed in clothes which, though tattered, were of good quality and not lacking in stylish and useless ornamentation. His human form, however, reached no higher than the soiled collar of his tunic, for above it loomed a gigantic, hairy, bear-like head with enormous ears, a pair of wild eyes and terrifying jaws full of crooked fangs in which a red tongue flickered like flame. “Flee, mortal man!” the monster roared, flapping his paws but not moving from the spot. “I’ll devour you! Tear you to pieces!” The witcher didn't move, didn't lower his sword. “Are you deaf? Away with you!”
“It is customary,” Geralt agreed, “when faced with people who greet their guests with a roar and a cry that they’re going to tear you to pieces.”
“Pox on it!” The monster got worked up. “And he’ll insult me on top of it all, this straggler. A guest, is he? Pushes his way into the yard, ruins someone else’s flowers, plays the lord and thinks that he’ll be brought bread and salt. Bah!”
The creature spat, gasped and shut his jaws. The lower fangs protruded, making him look like a boar.
“So?” The witcher spoke after a moment, lowering his sword. “Are we going to carry on like this?”
“And what do you suggest instead? Lying down?” snorted the monster.”
The witcher isn't afraid, and the bear monster Nivellen invites Geralt to enter the strange house. Possibly Nivellen is low key impressed with Geralt who didn't even flinch. Geralt is interested in the beast, possibly reading the clues right away. The witchers know a lot about monsters. They can also tell a difference between a cursed man and a monster. Geralt is pretty knowledgeable about lifting curses. There is another story in this collection that shows him helping to lift a curse.
The two have dinner in the strange house that has supernatural powers and obeys Nivellen's commands. Nivellen is initially suspicious of Geralt, knowing that witchers kill monsters, but once Geralt tells him he knows Nivellen is no monster, they converse more openly.
“You aren’t a monster, Nivellen,” the witcher said dryly.
“Pox, that’s something new. So what am I? Cranberry pudding? A flock of wild geese flying south on a sad November morning? No? Maybe I’m the virtue that a miller’s buxom daughter lost in spring? Well, Geralt, tell me what I am. Can’t you see I’m shaking with curiosity?”
I quite enjoyed their dialogue. Geralt was quite careful in choosing his words, showing himself to be wiser than he seems. Moreover, it is obvious he wants to help Nivellen. So, Nivellen opens up and his narrative is fascinating.
The cursed man tell his life story, starting with being raised by his father who was some kind of bandit that met his end while Nivellen was still a boy. Nivellen thus became a leader of his father's gang and acted quite stupidly as one would expect. He was essentially a boy in bad company. As the leader of his late father's gang of bandits, he did more bad than good. Not that bandits ever do good, but what he did was deserving of a curse. Urged by his gang, Nivellen raped a priestess of an uknown temple, who cursed him before killing herself. The curse turned him into the beast. The priestess told Nivellen about the curse, but he has forgotten her exact words and isn't sure how the curse can be lifted.
Eventually, Nivllen returned to his family home, as he had his father's money hidden there. Initially, he was horrified but slowly he got used to his condition. He used to scare everyone away, but started to crave human company again. Once Nivellen caught a man stealing from his garden and being lonesome asked the man to bring his daughter as ransom to save his life. The man obeyed and was rewarded richly. So, Nivellen got into habit of paying the daughters of locals to spend a year with him.
Nivellen told Geralt of different girls that all got quite used to him. He tried the kissing method with some of them, remembering the old fairy tales and legends, but no kiss helped to lift his curse. Nivellen eventually got used to things as they are. Not only did he gave up trying to lift the curse, but he started enjoying the girls' company in his bear monster shape. He was no longer as insecure as he was as a young man. In other words, he found positives about it or so Nivellen claimed. He explains that as a monster he has perfect health and everything he can ask for (both the material security in the form of his father's treasure and magical house coming really in handy). At the same time, Nivellen is terrified as he started suffering from nightmares and is afraid he is tuning into monster permanently
However, there is something else at stake and Geralt senses this. Nivellen says that he got tired of local girls and now enjoys a company of a girl he believes to be a rusalka (water fairy) because she doesn't speak. Nivellen doesn't want to lift the curse because every rusalka is afraid of humans. However, Nivellen is also worried he is turning into a real monster because his nightmares. Geralt warns Nivellen that his newest girlfriend Vereena is quite possibly a monster. Nivellen seems reluctant to accept Geralt's help, unsure if Vereena would love him if he was human, so the two part ways. Geralt rides away and continues his travel. However, his horse reacts to Vereen with fear. Geralt scolds his horse, but then it dawns on him what is going on. Vereena has been inducing nightmares so she could control Nivellen and use his monster strength. She wants to turn him into an eternal monster bodyguard boyfriend of some sort.
