I tell my students that summer is meant for three things: naps in the sun, travel, and reading anything you want, even if that’s a trashy romance. (Although, I’ll admit that I do try to
push drown beg encourage the occasional sci-fi or graphic novel.) As for my own summer reading, I’ll admit there are some summers when I struggle to read three novels; there are summers where I read my way through so much that sleep only happens in the short time between books. Last summer was one of the latter; a student gave me a list of YA fiction to read and I found myself spellbound by Leigh Bardugo‘s Six of Crows and the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Sleep happened only while waiting for the next book in the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas. By June of this year, I was finishing the Caraval series by Stephanie Garber and I’m still awaiting the last book of Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor.
Where were these reads when I was ninth grade me, trying to find one badass female in a male protagonist dominated fantasy genre? At best, I had Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave series; if desperate, I could locate my tattered copy of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I turned to video games in part because at least in those electronic forms female fantasy characters had powers beyond mere seduction. Final fantasy was my first exposure to the female mage character (yes Lulu) and later, my favorite female gunslingers (arguably now dethroned by Wyonna Earp) Yuna/Lighting. My ideal lineup would feature gunslinger Yuna, mage Lulu, and martial expert Buffy. (And I’d replace Rikku with Anya anyday). Now while divorcing the genre of fantasy from the seductress trope is crazy talk, I’ll admit it is becoming more acceptable to see male seductresses or (gasp) to read female protagonists who can be both warrior and seductress. We are getting better.
I have a point. This summer, I promised my students to read and review a romance novel. (Silly rabbits, they didn’t put any regulations or define exactly what that might be…) It was in this spirit (and, arguably, a love of the PS4 game), that my “trashy romance” read of the summer was The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski. Yes, that’s a Witcher novel. So, my dear students, as promised, here is my review of a “trashy romance” via the fantasy fiction genre. Hey, you never said what world or dimension my protagonist needed to live in…
If you have no familiarity with the popular playstation game, know this: while the protagonist is male, the cast of characters is female centered, female focused, and filled with female badassery. I’m hoping the Netflix show will be true to this as well. If you have absolutely no familiarity with anything of this (some of us like living under a rock- no judgement), then you should start with the book that inspired it all, The Last Wish. The protagonist is Geralt, a witcher (someone who hunts and kills monsters) tending to his wounds; in between his recovery, he remembers parts of his life via flashback. So yes, this might be called a collection of short stories- each flashback is a stand alone episode that forces Geralt to confront the many different ways that monsters are so much more than fangs and fur.
I can hear you already, my dear pupils. You said romance.
The Last Wish is a delicate balance between understanding Geralt and understanding his fetish for the sorcerer Yennifer. You have to wait for it; Yennifer only fully appears in the last story and when read out of turn, you don’t quite understand why Geralt chooses her. (If you can call it a choosing.) Make no mistake: she is a complex character with ambition, power, and little patience for the brooding hero. You’ll like her, you’ll hate her, and you’ll want to be her. But you must first travel with Geralt and Sapkowski through some amazing retellings of popular fairy tales. You’ll meet a version of Snow White that will inspire countless fan fiction; a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast that will break your heart and ring more true than the original source; and a twisted barely recognizable Cinderella.
Sapkowski weaves his world of monsters, fairytales, and humans until it’s almost something completely different. The only thing that tethers us to that world is the heartbreak and ugly truth: some monsters aren’t the imagined atrocities of our dreams. Some monsters are the truths we deny or the truths we create. And, like Geralt, you’re left with your own code to decipher it all. If like me, you find yourself fascinated and already writing mini-essays about effeminate, sword welding males and their complicated relationships with ambitious women, you might want to try the next one: Sword of Destiny. (And if you know a place one could publish said pieces, let me know.) If you are looking for the next Patrick Rothfuss, then don’t bother. If you are looking for a world to get lost in, buy it or borrow my copy.
And there you have it. I have fullfilled my promise. If you are curious, Marlon James’ Black Leopard Red Wolf is the current read and yes, I’ve already ordered Sword of Destiny. And because I still have three weeks left, I’ll be starting the Wheel of Time series after reading about it at Everyday Should Be Tuesday.
Now. What are you reading besides your assigned summer novel?