Book Review: Sword of Destiny
Last week I waxed lyrical about how wonderful the Witcher series was. It should therefore come as absolutely no surprise to you that this week I am discussing the second of the books, another collection of short stories entitled The Sword of Destiny. This book has no framing story. It is not a fix up novel like the first, but unabashedly a short story collection and as such it is assembled as a short story collection should be assembled. Some of the stories are funny, some of them are deathly serious and others have a slow burning emotional impact that is not always immediately apparent. While they still skirt the edges of known fairy-tales, the stories collected in this second book, no longer having to establish the setting so heavily, are free to delve a little deeper into the world of the Witcher, laying the groundwork for the series of novels that would follow, both with the introduction of the character of Ciri and with a slow creep further into the political landscape of the setting.
It was established early on in the Witcher stories that the world had once belonged to the other races, both sentient and monstrous, and was now being conquered entirely by humans. Indeed it is the fundamental purpose of the titular witchers themselves throughout the history of the world to make it safe for humanity. All of this is played out in a direct analogue of imperial colonialism and as our protagonist, Geralt of Rivia, is considered to be non-human by reason of the mutations that make him capable of facing off against supernatural foes and he often finds himself placed in the uncomfortable position of middle-man between the native or “monstrous” races and humanity. He perpetually tries to eschew all politics, considering himself to be above such things, focused solely on his own actions, code of conduct and calling but in those moments where he has to stand as a messenger he espouses a belief that the only hope that other races have for survival in the face of human imperialism is integration and submission. It is disappointing to hear the otherwise heroic character say these things but it is a very clear reflection of his own interactions with the world and the parts of history that he has observed. He himself has found acceptance, very sparingly, by becoming indispensable to those leaders of humanity that require his help and felt nothing but misery outside of this. He has also witnessed first-hand the fates of the many species that set themselves up as contenders to humanity only to watch the usually chaotic and fractious kingdoms and empires immediately unite against them.
To emphasise this further we have the beginnings of the machinations of the Nilfgaardian Empire, an analog for Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland. A group founded on the concept of human supremacy that even in countries untouched by their aggressive foreign policy is gradually being adopted, showing clearly that resistance to them is based in statecraft rather than any moral superiority. Much as those persecuted by the Third Reich fled to find racism, anti-Semitism and further rejection in the countries they sought refuge in.
Fundamentally the Witcher stories are about fairy-tales, which is to say, they are deadly serious and are all about the very real dangers of the world wearing the mask of a monster to seem less threatening. The Sword of Destiny is a wonderful lead in to the novels that follow but it stands alone, or with The Last Wish, just as comfortably. Yet again, I strongly recommend it to fans of fantasy and newcomers to the genre alike.