Geralt hurries to the strange house, where he meets the mute Vereena, with her almost transparent skin. Geralt knows what she is now, a bruxa, a blood thirsty vampire. Vereena has been killing people around, including the girl and her father that Geralt had found. She communicates with Geralt telepathically and he can hear her in his head. Geralt attacks her, but finds her more powerful then he imagines. What follows is a terrible fight in which Vereena grows more and more terrible, until she overcomes Geralt.
Vereena almost kills the witcher, growing terrible, but then Nivellen appears and impales her. Once impaled, she looses her strength but the graphic violence doesn't stop. The bruxa continues to move, impaling herself, coming closer and closer to Nivellen. As Vereena approaches him, she regains her previous form and the blood comes out of her wound.
“Slowly, as if a caress, the bruxa moved her tiny hands along the stake, stretched her arms out to their full length, grasped the pole hard and pulled on it again. Over a meter of bloodied wood already protruded from her back. Her eyes were wide open, her head flung back. Her sighs became more frequent and rhythmic, turning into a ruckling wheeze. Geralt stood but, fascinated by the scene, still couldn't make himself act. He heard words resounding dully within his skull, as if echoing around a cold, damp dungeon. Mine. Or nobody's. I love you. Love you. Another terrible, vibrating sigh, choking in blood. The bruxa moved further along the pole and stretched out her arms. Nivellen roared desperately and, without letting go of the stake, tried to push the vampire as far from himself as possible—but in vain. She pulled herself closer and grabbed him by the head. He wailed horrifically and tossed his hairy head. The bruxa moved along the pole again and tilted her head toward Nivellen's throat. The fangs flashed a blinding white."
The vampire then confesses her love to confused Nivellen just before Geralt finishes her off. Her love breaks Nivellen's curse, as it turns out she actually loved him. Nivellen becomes a young man again and is at loss for words. Gerald explains that the old legends about a kiss from a maiden lifting a curse contain a grain of truth:
“There's a grain of truth in every fairy tale.. Love and blood. They both posses a mighty power. Wizards and learned men have been racking their brains over this for years, but they haven't arrived at anything except that-"
"That what, Geralt?"
"It has to be true love.”
I found this story quite interesting. If such monsters as bruxa are capable of true love, then aren't all monsters capable of it?
THE VOICE OF REASON PART 3
“Shut up, you brat," interrupted Geralt, smiling nastily "Halt your uncontrolled little tongue. You speak to a lady who deserves respect, especially from a Knight of the White Rose...”
As the above quote indicates, Geralt meets some bad mannered knights of the Order of the White Rose. Two of them Count Falwick and Sir Tailles, arrive to the temple, explaining they are ordered by the prince of Ellander to remove Geralt out of town. The head priestess scolds them and sends them away but they continue with their threats. Geralt doesn't want to create problems for the temple, so he promises to leave in three days. Nenneke is suspicious of the kings and when they don't show her the due respect, Geralts calls one of them a brat. The brat challenges Geralt to a duel, but the knights finally leave, promising to return. I liked this introduction to the story and the way the head priestess held her ground.
“Did you hear, boys? The witcher will remain here for three days because that’s his fancy. And I, priestess of Great Melitele, will for those three days be his host, for that is my fancy. Tell that to Hereward. No, not Hereward. Tell that to his wife, the noble Ermellia, adding that if she wants to continue receiving an uninterrupted supply of aphrodisiacs from my pharmacy, she’d better calm her duke down. Let her curb his humors and whims, which look ever more like symptoms of idiocy.”
