[Book Review] The Witcher: Sword of Destiny – Andrzej Sapkowski

Title: The Witcher: Sword of Destiny
Author
: Andrezej Sapkowski
Published by: Gollancz
Publication date: 13th Feb. 2020
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal Collection

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Blurb/Synopsis

Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, a man whose magic powers and lifelong training have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary killer: he hunts the vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil; not everything fair is good . . . and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

Translated by David French.

Review

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’ve picked up The Witcher series again as a buddy read with, Dave, Mark and I think Milou will be joining us? It’s been a while since I read any of The Witcher books, so having a short story anthology before a re-read of Blood of Elves was a good idea. Sort of?


The Witcher: Sword of Destiny is one of the Short Story collection prequels of the series. An assembly of stories featuring Geralt of Rivia, Yennefer of Vengerburg, Dandelion and other regular characters that play a pivotal part in the larger story to come. The anthology is broken into six loosely connected stories reiterating concepts that will have a larger part to the narrative in the main series.

I admit I have had trouble discerning the order of these books, hence why I’ve already read the first book in the series; Blood of Elves and The Last Wish. I think there’s also another Witcher short story collection before the main event too?


Sword of Destiny is a very ‘middle of the road’ book. The stories, in their individual parts, are all relatively decent. Collectively, there’s not a great deal that threads them together.

At this point, we’ve had a great deal of time getting to know the world setting and how they are based on mythology and fairy tales. Now we know the depth of Geralts character. We have had enough set-up to be getting on with the main event. We know Geralt’s code of morals and his definitions of the word ‘monster.’

For me, the appeal of The Witcher series comes from the Video Games – it is how I was first introduced to them – and therefore a lot of combat and action is involved. Therefore, I found Sword of Destiny something of a chore. Geralt of Rivia is a world-renown Monster Hunter. Yet, in Sword of Destiny, he is near destitute from the lack of Monster Hunting he does. Not that there isn’t opportunity. Monsters are everywhere. It just seems that his focus is elsewhere. Mostly on Yennefer, how much he loves her and the sheer amount of excuses they can come up with to not be together. At first, I found the idea of their unconventional romance interesting. Then I found the excuses just piled on top of one another and it just became a bit irritating.

Within the pages are various offerings of mythological creatures, dragons, mermaids and elves. As well as a good handful of humanity and their interactions with one another.

As the title suggests, there is a large emphasis on the term destiny and if it is a real thing. What pulls does it has on individuals? Even if they don’t believe in it? Meanwhile, Geralt agonises over this question almost as much as he pines over Yennefer. I assume this is due to something that he is told in the first story in the collection; The Bounds of Reason. However, it is a thread that is dragged through the rest of the novels unrelentingly, until fleetingly addressed in the final story; Something More.

The world that Sapkowski has invented is dark, gritty and high-fantasy. Magic is involved and utilised as much as swords. It’s a fascinating world to dive into and try to understand. The adaptations of various myths and legends are some of the best I have come across in my reading. Trying to figure out which fairy take the author has taken inspiration from and in which story is a great deal of fun. How they differ, even more so. One of the short stories within has clear roots too ‘The little mermaid,’ for example.

As a set of establishing and world-building novels, they aren’t a bad collection. Each story offers a different element and adds to the overall world in which the characters inhabit and the book can’t be faulted in those respects. I just find that there wasn’t really enough going on in the stories to grab my attention. I fault this primarily to a heap of repetition; Yennefer smelling if Lilac and Gooseberries, for example.

I hate to be someone who dwells on topics as an afterthought, but there’s something that really bugs me about Yennefer as a character. She gave up “everything” to become a powerful sorceress. The sum of that “everything” is that she can no longer have children. I have seen it being said that these books are sexist. I don’t subscribe to that notion. The characters in these books, be them male or female, value power.

Yennefer is a very powerful character. A character that wants everything that she cannot have – she seeks to restore the natural ability that her body lost; it’s a good driving goal for the character. It’s how this comes across that irks me. She seems more akin to a foot-stamping toddler rather than a strong, female character. As such, I couldn’t get along with her in this particular book; I have enjoyed her in other books though, so maybe because this was the first written book in the series (but not first published) and her character wasn’t as well considered as in later offerings?

What I don’t really get about these books is that Geralt is a mutant and everyone finds that abhorrent. Yet, he has a good plethora of friends. And women throw themselves at his feet for a one night stand. I feel like there is a vast conflict in the presentation of the character. Is he hated or loved? The answer is not clear cut.

All this preludes to something bigger, the main series. Can we just get on with it now? I’m sure all these short stories could have fit in as back-story somehow, rather than thrust upon us in such a manner that was so… dull. I have hope that the main body will be a lot better than this collection and therefore feel that there will be some meat on the bones of those books, rather than the emptiness that this one left me with.

Summary

Sword of Destiny is a mediocre collection of short stories that left me feeling hollow. After this I didn’t really care for the conundrums of the characters. Although the dialogue is well-written, the action is thin on the ground, also there’s not enough monster-hunting in a book that is, primarily, about a monster hunter.

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