Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski
I enjoyed the first Witcher collection very much and found it’s loose, fairy tale focused approach quite charming. The Sword of Destiny is a much tighter collection and for the first time I really felt that this was the same world I was so familiar with from the games. Sword of Destiny is a wonderful collection of stories which both stand alone but also set up the following novel series.
The first story is The Bounds of Reason, which sees Geralt caught up in a dragon hunt alongside a range of other characters seeking its treasure. Dragons are sentient creatures who largely ignore humans, so Geralt does not view them as monsters in need of slaying. On the journey Geralt comes back into contact with Yennefer, with their tempestuous relationship currently at a low point. The Bounds of Reason takes a while to get going, with the exploration of Geralt and Yennefer’s relationship being the most appealing part of the story for me. The following story, A Shard of Ice is focused entirely on Geralt and Yennefer, with the two reunited and staying in the city of Aedd Gynvael. Yennefer has ongoing business in the city, but Geralt is anxious to leave causing the two to clash and it isn’t long before a rival for Yennefer’s affections complicate matters further. Where previous Yennefer stories focus on the magnetism and chemistry which inexorably draw her and Geralt together, A Shard of Ice concerns itself with the ways in which their lifestyles are incompatible. Yennefer is entirely selfish, but this is something almost inherent to someone as powerful as she, and entirely unwilling to meet Geralt’s needs. Geralt is restless, constantly needing to be on the move and an inability to articulate his emotions leading to simmering resentments. A Shard of Ice is a focused story with a smaller scale, but one which I really liked for what it revealed about a relationship which is increasingly seeming to be one of the core pillars of the series.
Eternal Flame isn’t one of the best stories in the collection, but it’s a generally lighter and funnier tale, with Dandelion playing a central role. It’s setting is one immediately familiar to players of The Witcher 3; Novigrad. I’ve spent a fair bit of time prowling those virtual streets so this setting was immediately appealing to me. It’s not the only element which eventually reappeared in The Witcher 3: Eternal Flame is about dopplers; shape shifting creatures who are hated and feared by most humans but are generally harmless. Dudu, the doppler at the centre of the story, played a role in the story of the game. Eternal Flame is a fun, but not particularly memorable story overall. The following story, A Little Sacrifice, wasn’t a favourite either. This story sees Geralt and Dandelion desperate and hungry, struggling for work. Geralt has wound up as the middle man in a love affair between a local noble and a mermaid, neither of which speak the same language. This whole element is a quite funny pastiche of The Little Mermaid, but the main plot interested me less. It involved a strange, love at first sight relationship between Geralt and a young bard mentee of Dandelion’s, Essi Daven. I found the whole thing a bit disconcerting, particularly in regarding the age gap. I mean, I’m definitely adjusted to seeing Geralt with younger looking women, but at least they’re normally sorceresses who are actually much older. Some people find this story very moving, but it really didn’t land for me. Still, the mermaid stuff was really fun so that made up for it.
The final two stories of the collection were definitely my favourites. The title story of the collection, Sword of Destiny, sees Geralt heading into Brokilon, a forest home to the mysterious dryads. The local princeling seeks to take Brokilon for its lumber and real estate and this is fiercely resisted by the dryads, with whom Geralt has had previous encounters. It is not long into his journey that he encounters a young girl who claims to be a princess, hiding from her prospective marriage match. This young woman is named Ciri and anyone who has played The Witcher 3 will know how important she is. The bond between Geralt and Ciri is hugely touching in the game and it was wonderful to see the origin of this relationship here. The sword referred to in the title is metaphorical, with ‘destiny’ being the major theme of this story and the one following it. Issues of predestination and free will come to the surface of this story and the risks and virtues of flying in the face of destiny and forging your own path are core to Geralt’s character. The final story, Something More, is a rather strange one. The story opens with Geralt saving a merchant from an attack on his wagon but becoming badly wounded in the process. The merchant takes care of him and brings him towards his home in CIntra whilst Geralt heals, with the story frequently lurching into flashbacks whilst Geralt recovers in a feverish daze. This story follows the fall of Cinta to Nilfgaard and features plenty of returning faces in the flashbacks, such as Yennefer and Dandelion. Something More picks up plot threads from several previous stories, most notably the immediately previous Sword of Destiny but also from stories way back in The Last Wish. It feels like a transition story between the short story structure of these first two books and the novels which follow. It’s probably the most moving bit of writing I’ve read from Sapkowski so far and digs deeper into Geralt’s surprising emotional depth than we have previously.
Sword of Destiny is a fantastic collection, even stronger than The Last Wish. By this point I absolutely get why this franchise became so huge in its native Poland. As much as I love the games, I hope that the stories which started it all aren’t forgotten. These two collections really are great and if they’re anything to do by, the following novels will be too.