THE LESSER EVIL
The Geralt was called the butcher of Blaviken by the knights. In this story we learn how he got that unfortunate nickname. In addition, we basically get to read a very dark version of Snow white. If you always wanted to read a Snow white as a horror fantasy, this is a story for you. When I say it's dark, it really is- it talks of rapes, murders, abuses and so on. It's quite graphic as well. There should be a warning or a disclaimer.
The story opens on the eve of a festival, with Geralt riding into the town of Blaviken with a monster carcass he hopes to gain some reward for. The city elder refuses to pay him, but his guards suggest Geralt to visit the town wizard, Stregobor, who might have an interest in the carcass. As it happens, Stregobor is a mage not unknown to Geralt. Stregobor is delighted to see him but only because he wants the witcher's help.
“During his life, the witcher had met thieves who looked like town councilors, councilors who looked like beggars, harlots who looked like princesses, princesses who looked like calving cows and kings who looked like thieves. But Stregobor always looked as, according to every rule and notion, a wizard should look. He was tall, thin and stooping, with enormous bushy gray eyebrows and a long, crooked nose. To top it off, he wore a black, trailing robe with improbably wide sleeves, and wielded a long staff capped with a crystal knob.”
Geralt is invited into Stregobor's house where the mage tells his story and explains his predicament. Stregobor speaks of prophecy of cursed female children, and he quite possibly truly believes he is on the right side when he speaks about the imprisonment of marked female children in the towers. Supposedly, the girls are marked by abnormal cruelty.
“Lilit's path was to be prepared by ‘sixty women wearing gold crowns, who would fill the river valleys with blood.’”
“Nonsense,” said the witcher. “And what's more, it doesn't rhyme. All decent predictions rhyme.”
Geralt clearly considers such witch hunts monstrous and can't refrain from spiteful comments. For Gerald, such prophecies are perhaphs just excuses for prosecution of innocent. Stregobor wants Geralt's help to stop a young woman who wants to kill him. Geralt is immediately suspicious, especially as the mage claims that a supposedly cursed woman is a monster.
"No. You won't win me over with your reasons nor convince me that Eltibad wasn't a murdering madman, so let's get back to the monster threatening you. You'd better understand that, after the introduction you've given me, I don't like the story. But I'll hear you out."
"Without interrupting with spiteful comments?"
"That I can't promise.”
When the mage admits that he teamed up with the girl's stepmother to kill the girl, Geralt is sure that Stregovor is, if not a villain, then certainly not a good guy. Geralt continues to interrupt the story with spiteful comments.
“Aridea quite often turned to the Mirror—’
‘With the usual question, I take it,’ interrupted Geralt. ‘“Who is the fairest of them all?” I know; all Nehalenia’s Mirrors are either polite or broken.”
The girl's story resembles that of a Snow white but is full of violence. Stregbor presents himself as a victim but Geralt is not impressed.
“Then, four years later I received news from Aridea. She’d tracked down the little one, who was living in Mahakam with seven gnomes whom she’d managed to convince it was more profitable to rob merchants on the roads than to pollute their lungs with dust from the mines.”
Stregobor wants Geralt's protection but he refuses and leaves. Both options are evil and he doesn't want to interfere.
“Evil is evil, Stregobor,” said the witcher seriously as he got up. “Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I’m not a pious hermit. I haven't done only good in my life. But if I’m to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.”
....“Zło to zło, Stregoborze – rzekł poważnie wiedźmin, wstając. – Mniejsze, większe, średnie, wszystko jedno, proporcje są umowne, a granice zatarte. Nie jestem świątobliwym pustelnikiem, nie samo dobro czyniłem w życiu. Ale jeżeli mam wybierać pomiędzy jednym złem a drugim, to wolę nie wybierać wcale.”
The girl has been through a lot. She was imprisoned, raped and almost killed. Is it any wonder that she wants revenge on Stregobor? Nevertheless, as the story grows increasingly chiller and one learns about the murders committed by the young Snow white, the reader has to wonder. Is she an innocent girl who turned a killer or was she always a killer? What if the prophecy is true?
