Title: Sword of Destiny
Place in series: # 2
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Published: 1992 (English translation from 2015)
For more information about The Witcher Series, and my review of previous titles in the series you can find my introductory post HERE.
In this collection of short stories, following the adventures of the hit collection The Last Wish, join Geralt as he battles monsters, demons and prejudices alike…
Disclaimer: I’ve purposefully cut the blurb short. I think the official one is atrocious and shows a complete lack of understanding for the series and its protagonist.
Sword of Destiny is the second short-story collection in The Witcher Series. As with the previous book, The Last Wish, it provides worldbuilding and hints at things to come. At least two of these stories could be considered prologues to the following novel, Blood of Elves.
Unlike the previous book, Sword of Destiny does not have a frame-narrative, but you should read it cover to cover as the stories are all loosely connected and in chronological order.
Because of the short-story format, it’s close to impossible to discuss the plot of any of these stories without spoiling the stories themselves or the ones to come. There are six stories in total, but for this review, I want to highlight the four I think are the most important to the series as a whole. I’ll also address one of the more common critiques towards the series.
The Bounds of Reason & A Shard of Ice
Although not strictly connected to the larger plot, both of these stories give essential insight into the complicated and unorthodox relationship between Geralt and Yennifer. It also helps to explain the status of their relationship at the beginning of Blood of Elves.
Gealt and Yennifers relationship are at the very center of the series. What’s more, understanding their separate points of view and feelings is essential since it significantly impacts their actions and choices throughout the series.
Sword of Destiny & Something More
This is where the series main plot really kicks off. I would argue that these two stories, together with, The Witcher from The Last Wish, could be seen as the first “novel” in The Saga. All three stories are chronologically connected and tell the tale of how Geralt meets Ciri.
Again, I can’t write about the plot of any of these stories without spoiling the other or the books to come. What you need to know, is that Ciri is the second protagonist of the series, and her backstory, told through these three short-stories, is extremely important.
As for the remaining two stories, they are stand-alone even though they, of course, continue to expand the world and provide character development. Personally, I think they’re vital to building Geralt as a character as well as deepen the readers understanding of the role of a witcher and Geralt’s moral and professional code.
Speaking of Ciri & Yennifer, this might be a good opportunity to address one of the most common critiques I hear towards the series; that’s it’s misogynistic and objectifies women. My short answer to that, based on my own personal opinion, is that the books are not misogynistic, but the world they depict is.
It’s true that in these books, the female characters’ bodies are more sexualized than the male characters, but no more than say, Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time or other fiction aimed at a more mature audience. Sure, there are a lot of exposed breasts, but none of the graphics and/or weird sex scenes you see in a lot of fantasy. Overall, this is not a very graphic series, even though it portrays very unpleasant things like rape, torture, and extreme violence, at a certain point the scene will always fade to black; most of the unpleasant (and pleasant) things take place “off-screen.”
It’s also true that this is a world where most men (not the main characters) use every opportunity available to rape, sexual oppress, assault, discriminate, or humiliate female characters. Overall, if a female character finds herself at a disadvantage, there will be an element of misogyny in how she’s treated.
However, in this world, inequality makes sense. Despite its fantasy elements, the Continent is a feudal, social oppressive, dog eat dog world; everyone, everyone, exploits each other’s weaknesses. In this world, women are not singled out as victims, everyone is either a victim, an abuser, or both. The way this affects women is though misogyny, for an elven character it’s racisms, for a poor man it’s though his low social status. In my opinion, it would be strange if, in this profoundly unjust world, women were somehow exempt from, or unaffected by it.
These are books that in no way tries to hide the worst qualities of human society or the effect it has on the victims. In the novels, there are some brief but truly gut-wrenching scenes, and even though I don’t enjoy reading them, I appreciate that they’re there. In contrast to many other fantasy authors, Sapkowski doesn’t ignore what happens to women under these type of circumstances, he exposes, criticize and condemns it.
There’s no doubt that as an author, he puts his female characters in some extremely unpleasant situations; situations that a man would not find himself in. But he never tries to justify it, or claim what is happening is anything but an abuse of power.
I will say that this early in the series this critique is not obvious; the female characters, and how they interact with this world, will get more complicated, layered and well-rounded as we move into the novels.
My advice if you decide to read this series, is to not stare yourself blind on the number of exposed breasts, if you do, you’ll miss the deeper, underlying critique. That being said, at the end of the day, your personal point of view will decide how you see the portrayal of female characters in this series.
Immediately after finish this book, I tweeted:
I liked The Last Wish and gave it a high rating but, for me, Sword of Destiny was on another level.
It’s well-written, the world and its characters are complex, and most importantly, they’re enjoyable stories. In this book, you also get a first glimpse of the deep, emotional connections that many of the characters share; you see it between Gealt and Yennifer, as well as between Geralt and Ciri.
If you, for some inexplicable reason, decide to only read one of the short-story collections, this is the one I recommend. I love The Last Wish but it feels like a short-story collection, Sword of Destiny feels like a beginning.
My Rating: 9/10
How I rate:
1 = My god, how did this shit get published?!
2 = No, really, how?
3 = Meh, I didn’t have anything better to do, so I finished it.
4 = It was decent.
5 = It wasn’t a memorable read, but I probably enjoyed it.
6 = I had a good time, I’ll check out the author.
7 = This was great; this book has earned the right to live in my bookcase.
8 = I’m going to read every single book this author has ever written.
9 = This was fantastic. Point the way to the collector’s edition/ companion/merchandise!
10 = I will eject a shrine and read this book over and over until the day I die.
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