Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski
Sword of Destiny is the second story collection in Andrzej Sapkowski’s WITCHER books which are the basis of the popular video game. Sword of Destiny should be read second in the series. (This is confusing because the English translations of the WITCHER books were not published in chronological order.) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first WITCHER book, The Last Wish, and was eager to read Sword of Destiny. It did not disappoint. I love Sapkowski’s hero, a man named Geralt of Rivia who was taken in by the Witchers when he was a young orphan and, through herbs and hallucinogens, mutated into something not quite human. He has superior hearing and vision, fast reflexes and speed, and more strength than normal men. Witchers were created to fight evil monsters, but many people consider the Witchers to be monsters, too. Those who don’t at least see them as strangers and outsiders.
The mutation process was supposed to blunt Geralt’s emotions, and maybe it did, but Geralt is not without feelings. In fact, the best word to describe his personality might be “brooding.” He seems quiet, stoic, and menacing but, of course, he’s deeply misunderstood. He’s in love with Yennefer, a woman who’s no good for him and keeps breaking his tortured heart.
Sword of Destiny contains several stories — more like episodes — that are related and occur in chronological order. They don’t stand alone very well since they feature some recurring characters, require knowledge acquired from previous tales, and describe events that are important to later events. All of the episodes take place as Geralt is travelling the country, looking for work since he is broke. In some of them, he travels with his friend Dandelion, a foppish bard. I’ll say a little about each story and put an asterisk next to those that are more essential for understanding the events of the next WITCHER book, Blood of Elves.
- “The Bounds of Reason” — In a tavern, Geralt meets a mysterious man who has two ferocious female bodyguards. As they dine together, he learns that residents of a nearby village have poisoned a dragon who has slunk off to die in a cave. Geralt doesn’t approve of killing dragons, but he has nowhere else to be, so he joins up with a motley collection of dragon hunters, all with different motives, who are trying to find the creature and his horde. As usual, Geralt is quiet and contemplative during the trip, but his companions’ actions and dialogue are very amusing.
- *“A Shard of Ice” — Things seem to be “on” again with Yennefer, until Geralt meets and fights with another man who she’s been having the same sort of relationship with for years. In this metaphor-filled story, Geralt and Yennefer discuss their feelings and vulnerabilities and Geralt learns that the truth is “a shard of ice.”
- “Eternal Flame” — In this funny episode, Geralt and Dandelion try to help a merchant who is being impersonated by a doppelganger that is engaging in shifty business practices. While listening to this story it occurred to me that encountering a doppelganger would probably be a lot scarier than encountering most other types of monsters.
- “A Little Sacrifice” — Geralt acts as translator for a duke who wants to marry a mermaid, then the duke asks him to investigate the grisly murder of a boat full of pearl divers. Through his interactions with a poetess, Geralt learns that loving someone requires sacrifices and that he and Yennefer may not be willing to make them.
- *“The Sword of Destiny” — Geralt is in the forest of Brokilon where dryads do not allow humans to trespass. While there, he discovers a princess who has run away from home to avoid marrying a man she doesn’t want. This is not the first time he has encountered this little girl… is it destiny?
- *“Something More” — Geralt is nearly killed while protecting a merchant from ghoul-like creatures. After becoming feverish and taking the drugs that Witchers use to heal themselves, he begins hallucinating. In this final story, Geralt and Yennefer consider their future together and discuss whether destiny alone is insufficient or if “something more” is needed to bring two people together. There are several significant emotional events that happen in this story, making it an important one to the WITCHER The ending is quite a tear-jerker and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
All of these stories are entertaining, beautifully written, thoughtful, and often poignant. Sapkowski’s female characters are strong and his sense of humor is appealing. I love how he incorporates elements from fairy tales. Best of all, some aspects of these stories are emotionally powerful. It’s easy to feel for Geralt who, as a “mutant,” is usually alone, misunderstood, and without affection. He has no family, nobody to rely on, and nowhere to call home. I am eager to find out what the future holds for the Witcher.
The audio version of Sword of Destiny, by Hachette Audio, is superb. Peter Kenny does a fabulous job with the narration, handling a variety of characters of different sexes and classes. He really brings out the humor effectively, too. Sword of Destiny is about 13 hours long in audio format. You can sample it here.
I loved The Last Wish. I’ll be reading this next.