I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sword of Destiny (book review)

Sword of destiny is the second book from "the Witcher" series, which rose to worldwide fame mostly because of the videogames and, now, the TV series.

This book was actually published in Poland BEFORE The Last Wish, the "first" book in the series. However, the events described in The Last Wish happened before, and it also was printed before in english IIRC, so Sword of destiny is usually classified as book 2 in the series.

These two books are collections of interconnected short stories, not novels, with the main "saga" beginning in book three.

If you read my review from the first book, or watched the TV series, there is not much to add here. If you liked those, you will probably like this. The series drew a lot from this book.

Sword of destiny is like The Last Wish, but even more so: the flaws are more glaring, but the overall quality of te writing is not much different from the "first" book. Dark humor, clever twists, decent dialogue, etc.

There are LOTS of appearances from Jaskier and Yennefer in this book, among other fortuitous encounters that strained my credulity to its limits. Important characters bump into each other at crossroads, random villages, etc. "Destiny" seems to be the culprit in some cases, but it feels exaggerated sometimes.

The focus on relationships frankly makes me question why we should call this "dark fantasy" in the first place. Yes, there are some amoral characters and prejudice against the nearly-extinct elves, and institutions are unreliable (aren't they always?), but not much more "dark stuff" than that. Lots of happy endings (or at least not terrible), for example, unlike G.R.R. Martin or Moorcock. The dark parts in this book concern mostly Geralt himself and how the process of becoming a Witcher is dangerous and taxing.

And Geralt is again, an idealistic character, seemingly out of place in this world - much more honest and reliable than Elric or Conan, and deeply in love with Yennefer, a woman that apparently isn't sure if she loves him back. Or something like that. If you came looking for gritty, gloomy fantasy, you might roll eyes at some points in the story.

The focus on love and relationships (even impossible love) makes this stuff almost like some kind of "romantic" fantasy (I use quotation marks because romantic fantasy is actually a whole different genre).

But, ultimately, it is mostly "postmodern" fantasy, poking at the tropes of the "traditional" fantasy of Tolkien and others and often subverting them, reflecting on society itself and the nature of destiny, etc. 

It is not tragic or alien stuff, but has clear modern sensibilities (even the characters often think in modern terms...). It resembles the "pulp" classics like Howard more than the epic narratives of Tolkien or Moorcock, or even the more "magical" works of Dunsany (which I love) and Eddison (which I can hardly read, to be honest).

At least in these first two books, there is a quality of alienness and awe that seems lacking - if that is what you're looking for in fantasy novels.

However, the stories are interesting and well-written enough that, frankly, got me hooked. The pace is sometimes slow, but never boring, and the "short story" structure make pages go by fast. The action scenes are good, the jokes are often funny... And the characters manage to be compelling - Jaskier is a worthy companion instead of comic relief, and Geralt pass through hard times and mundane problems, making him more relatable.

And, once again, this book is great to mine for ideas for RPGs.

So, in short... I'm a bit on the fence on this one. It is a good book, but not one of the greats, at least not so far. But then again it is the first book the author wrote, and it show signs of becoming something bigger. So, if you like the "first" book or the show, I'd recommend this one. I'll probably read the next one to see how the series progresses. 


  1. Good review. Perhaps I'll pick it up when I am looking for new book series to grab. The fact that it isn't Dark/Gritty Fantasy is a plus, since I got to the end of GoT and felt that while the setting was well written, I wasn'f attached to any character enough to continue.

    If you havn't taken a look at it, have you ever read Legend by David Gemell? I think it's a fairly solid read for first book.

    1. I haven't!! If you say it is worthwhile, I might check it out...