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.
I really enjoyed The Last Wish which introduces the reader to the character of Geralt of Rivia. Sword of Destiny is a second set of short stories featuring Geralt and some of the characters that were introduced in the first collection and set shortly before the novels in the series. I have to admit that, while I enjoyed the tales in this collection, they didn’t have quite the same impact as those in The Last Wish.
The main reason for this is that I missed the thrill of the hunt. The first collection is very much focussed on Geralt being hired to deal with a given situation and his efforts in dealing with the monster(s) in question. Some he kills, some he lets go, for some there is a middle ground, but each tale has a sense of action and adventure with a mission and a resolution of one kind or another. I was expecting more of the same, yet this collection feels quite different. I felt that the focus was more on the characters and introducing the individuals who are, presumably, central to the novels. This is particularly true for the final two stories in the collection – Sword of Destiny and Something More – which bring Geralt and Ciri together. These two tales feel like a prelude, setting the scene for what’s to come.
Of the six tales featured in Sword of Destiny, the two that really stood out for me were The Bounds of Reason (featured in the Netflix adaptation) and Eternal Flame. For me, these best showed Geralt in his role as a Witcher and what that entails while also demonstrating that there’s more to his character than a killer for hire. Throughout both collections, he’s demonstrated a strong moral code and it’s partly this that makes him such an interesting character. I really like the concept behind the stories and the world that Sapkowski has created, but I felt that these were portrayed better in The Last Wish.
I also wasn’t entirely happy with the treatment of women in this collection, and Yennefer in particular. In her, Sapkowski has created a character who is fiercely independent and eminently capable, and yet there are instances where she seems to be little more than an eyeroll inducing damsel in distress. It seems inconsistent with the character that has been portrayed so far and I found it a little off-putting. I didn’t notice anything along these lines in the first collection, nor was it true for all of the stories in Sword of Destiny, so I don’t know if the intention was to demonstrate a vulnerability to the character that didn’t quite land as intended.
My dilemma now is whether or not to continue with the novels. There’s more scope for character development which would hopefully redress my concerns around Yennefer and how women are portrayed, and I’d expect an overarching mission that would give the sense of purpose that some of the tales in Sword of Destiny seem to lack. And I do like Geralt and the concept of Witchers in general, which leaves me intrigued to see what happens in the novels. If anyone has read Blood of Elves, feel free to chip in with some advice in the comments!