“You don't believe in it, you say. Well you're right, in a way. Only Evil and Greater Evil exist and beyond them, in the shadows, lurks True Evil. True Evil, Geralt, is something you can barely imagine, even if you believe nothing can still surprise you. And sometimes, True Evil seizes you by the throat and demands you choose between it and another, slightly lesser, Evil.”
The Snow White arrives. She's named Renfri and she has arrived to Blaviken to kill Stregbor. Geralts meets the bloodthirsty Refri and her gang of mercenaries. Refri informs Geralt that she is under the protection from a king, proving she is well connected. Gerlt goes to bed but someone is waiting for him.
“There was someone in his little attic room. Geralt knew it before he even reached the door, sensing it through the barely perceptible vibration of his medallion. He blew out the oil lamp which had lit his path up the stairs, pulled the dagger from his boot, slipped it into the back of his belt and pressed the door handle. The room was dark. But not for a witcher. He was deliberately slow in crossing the threshold; he closed the door behind him carefully. The next second he dived at the person sitting on his bed, crushed them into the linen, forced his forearm under their chin and reached for his dagger. He didn't pull it out. Something wasn't right. “Not a bad start,” she said in a muffled voice, lying motionless beneath him. “I expected something like this, but I didn't think we'd both be in bed so quickly. Take your hand from my throat please.”
Renfri sneaks into Geralt's room and we hear the story from her perspective. She tells him of her life before Stregobor, a life of princess and of her life after the mage tries to kill her- a proper horror story.
Renfri tells her extremely traumatic life story and pleads with Geralt to kill Stregobor. Nevertheless, Gerald refuses her as he did Stregbor. He asks Renfri to forget Stregobor, to prove the mage wrong by living her life normally. Renfri promises to leave town and ends up spending the night with Geralt. For some reason, women can't seem to help themselves around the witcher. In some ways, this book contradicts the genre stereotype but not in this one. It's very common for writer to fall into that stereotype.
In the morning comes the brutal awakening. Geralt realizes that Renfri plans to kill the people of Blaviken, on the busy day of the festival, to force Stregobor out of his hiding, hence he rushes outside. Geralt finds Renfri's mercenaries in the marketplace and fights them to the death. Geralt tries to reason with Renfri when she appears, but to no avail. Once again, he is forced to make a horrible choice.
Geralt and Renfri fight and Geralt kills her. A relieved Stregobor appears and approaches Geralt. The mage plans on performing an autopsy on Renfri's body to prove her monstrosity, but Geralt is appalled and chases him away. The locals, not knowing he context of the story, i.e. that the witcher saved them from massacre, attack Geralt and accuse him of murdering a group of innocent men. The irony! Thus Geralt acquires the unfortunate nickname "the Butcher of Blaviken."
THE VOICE OF REASON PART IV
The framed narrative takes us back to the temple where Geralt talks to Iola. It's a monologue since she doesn't talk back to him due to her vows of silence.
“I need this conversation. They say silence is golden. Maybe it is, although I'm not sure it's worth that much. It has its price certainly; you have to pay for it.”
“I don't believe in Melitele, don't believe in the existence of other gods either, but I respect your choice, your sacrifice. Your belief. Because your faith and sacrifice, the price you're paying for your silence, will make you better, a greater being. Or, at least, it could. But my faithlessness can do nothing. It's powerless.”
We learn more of his history as a Witcher. We heard the story of his first noble deed.
“My first noble deed. You see, they'd told me again and again in Kaer Morhen not to get involved in such incidents, not to play at being knight errant or uphold the law. Not to show off, but to work for money. And I joined this fight like an idiot, not fifty miles from the mountains. And do you know why? I wanted the girl, sobbing with gratitude, to kiss her saviour on the hands, and her father to thank me on his knees. In reality her father fled with his attackers, and the girl, drenched in the bald man's blood, threw up, became hysterical and fainted in fear when I approached her...”
We learn why witchers carry two swords and about what this witcher believes in.
