I’m still playing catch up with getting my thoughts on the Witcher books down on the blog here, so it’s time for book two already! I did read this back in March, so it’s been a while before I’ve put pen to paper, so to speak!
I want to say right off, that I really enjoyed this book, perhaps even more so than the last book. Now, the first Witcher anthology, The Last Wish, was a tremendous book, and I pretty much ran through it, lapping up all of the stories almost as quickly as possible. I also really liked the frame story that felt like it made the anthology something more. Starting on Sword of Destiny, I think I was initially hesitant, because it is a straight up collection of six stories that are loosely told in chronological order, but otherwise felt a bit like a step down from the earlier book.
While I was reading it, maybe halfway through, maybe not even that far, and my opinion just totally changed and I really got into it. I think it helps that the stories are, on the whole, longer than those in the previous volume, so they have a bit more time to evolve. Plus, I suppose, we’ve already met most of the characters by the time we get to this book, so when, for example, we meet Dandelion again, I did give a little cheer to see these familiar faces.
(Interestingly, this was the first book published for the Witcher series, back in 1992, though I think that’s probably because The Last Wish collects stories that were published in magazines etc).
The anthology is interesting, though, as while we know that Geralt is a Witcher, that is he hunts monsters for a living, he does very little of that throughout this book. In the very first book, he pointedly refuses to take part in a dragon hunt, as dragons are not a threat to humanity. The monster hunting comes second in the next story, which is something of an exploration of Geralt and Yennefer’s relationship. I thought this one was a really interesting character story, and tells us a lot about the two of them (although it’s actually three, as the story is a love triangle with another sorcerer, Istredd, who I believe shows up in the main novels too).
The third story, Eternal Flame, was a nice little story that features halflings and changelings, amid the theocratic city of Novigrad, which is I believe an important place within the lore. I found it interesting because it made for a very different type of fantasy story – one of the main plot points was the mercantile activities of the halfling (or, should I say, the shapeshifter). Dandelion is also back, which is always a pleasure!
He’s also in the fourth tale, A Little Sacrifice, which was both my least favourite, but also one that I still managed to enjoy a great deal. The “main” story involves Duke Agloval’s pursuit of a mermaid, and his hiring Geralt to investigate the deaths of some pearl divers purported to be the work of a sea monster. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with it, I just wasn’t really into the story all that much. However, intertwining this is the story of Dandelion’s fellow minstrel Essi “Little Eye” and her relationship with Geralt. It was kinda cute, and I think much more down to earth than Geralt and Yennefer, which is the kind of tempestuous love story from a drama or something. In sharp contrast, Geralt and Essi is like the sort of thing you would see happening every day, and there was just something really quite lovely about it all – which makes the ending really quite heart-rending.
The last two stories are somewhat strongly connected. Sword of Destiny introduces Ciri to the lore, as Geralt comes across the girl while travelling through the Last Forest in an attempt to deliver a message to the dryad queen, Eithne. The dryads attempt to take Ciri as one of their own, giving her the waters of Brokilon to drink and forget her former life. However, the water has no effect on her. It later transpires that Ciri is the granddaughter of Queen Calanthe, from the previous book, and is the Child of Destiny that Geralt had originally claimed under the Law of Surprise. Geralt, however, refuses to take her as is his right, and claims to have only invoked the law to look destiny in the eye.
Finally, we have Something More, where Geralt is injured when saving a merchant from undead monsters, and hallucinates memories from his past. While the merchant is able to take Geralt to safety, he offers anything in return, and so the old Law of Surprise makes another appearance, as Geralt asks as payment that which he was not expecting upon his return home. Along the way, we learn that Cintre, the kingdom of Calanthe, has fallen and the royal family has committed mass suicide. Geralt mourns for Ciri, only to find that the merchant’s wife has taken in a refugee fleeing the attack – and of course, it is Ciri. Wonderful!
These stories were almost more mature than the last volume, with much more of a focus on the human drama between the characters than we had last time. We do still have the world-building, as we get to explore more of the setting, and we get some very interesting new characters to add to the development of those we know from The Last Wish, but I feel like it was a definite step-up from the last book.
I have no real idea as to the chronology of the stories, or how they are supposed to link in to the main novel series yet, but that almost doesn’t matter, really. I mean, each story was self-contained enough that you don’t feel that you’re missing out on anything, but I still get the impression that they’re setting up more important relationships (particularly with Ciri) for later down the line. I found it interesting that I was able to enjoy these stories almost in isolation, therefore, although I suppose having read the first book, that has provided enough grounding?
At any rate, I really enjoyed this one, which is weird, because both Jenn and Dave, with whom I’m going to be reading the main series, were pretty ambivalent about it, at best! I wonder how our opinions will turn out after reading the next one, Blood of Elves…?