Friday Reads: The Last Wish

So, one of the benefits of working at Gollancz is that you get free books. Which is nice, although to be fair I’m not sure I actually need that many more books. But then, on the other hand, they’re so brilliant. Who needs room in their house anyway?

One of the less frequent benefits is that we get sent other free stuff. Occasionally, if we publish a tie-in to a computer game, we get sent copies of the game when it’s released. Now, I’m not a big gamer. I only have an Xbox because, in a moment of madness, my partner bought me one for Christmas. (Or X-mas, as I now call it. Oh dear) (to be fair, I dropped lots of hints, like standing outside HMV and saying ‘That Skyrim looks good’. ‘Oh, why don’t you buy it?’ ‘Because I don’t have an xbox SAD FACE’) But because I’m not a big gamer, I only own one game. Skyrim. Which is great, but sometimes one needs to try something else. So I picked up (and I’m coming to the point here, I promise) The Witcher 2 when it landed in the office, partly based on Chris Wooding’s excellent guest post here a while ago.

And about ten days later, when I had a spare hour one evening – baby in bed, partner mired in a deadline I couldn’t help with, no deadlines of my own, a beer in one hand – I loaded up the game. And, after the astounding short film which opens the game, I started playing. Or at least I planned to. What I actually started doing was watching endless cutscenes and conversations with important characters and flashbacks and flashforwards and stuff. Which was all fine – they’re never less than well done, and it’s rather refreshing to see a game with swearing and blood and sex and English accents – but wasn’t actually very interactive. Having played on a bit, that does come later, but what it really made me think was I want to know more about this world.

Which was lucky, because a) this is meant to be a Friday reads post, not a Friday waffle about games, b) it ties it back to the ‘free books’ opening of the post and c) Gollancz publishes the books which are the basis of the game. Andrezj Sapkowski has written a series of adventures staring Geralt of Rivia, the eponymous Witcher. Only the first two are available in English at the moment, thanks to some legal wranglings, but we’re very pleased that everything has been sorted and the third book, Times of Contempt, will hit shelves at the end of this year. I picked up The Last Wish, which is a collection of short stories, and had a blast. Oh, in some places the phrasing is a little clunky (always one of the perils of reading translated fantasy), but overall they’re a very entertaining collection of adventures, most featuring a twist on a fairy tale, and all displaying to good effect Sapkowski’s best weapon – Geralt himself. He really is a remarkable character, with tinges of Elric, Fafhrd, Buffy and more, and a melancholy disposition that occasionally breaks into dry humour. He tends to win, of course, but he gets beaten up enough to suggest a level of risk, and this first book throws in enough clues and hints about his backstory to keep the reader intrigued.

I finished the book on the way in this morning – it isn’t very long, and reads very quickly – and am already champing at the bit to read book two, Blood of Elves, which is a proper novel rather than a fix-up. And then I will join the ranks of people who send plaintive emails to Gollancz Towers, begging for the third book. And I might go back and try and actually finish a quest in the game, too.