“People," Geralt turned his head, "like to invent monsters and monstrosities. Then they seem less monstrous themselves. When they get blind-drunk, cheat, steal, beat their wives, starve an old woman, when they kill a trapped fox with an axe or riddle the last existing unicorn with arrows, they like to think that the Bane entering cottages at daybreak is more monstrous than they are. They feel better then. They find it easier to live.”
It is my personal belief that when it comes to myths nobody beats Ancient Greeks. Those are widely known and appear from time to time in literature (Cerberus - I mean Fluffy - in the first Harry Potter book for example). Thanks to Tolkien however the majority of fantasy written since his magnum opus borrows heavily from Celtic mythology. I can only think of Arabian jinns as another mainstream example of a mythological being.
While not as well-known as the examples above when it comes to myths and fairy tales Slavic people can give others good run for their money. Consider the following guys and girls:
Koschei the Immortal.
A traditional bad guy; as his name implies he is immortal and as such cannot be killed by any conventional means. His downfall is his weakness to young beautiful women. He usually kidnaps one only to have her extremely pissed-off boyfriend/fiancé coming and beating the crap out of the poor baddie - using highly unconventional means: love conquers all and such.
Not only Slavic version has 3 heads, he also has the ability to put one back after in has been chopped off. So a poor hero battling such guy would finally cut off one of his heads and starts working on another only to find the first one is back in place and fully functional.
I saved the best one for last. This Slavic witch lives in a hut on chicken legs which can turn around using them if you know the right words (and feel lazy to walk around to get to the front door like most passing by heroes do). The lady flies in a mortar using a broom for steering. For an icing on a cake she often has a drop-dead gorgeous granddaughter. As far as mythical creatures go, you really cannot get any cooler than this.
Coming back to the book: this is the first one of the series on which three very successful games were based. The last one won practically every imaginable gaming award so it is fairly safe to say the majority of the people know at least the main idea. Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. This means his job is to hunt monsters - most of them are based on Slavic mythology. He is not entirely human as he undergone a mutation as a part of his training, and as a result tries to find his place in a society where witchers are not as needed as they used to be.
This tension brings all kinds of conflicts making Geralt rethinking his outlook on life and coming to the terms with the fact that people can be the biggest monsters there are - see the first paragraph of the review. The guy tries to stay neutral in the internal struggles between people and mostly failing at that. The best he can do is to choose the lesser evil, but it is completely unclear which evil is lesser in the long run.
It all sounds kind of gloomy and the book actually is, but it also has its share of humor found in unexpected places. Speaking of which, in the last story called The Last Wish (I forgot to mention that this book as well as the next one is a collection of several short stories) I really pitied the jinn. I mean I would be equally pissed off in his place; poor supernatural creature. I will not spoil it, but people that have read the book know exactly what I talk about.
People familiar with Slavic fairy tales can find retellings of quite a few of them - often with a hilarious twist. Their knowledge is not necessary to enjoy the book, but it definitely would not hurt. The book is quite good and it gives a nice introduction to the witcher's world and Geralt himself. I have my sights on the next installment.