“I believe in the sword. As you can see, I carry two. Every witcher does. It's said, spitefully, the silver one is for monsters and the iron for humans. But that's wrong. As there are monsters which can be struck down only with a silver blade, so there are those for whom iron is lethal. And Iola, not just any iron, it must come from a meteorite”
A QUESTION OF PRICE
A new story begins, one poignant with destiny. Geralt arrives to a the castle of Cintra. He was invited by Queen Calanthe. He's required to leave his sword behind to attend a formal celebration prepared for Crown Princess Pavetta. The Queen is looking for a husband for her daughter. That's what everyone is talking about!
“Queen Calanthe wants her to marry someone from Skellige; an alliance with the islanders would mean a lot to us.’
‘Those they’re allied with aren’t attacked as often as others.’
‘A good reason.”
Geralt and queen Calanthe have a long talk. She refuses to reveal what exactly she wants from him.
“Last winter Prince Hrobarik, not being so gracious, tried to hire me to find a beauty who, sick of his vulgar advances, had fled the ball, losing a slipper. It was difficult to convince him that he needed a huntsman, and not a witcher.”
The queen is portrayed as strong-willed and intelligent. “Kings,” continued Calanthe, “divide people into two categories—those they order around, and those they buy—because they adhere to the old and banal truth that everyone can be bought. Everyone. It’s only a question of price.”
However, Geralt is not for sale. What happens that night is bigger than them all. Every dialogue becomes poignant with meaning.
“Then pay greater attention. The difference, my dear witcher, is that one who is bought is paid according to the buyer’s whim, whereas one who renders a service sets his own price. Is that clear?”
Suddenly, a knight with his face covered enters the room and introduces himself as Urcheon of Erlenwald, aka Duny. He refuses to take off his helmet. To everyone's surprise, the strange knight wants to marry Pavetta. He says he has a legitimate claim. He claims Pavetta belongs to him via law of surprise. She was promised by her father Roegner and Calenthe's late husband. The queen admits that Urcheon had saved the life of the late king, but refuses to marry Pavetta to him as he is a complete stranger.
“Indeed, Urcheon of Erlenwald made a strange request of King Roegner, a strange reward to demand when the king offered him his wish. But let us not pretend we've never heard of such requests, of the Law of Surprise, as old as humanity itself. Of the price a man who saves another can demand, of the granting of a seemingly impossible wish.
‘You will give me the first thing that comes to greet you.”
The Queen manages to tricky Duny into removing his helmet earlier, revealing a monster. Only he's not really a monster, but a cursed knight. Geralt refuses to attack Duny when ordered so by the Queen.
When the Queen asks Pavetta whether she will agree to marry Urcheon, she is sure of a negative answer, but to everyone's outrage (and especially that of the other suitors), Pavetta accepts Duny. For the law of surprise to work, the child must accept is as well.
An attack on Duny ensures, but to his surprise, Geralt and ,Eist Tuirseach, defend him. Pavetta experiences some kind of magic trance. The stress actives Pavetta's latent magical powers that are so strong, they almost destroy the castle and split the ballroom in two. Geralt and palace druid barely manage to put Pavetta's powers under control.
It turns out that Pavetta and Duny have been secretly meeting and are in love. Duny seems more interested in Pavetta than the throne. Calanthe sees she has no alternative so she agrees to give Duny Pavetta's hand. Grateful to Geralt for saving him, Duny has some kind words for the witcher:
“But I’ve become convinced that the witcher’s profession is worthy of respect. You protect us not only from the evil lurking in the darkness, but also from that which lies within ourselves. It’s a shame there are so few of you.”
Duny offers Geralt whatever he want. Geralt invokes The Law of Surprise, the same law which gave Duny his claim to Pavetta's hand.
“Duny,” said Geralt seriously, “Calanthe, Pavetta. And you, righteous knight Tuirseach, future king of Cintra. In order to become a witcher, you have to be born in the shadow of destiny, and very few are born like that. That's why there are so few of us. We're growing old, dying, without anyone to pass our knowledge, our gifts, on to. We lack successors. And this world is full of Evil which waits for the day none of us are left.”
“Geralt,” whispered Calanthe.
“Yes, you're not wrong, queen. Duny! You will give me that which you already have but do not know. I’ll return to Cintra in six years to see if destiny has been kind to me.”
Pavetta's alredy prequent with Duny. So, the child of surprise is Cirilla, better known as Ciri. As the reader will learn in latter book. Ciri is really at the centre of everything.
