#7 – The Last Wish, by Andrzej Sapkowski
- Read: 1/13/16 – 1/19/16
- Provenance: Owned (e-book)
- Challenge: PopSugar 2016 Reading Challenge
- Task: Translated into English (originally published in Polish)
- Rating: 4/5 stars
So, I’m a video-game geek. My husband’s been playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and raving about how incredible a game it is, and telling me bits of the story that aren’t spoilers, and expounding upon how it uses some video-game conventions to strengthen the narrative while completely subverting others. It sounds magnificient, and I want to play it.
But I’ve been told the first game is a difficult-as-fuck slogfest where the moments of brilliance are few and far between. So when he suggested I read The Last Wish instead to introduce me to the characters, well, I jumped on it.
(It’s not like this would be the first time I skipped the first game in a series. Assassin’s Creed was terrible, I played for about two hours and wanted to beat my head against the wall. Hubs gave me the Cliff Notes version of the plot so I could move on to AC II, where I promptly fell in love with Ezio Auditore and joyfully threw him off of buildings for the next three games. That reminds me, I still need to play Black Flag…)
Anyway, about the actual book. It’s a story about storytelling, which could have gone horribly wrong, but it didn’t. The structure is a series of short stories told as flashbacks throughout a frame narrative, and the information the reader needs is doled out piecemeal to get them hooked. (I only took a week to read it because it’s been a busy week–I read half of it in a single day, when I had the time.)
More than just the structure, storytelling informs the characters. In order to hire Geralt for the special services he provides, people need to tell him their stories–what’s been troubling the village, what do you know about the creature, and so forth. And in the frame narrative, Geralt slowly tells his story, too, in his interactions with the priestess and acolytes of the temple where he’s come to rest after an injury.
That does lead to the only reason I gave this four stars instead of five–the pacing. This work suffers from pages upon pages of dialogue with little action to spice it up, then huge chunks of action when Geralt has to fight something. I prefer my prose a little less heavily skewed in either direction.
That being said, though, it’s a strong, well-developed fantasy setting that draws heavily upon Eastern European folklore, which isn’t something us Americans usually get in our fantasy. It has the air of a dark, twisted fairy tale, but without the ironic or tongue-in-cheek tone that I’ve seen in modern retellings. So I’d recommend it to lovers of fantasy who want to try something slightly off the beaten path (though of course the popularity of the games are certainly making that path a little more well-trod), or to fellow video-game geeks like me who want to get their hands on the source material. It’s worth it.
#8 – The Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo
- Read: 1/19/16 – 1/21/16
- Provenance: Owned (hardcover)
- Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016
- Task: By an author from Southeast Asia
- Rating: 4/5 stars
If the point of this task was to expose me to something I was completely unfamiliar with, this book was a smashing success. My only knowledge of the Chinese belief system regarding the afterlife was burning hell money as an offering to the deceased. The Ghost Bride goes so much farther, as Li Lan find herself haunted by the ghost of a man who insists she marry him in the afterlife, and begins a strange and eventful journey to rid herself of him.
Some of the things that happened, I expected, and some were a complete shock, which kept me hooked. The only thing keeping me from giving this five stars was a slightly saggy middle section, where the web of intrigue that bound Li Lan’s family to the ghost’s family got complicated, even a bit muddled. It’s sorted out by the end, but for a while I was more than a little confused about a certain person’s identity, and confusion isn’t something I enjoy in my reading.
I picked this up for not-much off a bargain shelf at the bookstore, and I wasn’t sure I’d keep it, but now it’s earned a permanent place on my shelves. (I can succumb to pretty covers, too, you know!)