This second Witcher volume, like the first, is a collection of short stories not necessarily told in chronological order. Sapkowski further develops the main character Geralt of Rivia while hitting hard on themes of a changing world and the role of fate and destiny in Geralt’s life. Some of the stories were featured in the TV series, and the reader gets to know characters like Dandelion (Jaskier) and Yennefer a little better.
Sword of Destiny includes six stories, the first of which will be familiar to fans of the TV series. “The Bounds of Reason” is the story of Borch Three Jackdaws and the saving of a dragon, but how that all happens plays out differently in this story. It opens with some townspeople about to ransack Geralt’s possessions, assuming that he has been done in by the basilisk they hired him to slay. Borch and his two warrior women stop them and travel with Geralt, leading to some interesting conversation about forces of order, forces of chaos, and the need to adapt if one is to survive. Dandelion and Yennefer are featured in this story, as well as a host of characters that may or may not have been in the TV series. The ending is much better in the book! Borch truly is “the most beautiful,” and before he departs, he tells Geralt — a man who comes across as depressed and directionless — that “Even those who are different can survive.”
The next three stories were not in the TV series but perhaps will show up in season two. Two of them, “Shard of Ice” and “A Little Sacrifice” deal with matters of love and Geralt’s complicated and conflicted feelings about Yennefer and a female bard named Essie Davin, aka Little Eye. “Shard of Ice” shows the reader how things go wrong between Geralt and Yennefer. Much backstory is implied; these two have a messy past but keep coming back to one another. The thing is, Yennefer also hooks up regularly with another sorcerer named Istredd. Geralt is bored with the town where they are currently living and when he finds out about Istredd, he gets jealous. Yennefer for her part is quite open and blunt about her feelings, and she makes no apologies for herself. Even though I have seen reviews noting how unlikeable Yennefer is, I kind of like that she is smart and powerful, and she wants what she wants. She cannot give Geralt what he wants and Geralt cannot be everything she needs. In “A Little Sacrifice,” Geralt begins to understand Yennefer’s point of view when he and Dandelion encounter the bard Little Eye (Essie) on their journeys. Geralt and Essie are attracted to one another but Geralt cannot give her what she wants from him even though he has strong feelings for her. In this same story, another character’s love interest — a mermaid — is asked to make a sacrifice for his love. Her choice is revealed at the end of the story.
“Eternal Flame” is my favorite story in this collection. In it, Geralt and Dandelion find themselves in the big city Novigrad, a trade center where one can find supplies and entertainment, and lots of trouble. The local authorities are interested in collecting their taxes and maintaining order, so when a shapeshifter, known as a Doppler, takes the form of their halfling friend Dainty, all hell breaks loose. There’s a lot of humor in this story and some wild chases through town, but it also examines the way minorities are vilified and persecuted, and the extremes to which one must go to adapt and blend in. The ending is a delight.
Sword of Destiny ends with two stories that were in the TV series and introduce the character Ciri. The story “Sword of Destiny” is set in Brokilon Forest, the last refuge of elves and a place strictly forbidden to humans. Those who dare enter are killed, although children might be taken in and assimilated. Ciri is the granddaughter of Queen Calanthe and Geralt’s “child of destiny,” promised to him by the law of surprise after he helped Ciri’s father (story is in The Last Wish and was in the TV series). She finds herself in the forest after running away from her guard detail on a trip to meet the prince to whom she is betrothed. She is just a child, but she has very strong feelings against this marriage and decides to bolt. Geralt saves her and we get a lot of back and forth between Eithne the Elf Queen and Geralt regarding destiny and the changing world, with Eithne warning Geralt that he cannot avoid his fate with Ciri. In “Something More,” Geralt enters a fever dream after saving a merchant and his cart from zombie-like monsters. In his dreams, he goes into his past and relives his interactions with Queen Calanthe regarding Ciri, and we see that Geralt has repeatedly tried to avoid his responsibility for Ciri. I find this part very different from the TV show. In the book he has several opportunities to take her on and is encouraged by many to do so (even Calanthe, who does not want to give her up, seems offended that Geralt doesn’t want her), but he runs away from his fate. Until, that is, his fate finally runs up to him and he embraces it.
One of the things I like about these stories is that they show Geralt’s vulnerability and insecurity. Witchers are supposed to lack emotion and human feeling, but that is not the case here. Geralt at times comes off almost like a teenager, with the whole “no one understands me” thing, and the funny thing is, a good number of people DO understand him and don’t take his bullshit. Yennefer, Dandelion and others have no qualms about telling him that he isn’t so different from everyone else, that not everyone hates him, and that not everyone who shows interest in him is doing so out of freakish curiosity. Some people actually like and admire him! Geralt also has reservations about some aspects of his work. He frequently refuses to take jobs that require him to kill creatures that he considers intelligent and non-threatening; they are simply different, like him. Geralt seems a bit depressed and defeated in the face of this changing world. He sees that something is ending and he cannot see his place in what comes next. Characters in each of these stories, however, tell him or show him how survival will work, and that links us back to his destiny and Ciri. Geralt, like most mutants, is incapable of reproduction (this is the source of all of Yennefer’s anger and frustration, as she, too, is a mutant), but survival and living on can happen in ways other than having your own biological children. And, incidentally, Sapkowski provides a firm affirmation of a woman’s right to choose in an exchange between Geralt and Calanthe. Geralt’s mother had been a sorceress who gave him up in childhood for reasons unknown to endure the brutal training to become a witcher. Geralt tells Calanthe,
“I presume she had a choice… a suitable spell or elixir would have been sufficient [to abort the pregnancy]…. A choice which should be respected, for it is the holy and irrefutable right of every woman.”
To this Calanthe responds,
“…lets not discuss a woman’s right to this decision, because it is a matter beyond debate.”
Unlike The Last Wish, this collection does not involve the re-telling of fairy tales as far as I can tell, although it does make passing reference to tales such Hans Christian Andersen’s the little mermaid and the wild swans. While the stories could stand alone, they do hold together thanks to the recurring themes of survival and destiny, and clearly they are leading up to some bigger story ahead. Onward!