Review: The Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

 

SwordNot quite the epic journey of the first collection, but perhaps a little more heart.

The Sword Of Destiny is the second collection of stories by Andrzej Sapkowski following the adventures of the Witcher, Geralt of Rivia. The release of this volume has been highly anticipated, not just because there will never be enough stories about Geralt, but because this is the first time this particular collection has been translated into English. Now, English-speaking fans of the Witcher can celebrate the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the third game in the successful Witcher franchise, forearmed with more backstory, more lore and more Geralt, Yennefer and Dandelion.

In this volume, Sapkowski once again dances around the question of what makes a monster. As a witcher, Geralt has been specially trained – mutated, in fact – to kill monsters. It’s his purpose. But as we discovered in The Last Wish, the first collection of stories, what makes a monster isn’t always clearly defined. A horrific appearance isn’t enough, neither is behaviour.

In the first story, ‘The Bounds Of Reason’, rumours of a golden dragon reunite Geralt with his friend, Dandelion. Together, witcher and bard connive their way into a party assembled to confront the beast apparently ravaging the land. They are accompanied the stranger, Borch, also known as Three Jackdaws, who seems to take great delight in questioning Geralt on the very point of what makes a monster. The three look on as knights errant, bands of dwarves, and professional dragon slayers fail to take the beast, and when the golden dragon is finally revealed, the question of its nature is no longer contested. This story showcases the quintessential Geralt, and Sapkowski’s easy story-telling style. It’s a great beginning to the collection.

From there, Sapkowski puts his spin on such familiar tales as ‘The Snow Queen’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’. We are confronted with sorcerers, dryads, vexlings, monstrous humans and the odd-tentacled beast. In ‘A Shard Of Ice’, Geralt prepares to fight a duel with the wizard Istredd for Yennefer’s affections. In ‘The Eternal Flame’, Geralt is once again called to defend a creature that is more mischievous than monstrous. ‘A Little Sacrifice’ deals with how far one must be prepared to go for the sake of love. ‘The Sword Of Destiny’ introduces Ciri, who is Geralt’s destiny, whether he likes it or not. He chooses not, only to be reminded of the two edges of the sword of destiny in the last story, ‘Something More’.

The stories span a period of years up to Nilfgaardian invasion of Cintra, where Geralt is gravely wounded. While he battles fever dreams and his regard for destiny and fate, only to awaken and find that his place in the world is as necessary as it has always been.

In The Last Wish, Geralt and author Sapkowski question the nature of the beast. In The Sword Of Destiny, Geralt questions the nature of himself. What is his destiny and is he a monster? We are constantly reminded that he is not considered human. His witcher training has made him a mutant, with white hair and cat-like eyes. He is armed preternatural skills and potions that have stripped him of his humanity. He is unable to conceive a child. Among these changes is the perceived notion he is unable to express emotion. Yet, Yennefer is able to play him, as is Dandelion, to a degree. Ciri slips beneath his guard, calling into question what he’d like to believe are automatic responses, such as the urge to hug and comfort a child.

It is these questions that bind the stories of this volume together and make Sapkowski’s world so compelling. The stories are well-written and very entertaining. Geralt’s humour is fabulously dry, Yennefer’s suitably austere and Dandelion’s perfectly flamboyant. The lore is derivative enough to be familiar, yet doesn’t feel borrowed. Rather, the author pays homage to the stories that inspired his world and his characters while writing an epic tale of his own.

A quick note on the translation: For the most part, I found it flawless, with word choices that seemed to truly match Geralt’s voice, if not Sapkowski’s. There were a few odd turns of phrase, but that’s to be expected when reading something originally written in another language. I felt they gave the book a more distinct flavour.

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, The Sword Of Destiny is the second collection of stories about Geralt of Rivia. No foreknowledge of the world is required to read these stories, though fans will appreciate the history between Geralt and his companions. These stories run concurrent to the novels in the series, but don’t necessarily spoil them. What these stories will do, however, is introduce the world and showcase how beautifully the team at CD Projekt RED have translated Sapkowski’s characters and world into the video games.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

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