This was my favourite story in the collection! I really liked how wisely the witcher behaved and how eloquently he spoke. He is not always talkative, but when he is, he says the most interesting things.
THE VOICE OF REASON PART 4
Geralt's friend Dandelion arrives to the temple. Priestess Nenneke is not a fan. In fact, she cannot stand the poet. I found it very musing how Nenneke positively hates Dandelion.
“A pearl of laughter and the strumming of a lute resounded in the corridor and there, on the threshold of the library, stood Dandelion in a lilac jerkin with lace cuffs, his hat askew. The troubadour bowed exaggeratedly at the sight of Nenneke, the heron feather pinned to his hat sweeping the floor.
“My deepest respects, venerable mother,” he whined stupidly. “Praise be the Great Melitele and her priestesses, the springs of virtue and wisdom—”
“Stop talking bullshit,” snorted Nenneke. “And don’t call me mother. The very idea that you could be my son fills me with horror.”
“No. It’s Dandilion this time, your fellow. That idler, parasite and good-for-nothing, that priest of art, the bright-shining star of the ballad and love poem. As usual he’s radiant with fame, puffed up like a pig’s bladder and stinking of beer. Do you want to see him?"
"Of course. He’s my friend, after all.”
Geralt's and Dandlion's friendship is a beautiful thing. Although quite different individuals, they are both loyal friends one to another. They also happen to share a healthy sense of humour.
“History was second on my list of favorite subjects when I was studying at the Academy in Oxenfurt.”
“What was first?”
“Geography,” said the poet seriously. “The atlas was bigger and it was easier to hide a demijohn of vodka behind it.”
Geralt laughed dryly and got up, removed Lunin and Tyrss’s Arcane Mysteries of Magic and Alchemy from the shelf and pulled a round-bellied vessel wrapped in straw from behind the bulky volume and into the light of day.
“Oho.” The bard visibly cheered up. “Wisdom and inspiration, I see, are still to be found in libraries. Oooh! I like this! Plum, isn’t it? Yes, this is true alchemy. This is a philosopher’s stone and worth studying. Your health, brother. Ooooh, it’s strong as the plague!”
THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
“All the better. We won’t have to walk too far.”
“Do you know, Geralt,” babbled the bard, following the witcher along the narrow, uneven path among the hemp. “I always thought the devil was just a metaphor invented for cursing: ‘go to the devil’, ‘to the devil with it’, ‘may the devil’. Lowlanders say: ‘The devils are bringing us guests’, while dwarves have ‘Duvvel hoael’ when they get something wrong, and call poor-blooded livestock devvelsheyss. And in the Old Language, there’s a saying, ‘A d’yaebl aep arse’, which means—”
“I know what it means. You’re babbling, Dandelion.”
“The world is huge,” muttered the witcher. “We can find room. There’s enough space.”
“The world is huge,” repeated the elf. “That’s true, human. But you have changed this world. At first, you used force to change it. You treated it as you treat anything that falls into your hands. Now it looks as if the world has started to fit in with you. It’s given way to you. It’s given in.”
Geralt didn’t reply.
“Torque spoke the truth,” continued Filavandrel. “Yes, we are starving. Yes, we are threatened with annihilation. The sun shines differently, the air is different, water is not as it used to be. The things we used to eat, made use of, are dying, diminishing, deteriorating. We never cultivated the land. Unlike you humans, we never tore at it with hoes and ploughs. To you, the earth pays a bloody tribute. It bestowed gifts on us. You tear the earth’s treasures from it by force. For us, the earth gave birth and blossomed because it loved us.”
The elf raised his eyebrows.
'You're pathetic, with your little stolen sacks of seeds on pack horses, with your handful of grain, that tiny crumb thanks to which you plan to survive. And with that mission of yours which is supposed to turn your thoughts from imminent annihilation. Because you know this is the end. Nothing will sprout or yield crops on the plateaux, nothing will save you now. But you live long, and you will live very long in arrogant isolation, fewer and fewer of you, growing weaker and weaker, more and more bitter. And you know what'll happen then, Filavandrel. You know that desperate young men with the eyes of hundred-year-old men and withered, barren and sick girls like Toruviel will lead those who can still hold a sword and bow in their hands, down into the valleys. You'll come down into the blossoming valleys to meet death, wanting to die honourably, in battle, and not in sick beds of misery, where anaemia, tuberculosis and scurvy will send you. Then, long-living Aen Seidhe, you'll remember me. You'll remember that I pitied you. And you'll understand that I was right.'
