Title: Sword of Destiny
Place in series: # 2
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Published: 1992 (English translation from 2015)For more information about The Witcher Series and my review of previous titles in the series, you can find my introductory post HERE.
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…Disclaimer: I’ve purposefully cut the blurb short. I think the official one is atrocious and shows a complete lack of understanding of the series and its protagonist.
Sword of Destiny is the second short-story collection in The Witcher Series. As with the previous book, The Last Wish, it provides worldbuilding and hints at things to come. At least two of these stories could be considered prologues to the following novel, Blood of Elves.
Unlike the previous book, Sword of Destiny does not have a frame narrative, but you should read it cover to cover as the stories are all loosely connected and in chronological order. Because of the short-story format, it’s close to impossible to discuss the plot without spoiling the stories themselves or the ones to come. There are six stories in total, but for this review, I want to highlight the four most important to the series as a whole. I’ll also address one of the more common critiques of the series.
The Bounds of Reason & A Shard of Ice
Although not strictly connected to the larger plot, both of these stories give essential insight into the complicated and unorthodox relationship between Geralt and Yennifer. It also helps to explain the status of their relationship at the beginning of Blood of Elves. Gealt and Yennifers’ relationship is at the very center of the series. What’s more, understanding their separate points of view and feelings is essential as it significantly impacts their actions and choices throughout the series.
Sword of Destiny & Something More
This is where the series’ main plot really kicks off. I would argue that these two stories, together with, The Witcher from The Last Wish, could be seen as the first “novel” in The Witcher Saga. All three stories are chronologically connected and tell the tale of how Geralt meets Ciri. Again, I can’t write about the plot of any of these stories without spoiling the other or the books to come. What you need to know is that Ciri is the second protagonist of the series, and her backstory, told through these three short stories, is extremely important.
As for the remaining two stories, they are stand-alone even though they, of course, continue to expand the world and provide character development. Personally, I think they’re vital to building Geralt as a character. They deepen the readers understanding of the role of a witcher and give insight into Geralt’s moral and professional code.
Speaking of Ciri & Yennifer, this might be a good opportunity to address one of the most common critiques I hear about the series; that it’s misogynistic and objectifies women. My opinion is that the books are not misogynistic, but the world they depict is.
Yes, the female characters’ bodies are more sexualized than the male characters but no more than in Game of Thrones or other fiction aimed at a more mature audience. Overall, Sapkowski is not a writer who leans on shock value; these are not graphic books. Even though they portray disturbing things like rape, torture, and extreme violence, at a certain point, early on, the scene will always fade to black; most of the unpleasant (and pleasant) things take place “off-screen.”
It’s also true that if a female character finds herself at a disadvantage, there will be an element of misogyny in how she’s treated. However, in this world, inequality makes sense. Despite its fantasy elements, the Continent is a feudal, socially oppressive, dog-eat-dog world; everyone, everyone, exploits each other’s weaknesses. Regardless of gender, you’re either a victim, an abuser, or both.
The way this affects women is though misogyny. For an elven character, it’s racism. For a poor man, it’s though his low social status. It would be strange if, in this profoundly unjust world, women were somehow exempt from or unaffected by it. These books don’t hide the worst qualities of human society or their effect on the victims.
There are some brief but truly gut-wrenching scenes throughout the series, and even though I don’t enjoy reading them, I appreciate that they’re there.
In contrast to many other fantasy authors, Sapkowski doesn’t ignore what happens to women under these circumstances; he exposes, criticizes, and condemns it.
Undoubtedly, he puts his female characters in extremely unpleasant situations that a man would not find himself in. But he never tries to justify it; rape or abuse isn’t used as character development. It’s not portrayed as some trial of fire a woman has to go though to become strong, and the victims don’t come out on the other side leading armies or turning into badass queens. As a reader, I appreciate that.
That being said, this early in the series, the female characters are still a bit flat; their portrayal and interaction with this world will get more complicated, layered, and well-rounded as we move into the novels.
I loved this book. I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Wish, but Sword of Destiny is on another level. It’s well-written, the world and its characters are complex, and most importantly, they’re enjoyable stories.
Sword of Destiny also gives you a first glimpse of the deep, emotional connection many of the characters share; you see it between Gealt and Yennifer and between Geralt and Ciri.
If you, for some inexplicable reason, decide to only read one of the short-story collections, this is the one I recommend. The Last Wish feels like a short-story collection; Sword of Destiny feels like a beginning.
My Rating: 9/10
Unless credited, all images displayed on this blog are either mine or Copy Right Free and released under Creative Commons CC0. They are available for free at one of or more of the following places: Max Pixel, Flickr, Public Domain Archive, Pixabay or Gratisography.
One thought on “The Witcher Reviews: Sword of Destiny”
Pingback: The Witcher Reviews: Introduction | Xenodike