Originally published in 1992, it’s taken until May 2015 (coinciding with the release of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt) for Andrzej Sapkowski’s Sword of Destiny to finally be translated into English, this time by David French. Despite being initially skipped over in favour of Blood of Elves, this is actually the second book, chronologically speaking, in the Witcher series and acts as a prelude to the Witcher Saga. Similar to The Last Wish, this book is once again a collected body of short stories albeit this time each longer and more fully-formed in their structure, but without an interconnecting story breaking them all up and linking them together. Truth be told, when I started reading this book I missed the threaded structure of the first volume, but by the end Sword of Destiny had pulled everything together nicely and is a very strong set-up for a larger and deeper narrative, which begins with Blood of Elves (the next book in my Witcher reading list).
Initially I found the change in translators a little jarring, as French just seems a little clumsier than Danusia Stok in translating from Polish, although I suspect French may be keeping closer to the source text but you’d have to ask someone who speaks Polish to confirm this. Nevertheless, after the first story I’d grown accustomed to the change, and it all reads very well with some excellent use of language and a lot more humour coming through this time ‘round; although the romantic sections of the book were very clunky and obviously not French’s forte. The stories themselves are all excellent, and the structure of them is much better than The Last Wish, with definite endings that don’t feel cut-off due to original publishing restrictions put upon the stories in the earlier book. The opening story The Bounds of Reason is a great pick-up from the threads left at the end of the previous volume and nicely re-introduce recurring characters like Dandelion and Yennefer, while later stories like the titular Sword of Destiny bring in fresh faces like Ciri (whom anyone playing The Witcher III: Wild Hunt will recognise).
The longer and more structured stories in Sword of Destiny allow Sapkowski to explore the psychology of protagonist Geralt as well as his complex relationship with Yennefer, whom he is bound to by destiny. Also, more Dandelion is always a recipe for hilarity and crazy adventures, and some of the best side-stories concern the rapscallious troubadour and the messes he gets Geralt into. Only in the first story do the three characters come together, but by the time the book ends with Something More, all plot threads have been expertly collected and made into a cohesive whole; it also weaves in the stories from The Last Wish and brings them into the context of a larger saga, which is why it’s worth reading these two volumes back-to-back. Ciri is introduced towards the end of the book, but the stories do a good job of connecting her to all that has come before, and she and Geralt are also tethered together by fate. She doesn’t get a huge amount of development here, presumably she will be a central focus of the Witcher Saga later on, but immediately she is interesting and well written.
The main themes of Sword of Destiny are in the title, and there is a big focus not only on the perilous action-packed life of a Witcher, but also what it means to be bound by fate. Geralt and Yennefer are two souls destined to meet each other over-and-over again, and they love each other deeply, but have a destructive relationship that can never result in anything due to them both being barren but longing for a child. Ciri basically *is* that child, a “Child of Destiny”, but it seems like she too is going to bring a lot of misfortune into the lives of these troubled characters. Reading these first two volumes whilst playing The Witcher III: Wild Hunt has been great, and has helped flesh out the world a lot, as well as giving me a better appreciation for the characters. I especially enjoyed seeing all the short stories come together in this second volume and wholeheartedly recommend Sword of Destiny to anyone interested in the Witcher universe, and who has already read The Last Wish.