Welcome to Witcher Wednesdays, where I read and comment on The Witcher series of books by Andrzej Sapkowski. Today I’m covering the first two stories in The Last Wish , through page 41 in this edition.
This post CONTAINS SPOILERS so don’t read it until you’re caught up with the book. Ready? Let’s go!
The Voice of Reason 1
This is a short, page and a half story to introduce the frame story that stitches the various short stories in this collection together. And it’s a sex scene. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another book that starts out with a sex scene, though I’m sure they exist. Any other book and I would roll my eyes at this chapter, but for The Witcher it seems appropriate. This is old fashioned sword and sorcery, with healthy dash of sex and violence, so I’m cool with this scene. Besides, it’s well done — titillating while still being tasteful.
This is where the book really begins. Geralt arrives Wyzim and is accosted by a group of men at the local inn. He kills them and is escorted by the town guard to meet the town’s castellan, who talks to Geralt about a monster that haunts the old palace, called a striga. The striga is rumored to be the King’s daughter, who died at birth and became a monster. The king wants someone who will break the curse on his daughter rather than kill her, but the castellan tells Geralt this is a fool’s errand and offers to pay him part of the reward offered by the king to just kill the striga and be done with it.
Geralt tells the king he will try to break the curse. To do this, he has to spend the night in the old palace with the monster and survive. At daybreak, she’ll turn back into a human. Later that night, while waiting for the striga to appear, Osrit, one of the king’s advisors, shows up and tries to pay Geralt to leave without killing the striga. He has been using the monster to sow malcontent among the peasantry in hopes of seizing the throne for himself. Geralt knocks Osrit unconscious and then feeds him to the striga to keep her away from him for part of the night.
Once the striga is done devouring Osrit, she comes after Geralt. A really cool fight scene follows, which ends with Geralt surviving the night and breaking the curse, but he has a really bad neck wound to show for it. He wakes up a few days later in the care of the king, wounded, but alive.
This is a nice introduction to the series, and sets up Geralt’s character well. He is a brutal killer, as we see in the beginning when he kills two men in the inn (the castellan suggests that Geralt did this on purpose to expedite his meeting with the king), but at the same time he’s not heartless. He’s willing to try to break the curse on the princess, though he’s willing to kill her if it comes down to it. It’s nice to see that from the get go, Geralt is a complex character rather than a stock fantasy warrior.
The combat was well done. I could follow along easily, but didn’t get bored with a blow by blow. The way Geralt defeated the striga at the end was interesting and something I didn’t see coming. It’s a nice way to handle magic. Enough is explained that you know what happened but there’s still an air of mystery about it. The only thing I found weird is that he bit the princess’s neck at the end to make her snap out of striga mode and I’m not sure if that was just desperation or if biting the neck of that kind of creature has a specific effect. I suspect the former.
Finally, a brief note on the translation. I don’t speak or read Polish, but I do have an MA in Translation Studies, and so I can often tell if a work is translated and I can comment on how polished the English version is. I like this translation so far. It feels a little stiff, but that also gives the story that 90s fantasy feel that, being fantasy written in the 90s, it should have. I would be interested in knowing some of the specific Polish terminology that’s being used, as some of the words sound created (‘witcher’, ‘castellan’, etc).
For next week, I’m reading The Voice of Reason 2 and A Grain of Truth. That’s through page 88 in the mass market paperback edition of the book. See you next Wednesday!