Review: Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Posted by DarkChaplain at 7/15/2017
Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. He roams the country seeking assignments, but gradually comes to realise that while some of his quarry are unremittingly vile, vicious grotesques, others are the victims of sin, evil or simple naivety. In this collection of short stories, following the adventures of the hit collection THE LAST WISH, join Geralt as he battles monsters, demons and prejudices alike ...
I originally read Sword of Destiny for pleasure, to scratch an itch I had recently. Then I ended up finishing it very quickly and typed a bit of an informal review on Goodreads. I had concerns about reviewing this here, out of order, as the only Witcher review, but now I figured why the hell not and expanded on my thoughts a little. Be advised to read The Last Wish before you pick up this one, however!

The Story:
"Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. He roams the country seeking assignments, but gradually comes to realise that while some of his quarry are unremittingly vile, vicious grotesques, others are the victims of sin, evil or simple naivety. In this collection of short stories, following the adventures of the hit collection THE LAST WISH, join Geralt as he battles monsters, demons and prejudices alike ..."



The Review:
Sword of Destiny reminded me again why I love the Witcher series so much. I originally read it many years ago, in German. I got struck by the desire to re-read it a while ago and just ended up going with it this week.
I can't help but breeze through Sapkowski's books. There's something comfortable about them, despite all the tragedy and pain. This one was, even on the second read, no exception. It expresses a lot of what I find fascinating about this setting and its characters, whether they're presented in the books, comics or indeed the video game adaptations.

This collection never bored me, quite in contrast to many other anthologies I tried reading. Often I find myself drifting off, not getting pulled into one story or another enough to keep my drive going. If anything, here I actually got a lot more out of it this time than during the first read. Not because of translation troubles (the German translations could be argued as being superior due to the variety in vocabulary compared to English, which suits the Polish original better, actually), but because having read all but Lady of the Lake and Season of Storms (which is being released in English in 2018 for the first time!) by now, and having played the games, there are many little tidbits and foreshadowing that I picked up on this time.

It is hard to pinpoint which story in here was the strongest. While it is an anthology of short stories that can be read individually and still enjoyed, progressing from one to the next benefitted the entire collection. Every story establishes something, often in relation to Yennefer of Vengerberg, though later also Cirilla, Geralt's destiny child. Unlike The Last Wish, there is no framing meta-story going on here, but this might have been for the better as it might have interrupted the flow of the wider narrative.

Every story, as with The Last Wish, comes with a moral, sometimes more obvious than other times. Every story also comes with an engaging twist, or three, and once again Sapkowski made sure that the titles of the individual stories are reflected within the tales themselves. As you read on through them, you'll end up finding more meaning to what you might have gotten out of reading just the title in passing. Something More especially has a fantastic impact after finishing up.

If you've ever wondered why Geralt's on-and-off relationship with Yennefer is so important to the series, or why players of The Witcher 3 opt for romancing Yennefer over Triss Merigold, then this is also the most important book in my eyes. It expresses so much about their relationship, their feelings for one another, their struggles and fears, that it defines both the sorceress and the White Wolf in extremely strong terms. Yennefer might come out of a few stories with a lot of criticism, but it is apparent that she's troubled, not malicious, and that Geralt is incredibly important to her. Neither can really handle it, both suffer from their roles as sorceress and witcher, and the downsides of each. But when they click, it is obvious that they are made for one another, despite all.

This is also the first real outing for Cirilla, Geralt's adopted daughter. I must stress that reading The Last Wish followed by this book is vitally important before going on with Blood of Elves. It is easy to dismiss the anthologies because they're not part of the five novel series and may be considered side stories from the big arc, but that'd be silly and actually detrimental to the experience. You'll struggle to understand why Ciri is so important without these two collections. You'll lose out magnificently if you skip out on reading Sword of Destiny (the short story) and the following Something More. There is so much passion in both tales, so much connective tissue, that you can't just cut it out.

Some of the stories are also incredibly sad, to the point of almost being real tear-jerkers. In general, the stories are full of emotion. Every one of them instills either a sense of wonder and love, frustration, hopelessness, fear, happiness, confusion or even just sheer joy at another silly adventure with Dandelion in Novigrad, involving a Doppler imitating a halfling merchant. There are some amazing characters to be found here, like Essi Daven the poet, one of Dandelion's friends and competitors, or Three Jackdaws the enigmatic traveller with his two warrior maiden bodyguards. Everybody is full of character, as usual with Sapkowski's works. While you may never meet them again, or maybe just in the video games for a cameo, their presence here adds much flavor to their respective tales and turns the world of Geralt of Rivia more colorful than a setting so full of misery, death, sex and war would usually look.

What may be seen as a bit lacking to people is the relative lack of monsters for Geralt to hunt down. There really aren't many, and those that exist tend to be story openers rather than the point of said stories. The first, The Bounds of Reason, for example, opens with Geralt slaying a Basilisk, but that isn't actually shown. What Sapkowski instead puts the reader's lens on is the townsfolk's reaction to it, and their doubts about the Witcher's ability to pull it off while he's in the beast's lair. A Shard of Ice opens in an even filthier spot than that, but deals with far more human problems throughout. While Witchers are, primarily, monster hunters by profession, job opportunities are rare in this age and more often than not it isn't them that people need to be concerned about. That is a theme that runs through the entire franchise and Sword of Destiny makes that point as well.

In my honest opinion, this is one of the strongest books in the wider series. I think what made this the better of the two anthologies in my eyes were the overall raised stakes for Geralt and his friends. Whereas the first book was more of a collection of introductions to the primary cast and their roles, this one utilized them in a way that made them grow from their experiences. It wouldn't have been able to do it this well without The Last Wish doing the groundwork, of course, but it was exceptional at what it did. Sword of Destiny holds many consequences for its characters, their lives and relationships. It gives and takes away in equal measure while changing the playing field bit by bit and get Geralt and Ciri ready for their great journey throughout the following five novels.

It is a damned shame that it wasn't translated to English in the correct chronological order, after The Last Wish, instead of between Baptism of Fire and The Tower of the Swallow. Whoever thought THAT was a good idea needs to get his priorities checked. Considering this was the first published book in the Polish original, it is even more mindboggling to me. If you're new to the series, please read it in chronological order rather than by the English publishing list.

Sword of Destiny on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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