Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Sword of Destiny by: Andrzej Sapkowski and translated by: David French

Sword of Destiny is the second of two short story collections in The Witcher series and unlike The Last Wish, which collected stories with a similar theme through a framing device, simply presents the six short stories as is, in chronological order.  That makes Sword of Destiny overall feel less cohesive of a book, and more of the anthology style of many short story collection.  This is further compounded with the odd nature of the final two stories in the collection being direct setups for the series proper which begins in the next book.

“The Sword of Destiny” and “Something More” are essentially sequels to “A Question of Price” and introduce the character of Ciri, the granddaughter of Queen Calanthe and the promised child to Geralt.  It is interesting to note that through both stories Geralt is resistant to allowing her to become a witcher due to the mutations one undergoes in the process.  They reveal a caring side to Geralt as throughout he keeps up the stoic fa├žade of his normal characterization, but there are these little moments where the reader can tell he is in physical pain.  Of the two, “The Sword of Destiny” is of a higher quality, as it sees Geralt cross paths with Ciri as she is being brought to a group of dryads to essentially give him an out.  It is a story where he accidentally breaks the young girl’s trust while still allowing her to wish to stay with the Witcher.  The dryads will wipe her memory and sap her will to leave their domain.  The dryads are an interesting race of characters, reflecting older stories of faeries who abduct children and raise them to become like them.  Overall this isn’t a story about some great villain to fight or a monster to defeat, and not one to impart a specific moral, but one where the characters deal with character drama.  It is something that Sapkowski does marvelously and writes a highly engaging short story.  8/10.

“Something More” is the darker, yet slightly weaker of the two, as unlike “The Sword of Destiny”, it is there purely for setup.  It’s a story about how the rest of Ciri’s family was killed and her land was taken over by the forces of Nilfgaard, all done off-page as the story follows Geralt on his way to Cintra.  There is some buildup of character for Geralt here as the title refers to the final line of the story as Geralt realizes what Ciri means to him and almost promises to himself that he will care for her.  The plot itself essentially has Geralt putting himself completely by accident into caring for Ciri after creating a similar deal with a different character as he did in “A Question of Price”.  The story itself while enjoyable and ending the collection on a brilliant note, feels very much like Sapkowski is quickly attempting a prologue to get his characters ready for where they begin in Blood of Elves.  Sword of Destiny as an anthology would have been much stronger had “Something More” been placed as prologue instead of the culmination of the short story collection, as it is necessary for the overall story arc but doesn’t entirely end on a solid note.  6/10.

The rest of Sword of Destiny’s stories are essentially stand alone and keeping more in line with those in The Last Wish, as four little morality plays playing out.  The collection opens strong with “The Bounds of Reason” which is perhaps the best story in the collection.  It tells of Geralt and Yennifer hunting for a dragon with a ragtag team including a shoemaker.  The opening of the story is a great reintroduction to Geralt and just how the world thinks of him, told from the point of view of people contracting him for a paltry sum to kill a basilisk.  The reaction to Geralt surviving and accepting his small sum is priceless and a great way for Sapkowski to reestablish just who Geralt is as a character.  He fights monsters and is not in it for the money.  Once again every scene between Geralt and Yennifer are a joy to watch as they verbally spar in a manner only those deeply in love understand which is surprising how well it translates.  Much of the enjoyment from this story for English readers should be shared with translator David French.  This is a difficult story to translate and the lighter tone of the story and humor of the tale highlights what can make The Witcher work as a franchise.  10/10.

Sword of Destiny’s weakest element is the fact that there isn’t as much enjoyable character development or a character through line for the book.  “A Shard of Ice”, the second story of the book, is the one that feels like it is meant for developing the relationship of Geralt and Yennefer, and showing how it works as an on again, off again relationship.  This story is one where Geralt has to deal with another lover of Yennefer’s, dealing with the saying ‘truth is like a shard of ice’.  It is telling about Yennefer that she first and foremost has to keep her own goals above Geralt’s when dealing with her past.  Sapkowski also explores the idea of love over sex: Yennifer has sex with Istredd, her sorcerer friend and ex-lover, and with Geralt, but she truly loves Geralt.  Geralt also proves in this story that above his mutations, he does feel emotions and ends the story with the moral high ground by walking away from a fight.  This may actually be the first story where Geralt feels true emotions and has to go through a wide range of experiences.  His final actions in this story are telling for what depths the character will go for the story.  Istredd is also an interesting character as he has this innate prejudice for the Witcher yet still tries to connect with Yennifer despite the fact that she is a sorceress.  He and Geralt are part of classes which are discriminated against, which makes it all the more interesting that he hates Geralt for his nature.  Overall, another hit for Sword of Destiny.  8/10.

The weak link of this collection is “Eternal Flame”.  This is a story about a religious order and the world’s discrimination against dwarves, halflings, and other magical creatures, yet has one major issue that brings it down.  The pacing of this story is incredibly weird as it’s a story that includes a lot of ideas but doesn’t have enough time to flesh them all out.  The most interesting thing about the story is the ‘doppler’ which is a shapeshifter which Geralt has to hunt down but oddly this is a story where the ending is almost entirely positive.  This sticks out like a sore thumb as the rest of the stories end up feeling like they have a point where this one is just worldbuilding.  After reading, much of the story is pretty forgettable and only worthwhile for the banter between Geralt and Dandelion.  It’s also kind of a mystery story, but that mystery just doesn’t really land well creating just a mediocre time.  4/10.

“A Little Sacrifice” is basically The Witcher does The Little Mermaid, which is lampshaded within the story.  The title refers to what each partner of a star-crossed trans-species pair of lovers is not willing to give up when Geralt attempts to broker a love.  A mermaid wishes her human lover to be given a fish tail (forgetting the fact that he cannot breathe underwater) while the human prince wishes the mermaid to grow legs to live on land.  Sapkowski is intentional in crafting a relationship where one party actually needs to sacrifice something and is hypocritical for avoiding it.  It’s a parallel for the relationship between Geralt and Yennefer, which Geralt reflects upon for a large portion of this story, as a rival of Dandelion grows feelings for the Witcher.  Geralt, of course, has no real way of reciprocating those feelings or explaining why he doesn’t reciprocate the feelings.  It makes for an interesting character study for Geralt and genuinely a heartbreaking tale.  Essi Daven is Dandelion’s rival and Geralt’s “love interest” for this tale and Sapkowski makes her one of the most memorable side characters with a fully developed arc.  Once again “A Little Sacrifice” is a story elevated by some amazing final moments, which is a trend of Sapkowski.  7/10.

Overall, Sword of Destiny is a varied short story collection with less consistency than The Last Wish.  While it has some highs, it also has some genuine lows for the book and feels at times more like an extended prologue instead of an independent collection in its own right.  7.17/10.

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