'Time will tell who was right,' said the elf quietly. 'And herein lies the advantage of longevity. I've got a chance of finding out, if only because of that stolen handful of grain. You won't have a chance like that. You'll die shortly.”
Suddenly the legendary Queen of the Fields appears - a deity of some kind. She is actually the young girl from the village or better to say the girl is a goddess. While the goddess and Filavandrel talk telepathically, Torque frees Geralt and Dandelion. The poet even gets a new lute as a parting gift.
THE VOICE OF REASON PART 4
Geralt talks with the head priestess bout his relationship with Yennefer. He recounts how they first met.
THE LAST WISH
As the story opens, Dandelion and Geralt are fishing and arguing quite loudly. Suddenly, Dandelion hauls up an ancient sealed vase and ignoring Geralt's warnings releases a genie that instantly attacks him. The genie isn't interested in Dandelions's wishes and cuts his recital short, causing serious injuries to the poet. Fortunately, Geralt manges to banish the creature with a exorcism, and takes Dandelion to the nearest city in search of help. He is informed that visitors are not admitted after nightfall, so Geralt spends the night in the guardhouse. He meets three other characters- elves Chireadan, Errdil, and half-elf knight Vratimir and drinks tea with them.
“Geralt finished his mug of herb tea, grimacing dreadfully. He valued and liked the settled elves for their intelligence, calm reserve and sense of humour, but he couldn’t understand or share their taste in food or drink.”
Vratimir has to spend the night there as well, as a half elf he doesn't have the same status as human, even if he is knight. Vratimir tells Gerlat how the city authorities imposed heavy duties for magic, thefefre the mages are boycotting the place. At the moment, there is only one mage in the city - the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg. The fated meeting happens! The sparks are flying from the start. Geralt is warned not to trust Yennefer.
“Make use of the opportunity to have a bath yourself. I can not only guess the age and breed of your horse, but also its color, by the smell.”
“She leant over him, touched him. He felt her hair, smelling of lilac and gooseberries, brush his face and he suddenly knew that he’d never forget that scent, that soft touch, knew that he’d never be able to compare it to any other scent or touch. Yennefer kissed him and he understood that he’d never desire any lips other than hers, so soft and moist, sweet with lipstick. He knew that, from that moment, only she would exist, her neck, shoulders and breasts freed from her black dress, her delicate, cool skin, which couldn’t be compared to any other he had ever touched. He gazed into her violet eyes, the most beautiful eyes in the world, eyes which he feared would become . . . Everything. He knew.”
“He interrupted her with a kiss, an embrace, a touch, caresses and then with everything, his whole being, his every thought, his only thought, everything, everything, everything. They broke the silence with sighs and the rustle of clothing strewn on the floor. They broke the silence very gently, lazily, and they were considerate and very thorough. They were caring and tender and, although neither quite knew what caring and tenderness were, they succeeded because they very much wanted to. And they were in no hurry whatsoever. The whole world had ceased to exist for a brief moment, but to them, it seemed like a whole eternity.”
THE VOICE OF REASON
In the ending, Gerlt says godbye to priestess Nenneke.
“So long, Nenneke."
"So long, Geralt. Look after yourself."
The witcher's smile was surly.
"I prefer to look after others. It turns out better in the long run.”
Finally, it's time for the confrontation with the knights. What do you think happens?
“If i understand correctly, he said, I'm to fight the duel because, if I refuse, I'll be hanged. If I fight I'm to allow my opponent to injure me because if i wound him I'll be put to the rack. What charming alternatives. Maybe I should save you the bother? I'll thump my head against the pine tree and render myself helpless. Will that grant you satisfaction
I will probably review Baptism of Fire next. I'm currently reading The Tower of the Swallow.
THANK YOU FOR READING!