BOOK REVIEW: The Witcher – Sword of Destiny

Many visitors to our site will probably be familiar with Geralt of Rivia from the – rather excellent – video games produced by Polish developers, CD Projekt Red. Indeed, it was through the first of these (I purchased the collector’s edition that included a “making of” documentary) that I became aware of the Witcher and his world. The Witcher was created by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowskiin a series of short stories which have been translated and published in English. The latest, Sword of Destiny is published as the third game is released. Here’s my take on this collection of six tales of The Witcher. It is possibly worth mentioning that although this is the sixth collection to be translated, it is the second in terms of chronology to Geralt!

AUTHOR: Andrzej Sapkowski- translated by David French
PUBLISHER:
 Gollancz
RRP: 
£16.99 (Paperback) / £8.99 (eBook)

Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. He roams the country seeking assignments, but gradually comes to realise that while some of his quarry are unremittingly vile, vicious grotesques, others are the victims of sin, evil or simple naivety.

 

In this collection of short stories, following the adventures of the hit collection THE LAST WISH, join Geralt as he battles monsters, demons and prejudices alike…

As with all of Sarpwoski’s works, Sword of Destiny is recommended by Geek Syndicate for mature readers due to the language of its characters and the honest portrayal of a grim medieval world that is represented here.

As I mentioned, I entered the world of Geralt the Witcher through the video games and I am really glad I ventured into the realm of Sapkowski’s prose work. I picked up the first and second collections in their previous editions (also published by Gollancz) and devoured their contents. Geralt’s world is odd in that there is a sense of realism to the fantastic. Without going into vast detail about history, background and lore, Sapkowski creates a “lived in” world – a world of men, dwarves, elves and monsters – but one that seems somehow more real than many other such worlds.

Part of this stems from the grim realities that face the characters. In this collection, as in previous works, Sapkowski takes the very familiar fantasy tropes and twists them into a grim reality of sorts. I always admire writers who manage to make the old new again and that is certainly something at which Sarpowski excels.

A great example of this is the first tale in Sword of Destiny. The Bounds of Reason is a story of human (and dwarf) against Dragon. Familiar from fairy stories, legends and Fantasy novels alike. Sapkowski manages to shed new light on the usual tropes, introducing the themes of prejudice and a grey reality (as opposed to black and white conflict) that run through his work. The story has a vast ensemble and most of that ensemble are introduced here, but each member is given life through their dialogue and brief introductions. There is no need to fully detail each for the reader as the band are a collection of stereotypical tropes which the reader can easily recognise. The dialogue between characters fills in the blanks rather neatly. To my mind, this ability to create fully formed characters without lengthy descriptions is key to the successful writing of a short story.

To pick on a story as a possible weak spot, A Shard of Ice is more of a personal tale. In this we see more of Geralt’s relationship to one of the supporting cast, and indeed of her attitudes to relationships in general. While a great read and insight into Geralt’s mind, I found this story to be a little … off-kilter somehow. Perhaps it was the purely human setting of the story? The story does contain some excellent dialogue and expands somewhat on the world in which Geralt lives.

The story that gives its title to the collection, Sword of Destiny is really the only story that links directly to a tale from The Last Wish. Although it does tie into that story (and actually into the third video game, Wild Hunt) there is more than enough information presented here so that the reader is not left befuddled if they have not read that specific tale. The character of Ciri is again one that Sapkowski takes from a classic tale – the tale of the promised child in this case – and twists and expands to give far more detail than one is used to. The Dryads introduced here are also an interesting and compelling addition to the world of the Witcher.

Sword of DestinyThe book can’t really be reviewed without mentioning the sterling translation work performed by David French. While the prose is somewhat convoluted at times, I honestly get the impression that this is how the stories should be presented. The language used helps distance the content of the book from the reality of the reader and – for me at least – this helps with the escapism that I demand and expect from the fiction I read. I can’t imagine many writing tasks that are tougher than translating some-one else’s immensely popular words into another language while maintaining the original meaning, style and content. As far as I can tell, this is exactly what French has managed.

Whether you are a fan of the games or just of the fantasy genre, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book. While following on from The Last Wish, there is no real need to have read that anthology first. Of course, I also recommend that book as well!

If you like the sound of this, why not enter our competition to win one of three copies of the book? You can also check out an excerpt from the book here.

Sword of Destiny is published by Gollancz and hits shelves on May 20th, 2015 retailing at £16.99  (paperback) and £8.99 (ebook) in the UK.

GS Rating: 5 / 5
GS Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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