Sunday, 22 August 2010

Andrzej Sapkowski: The Last Wish (1993)

Translation: Danusia Stok (2007)
Edition: Gollancz, 2008
Review number: 1407

"Geralt is a a hunter", the front cover tells us. Not only is this hardly the most eye-catching tagline in the history of publishing, it really undersells the virtues of Sapkowski's novel. This is not a simple fantasy novel, though this (combined with the advertising for the associated computer game on the back pages) makes it look as though The Last Wish is just a violent fantasy, the story of a bounty hunter. This is particularly ironic, as Geralt himself is continually telling prospective employers that he is not a bounty hunter.

Geralt is in fact a "witcher"; he is a hunter of supernatural monsters, and The Last Witch describes a series of his adventures in this role. The structure of the novel suggests - and I haven't looked this up to check whether it is true or not - that most of it originally appeared as a series of shorter fiction. It is episodic, with a linking thread provided by interludes between the episodes, which are thus presented as flashbacks. This is a fairly common structure in novels stitched together from shorter fiction, and needs the episodes to be quite uniform in style and quality with the linking story having some interest of its own in order to work: Sapkowski does this at least as well as any other example I can think of.

Although The Last Wish appeared in English in 2007, the story was written in the 1980s. Then, the idea of a hunter of this type would probably have evoked Bram Stoker's Van Helsing in Dracula, rather than Buffy the Vampire Slayer or possibly Anita Blake. But The Last Wish is not really like any of the stories involving these characters; it reminded me most of Jack Vance, particularly the Dying Earth stories. Much of the setting, the tone, and the dry humour are similar, particularly in the way in which Geralt's world weariness is portrayed. Laurell K. Hamilton is less interested in humour and more in the relationships - particularly sexual ones - between the characters in her Anita Blake novels; the humour in the Buffy TV series is generally darker or derived from smart banter between the teenagers; and Van Helsing is deadly serious.

This is an excellent fantasy novel, and I will looking out for more by this writer - 8/10.

1 comment:

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