Underground Reading: Northworld Trilogy by David Drake
John D MacDonald's The Key to the Suite

Underground Reading: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish /></a>Even though <em><a href=The Blood of Elves won't be released for another month, readers can get a head start on Sapkowski's fantasy series thanks to the previous release of The Last Wish, a collection of short stories featuring Geralt the Witcher.

Geralt is a trained monster-hunter, and the book takes him from one adventure to another. As the Witcher fights ghouls, vampires and djinni, the reader quickly learns that nothing is what it seems. The beasties are often the good guys and the humans the predators. Geralt is operating in a world in a state of change - the old ways are dying out, and the classical races like Dwarves and Elves are being pressed to extinction. As a Witcher, Geralt has adapted to the new world, by helping humans kill the monsters that prey on the outskirts of towns - but he doesn't do this without a twinge of guilt. More often than not, Geralt looks to cure, not kill - often to the disappointment of his bloodthirsty employers.

Set against this slightly angsty background, the short stories blatantly explore the familiar tropes of monster and fairy tales. Throughout the course of the book, Sapkowski retells the stories of both Snow White and Beauty and the Beast in unusual ways, and there are several other original encounters with traditional fairy tales.

Unlike The Blood of Elves, Geralt is actually front-and-center in all these stories. He holds up well under the added scrutiny. He's wise, but not annoyingly so, and competent, but not invincible. Although his distinguishing white hair and skill with the blade are slightly on the side of fanboy nonsense, Geralt is a well-considered and well-developed character.

A few of the characters from The Blood of Elves do make appearances, including Dandilion (still my favorite), Ciri's parents and, finally, the long-anticipated Yennefer. Unfortunately, the enchantress and love-interest of Geralt falters a bit. Although Sapkowski tries to imbue her with a bit of emotional depth with a melodramatic backstory, she's a overpowering brat, and Geralt's attraction to her is inexplicable. The idea that she just needed to be 'tamed' by Geralt's understanding is frustrating, offensive and surprisingly unoriginal.

Still, the Yennefer story (sadly, the title story) is the only place where this book falters. Geralt's adventures are exciting and unusual - an unexpectedly enjoyable combination of Joe Abercrombie and the fairy tales of Hermann Hesse.