Start: March 11, 2019
Finish: May 10, 2019
Synopsis: Geralt is a Witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer. His targets are the months and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent.
Sword of Destiny follows the adventures of Gerald as he battles monsters, demons, and prejudices alike… [via back cover]
I was first introduced to the Witcher series through the 2015 release of the Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt by video game company CD Projekt Red. I never completed the main story line, though I did sink in at least 30-40 hours into the game. It’s easily one of my favorite games and one of the games I believe every RPG lover should play at least once. The world is beautiful and intriguing. The characters are complex and human. The monsters are sinister and terrifying. And the story, both the main quests line and the side quests, is captivating. The Witcher 3 is one of the few games that is satisfying no matter how you decide to play.
This game, world, stories, and characters has stayed with me for years and I was absolutely thrilled to read the series that inspired this award-winning game series.
The Sword of Destiny (TSoD),a collection of short stories, is the second book in the Witcher book series. I read the first book, The Last Wish, a few years ago and wasn’t as impressed with the story as I thought I would be. (I plan on revisiting this book later this year to see if my feelings have changed.) But TSoD was the first time I was genuinely in awe of the writing. While the series was originally published in Polish, the translation here is wonderful. There are many passages that are pure poetry, inspiring me to imitate this style of writing in my own work. The writing is emotional, endearing, heartbreaking and at times hilarious. Andrzej Sapkowski not only describes a world that is unique from our own, but also manages to delve deep into the psyche of these characters, causing me as a reader to empathize with them in ways that I didn’t image.
The forest did not seem to deserve the dreadful notoriety it enjoyed. it was terribly wild and arduous to march through, but it was the commonplace arduousness of a dense forest, where every gap, every patch of sunlight filtered by the boughs and leafy branches of huge trees, was immediately exploited by dozens of young birches, alders and hornbeams, by brambles, junipers and ferns, their tangle of shoots covering the crumbly mire of rotten wood, dry branches and decayed trunks of the oldest trees, the ones that had lost the fight, the ones that had lived out their lifespans. The thicket, however, did not generate the ominous, weighty silence which would have suited the place more. No, Brokilon was alive. Insects buzzed, lizards rustled the grass underfoot, iridescent beetles scuttled, thousands of spiders tugged webs glistening with drops of water, woodpeckers thumped tree trunks with sharp series of raps and jays screeched.
Despite the monsters that roam the lands and the rulers who engage in bloody squabbles at the expense of the common folk, this is a fantasy world that I’d like to visit. Only for a short while though.
The main character in this series is Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher who travels the land, taking on odd jobs in villages and cities. He’s a monster slayer, often going into some of the ugliest parts of this world to make it habitable for humanity. He’s unique in that his body has undergone extreme mutations making him faster, stronger and more durable than the average person. Of course this makes him an Other, forcing him to exist on the fringes of society. People often flinch at his appearance or give him wide berths if they cross paths with him. Geralt seems to take this discrimination in stride, but it’s clear that he strongly detests how he and others like him are treated. Because of this, he’s also an extremely empathetic character, sometimes forgoing killing a monster if he sees a bit of humanity in them. In fact, in nearly half of the stories in this collection, Geralt acts against his Witcher code and protects the “monsters.” One of the best examples of this is in the story, “Eternal Flame,” one of my favorite stories in this collection. Geralt is a character who manages to surprise me with each and every story.
But Geralt isn’t my favorite character in this book. I like him a lot. But for me, the best character is Yennefer of Vengerburg, Geralt’s main love interest. She’s a sorceress who, like Geralt, travels and goes on countless adventures, though her intentions are a lot less altruistic. In some ways, I believe Yennefer should be the main character of this series, partially because of my own personal love of her and because selfish women aren’t represented enough in media. Many of the characters try to paint Yennefer in a negative light, but both Geralt and the readers understand there’s something deep in Yennefer’s core that made her into the woman she is. She’s also snarky, unwilling to take BS from others. She commands your attention whenever she’s present and you can feel her effect on Geralt throughout the collection.
There’s so much to love about this book, but my one qualm with the series is the role of women in this world. I’ll admit, the women in this book and series (so far) are treated far better than women in other fantasy series (I’m looking at you Game of Thrones TV show!) But they still live in a paternalistic world where men try to exert their control over them, with varying degrees of success. There’s a side of me that wants more for Yennefer and the other women in this world, where their storylines don’t deal with the threat of rape, forced marriages or fitting into heteronormative, domestic roles. They’re complex and are all various shades of grey. But they’re also all portrayed as conventionally attractive women, who are meant to be aesthetically pleasing to men. Truthfully, I’m still trying to decipher my feelings on this and I think in some ways, I’m jaded by the traditional treatment of women in fantasy. I hope when I finish the entire series, I’ll have a clearer opinion about this.
I’m excited to start the next book in the series, Blood of Elves. The Witcher series has the potential to reawaken my love for high fantasy stories. It’s not perfect. But it’s one of the better fantasy series I’ve read in a while!