Many years ago, before I joined the site, Andrew reviewed a little book called The Last Wish. After watching the Netflix adaptation last year, pressure from a couple of friends, and a series of YouTube videos (by the wonderful Eric Sophia at their channel Curio) about the franchise, I decided to dive headlong into the book series this year. I didn’t really plan on providing reviews of the books, but Sword of Destiny pushed me to talk about it.
Sword of Destiny is the second set of short stories by Andrzej Sapkowski that introduce the witcher, Geralt of Rivia. A witcher, for those that don’t know, is a mutated human with some supernatural abilities that acts as a gate between human and monster worlds. Sometimes, these stories can involve Geralt killing supernatural creatures who plague humans, but oftentimes it is a more complicated situation where Geralt must wade through shades of grey and make hard choices about who is in the right. Geralt’s personal moral code begs him to dig deeper and solve these problems in his own way. Most of the stories in Sword of Destiny are told in a linear fashion, one leading to another, or at least deceptively so. Geralt goes on a series of adventures, contracted by a noble or a group of peasants to “deal” with a supernatural force of one design or another.
I one hundred percent adored Sword of Destiny. It’s just an absolute banger of a book with short stories that are meticulously plotted. Their themes are linked in a way I have yet to experience. It certainly helps that it’s one author with a single goal in mind, but nonetheless it feels like a cohesive experience. This is a departure from The Last Wish, where the collection of short stories covers a myriad of subjects and themes, pulling from well known fairy tales and twisting them in neat ways. Where Wish is a net, Sword is an elegant deep dive with a spear, hunting for a bigger more specific subject.
Generally, I’d consider myself an emotional reader. I shed a few tears when the story moves me to, and laugh out loud if the text is funny. I also couch a lot of my opinions about the quality of a book in how I feel about said book. Sure, I tend to get lost in details about whether the worldbuilding works, but I fall back on whether or not I bought into it. All that is to say, I’m open to experiencing the ranges a writer might take you through, and by god Sapkowski had me laughing out loud, and bawling like a child several times through my time with Sword. I am practically begging the other writers to read it so I can share in the flood of emotions this book had me feel.
As with the previous book, Sapkowski knocks it out of the park when he interweaves classic fairy tales into his adventures, often in cheeky ways. The fourth story in the collection, “A Little Sacrifice,” makes a nod to The Little Mermaid as Geralt is contracted to ease the relationship troubles between a duke and a mermaid. I like that Sapkowski leaned less on these through the majority of the book, opting to use them more as setup instead of altered versions of them. If the Last Wish was a stack of premium building material, Sword of Destiny is Sapkowski using it to lay the foundations of a larger world that a more structured story can sustain itself on.
Lastly, I really want to emphasize just how much this book feels like an emotional Rubik’s cube. Each story feels like a single color and when completed stands out as an accomplishment of its own. As with The Last Wish, each story imparts its own lesson, and in the beginning each feels independent from the others. However, as one approaches the conclusion, there is the distinct feeling that they are all in some way imparting a similar lesson, part of a larger whole that shifts with each completed side. It isn’t until one reaches the final sentence that it all collapses into one stunning shape, one that left me curled up on the couch tearing for hours piecing the little ways Sapkowski built it all up. The stories hurt, and they hurt good, but it’s why they hurt that makes the book feel special.
If a small part of you has been wanting to read this series, do yourself a favor, pick up The Last Wish, if only to prepare for Sword of Destiny. You’ll thank yourself.
Rating: The Sword of Destiny 10/10