Welcome back to The Daily Fandom’s retrospective on The Witcher Saga. Last month we tackled the first book in The Witcher Saga, The Last Wish. This led to some interesting discussion as this retrospective is being done as a collaboration between two people with different experience levels with the franchise. Kyle is a long-time fan of The Witcher, but Claudia is going through it for the first time. You can find our analysis of the first book here and the Q&A about the book and The Witcher Saga in general between Kyle and Claudia here
The Sword of Destiny
This month, we are covering the second book in Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher Saga, The Sword of Destiny. This is the last of the books to be a collection of short stories. The rest of The Witcher books following this one are traditional novels and form a pentalogy. We are also introduced to arguably the most important character in The Witcher Saga in this book. Here are our analyses of each story in The Sword of Destiny.
The Road With No Return — Claudia’s Analysis
I actually quite liked this story, though it’s not a part of the book at the core of this article. It’s simple and it feels like it took less effort to write. And I mean this in a good way, the way it’s easier for any artist to do something after they’ve done it ten thousand times.
Once more I’m going likely be the cynic here in regards to romance. On the one hand, this was the first believable romance in The Witcher Saga. I liked both characters involved and their dialogue. And particularly I liked Korin. Which again, is rare, so already that’s a good sign. It doesn’t read as true love, to me. It reads of the beginning of a good friendship and a strong infatuation, which to me is just as well. I wouldn’t have believed it if it had ended on a note of love declarations
To me, this is the strength of this story. So many of the relationships in The Witcher Saga so far have been unfairly tangled up in magic or fate. There’s a certain charm to Korin waiting for Visenna at the end of the story, and declaring she must be clouding his mind with magic. Mostly because for once, it really isn’t the case.
I could probably poke more holes in this story. But I rather like it, so I’d rather not. Besides, it’s importance to The Witcher Saga isn’t something I can really understand yet. My context for it is, Visenna is Geralt’s mother. Which doesn’t give me much to go off of given I’ve read only one book.
The Road With No Return — Kyle’s Analysis
This was written separately from The Witcher Saga and published separately as well. Sapkowski would later bring Visenna into the very last short story, Something More. The idea of having Geralt’s mother be a druid was actually a pretty clever move on Sapkowski’s part. And the fact that much like Geralt, she is attempting to run away from her feelings before finally giving in.
This story is deceptively simple. But in it is two very good strengths of Sapkowski firing on all cylinders. First, as mentioned before, his organic way of worldbuilding. As Visenna is a magic wielder we get to learn about the history of magic, its role in society, and how its users think. For instance, sorceresses constantly using telepathy to get information before you’ve said it. Then, of course, there is the backstory of the famed sorcerer, Alzur, who experimented with creating various creatures, including Witchers.
The other strength of this story is the well-written dialogue between Visenna and Korin. Sapkowski tries his best in many places to mirror actual human speech, however, sometimes his characters can go on too many long-winded soliloquies. In this story, however, the dialogue is quick, sharp, and crisp. This leads to the reader almost instantly liking both the main characters and become invested in their romance.
Perhaps the best thing done with this story is to take an almost generic fantasy adventure and make it more worthwhile. The Koshchey and whatnot are just backdrops to get Visenna and Korin talking. It seems like a grand adventure, but it’s not the real adventure. The true road with no return is love. Love will make you do crazy, stupid things, but in the end, it’s all worth it for happiness. Love is the biggest adventure of them all.
The Bounds of Reason — Claudia’s Analysis
This story is a standard Sapkowski fare. It’s got a fairytale deconstruction, some bickering, some philosophizing, and general apathy and darkness. To me, the story read in two parts. The intro drags on. It handles a lot of world-building, but not in a particularly eloquent fashion. It’s a lot of names all at once, long dialogues, and info dumping so that you can prepare for what’s to come.
The second half, in my opinion, could stand entirely by itself and is barely served by the first half. It is also much better. It’s quirky and full of action that demonstrates the character and political allegiances of all parties involved succinctly in a way just talking about it hadn’t before. The reveal of the Golden Dragon was fairly easy to spot but nonetheless when taken in with the rest of the stories in the book, this story serves as a way to establish a baseline for Geralt. This is who he is, a hint of who he might become.
Another note would be the presence of Yen, who unfortunately gets caught up in a rather uncomfortable battle, which I found irritating if only because we’ve seen very little of her, and what little we have seen has been fairly demeaning. It would be nice if she could have a fight where her tits aren’t on display. For once. Maybe get her some heftier clothes or armor.
The Bounds of Reason — Kyle’s Analysis
In The Last Wish, Andrzej Sapkowski was clearly deconstructing both fairytales and fantasy tropes. The commentary on the genres provided an interesting backdrop for The Witcher world and that’s the same here. Eyck of Denesle, for instance, is a perfect caricature of the traditional knight in shining armor, but also, he gives us an interesting perspective of a different religion in The Witcher. As a result, this is perhaps the most blatant with its commentary but also still remaining immensely fun.
Borch/Villentretenmerth is an instantly likable character with just enough foreshadowing for the reader to guess his identity. What I like most about him is that he is used to analyze the theme of nature. What is someone’s nature? Is there such a thing as order and chaos? And is there something that you would go beyond the bounds of reason for? He is a golden dragon and as such is seen as a horrible monster. Of course, he is anything but a monster, which is why Geralt says that even though he is a Witcher, he refuses to kill dragons. He can take on human form but is seen as strange. And at the end, we find out that he took in a young dragon to raise as his own. If you haven’t noticed, this all neatly parallels Geralt’s journey as a Witcher and the questions that surround him.
This establishes the nature of Geralt and Yen’s relationship. They are constantly ebbing and flowing through each other’s lives. Together with great passion and then splitting up in great heartache. They make each other happy and they are what each other would go beyond the bounds of reason for. They are made for each other, but they are both damaged people who are afraid of getting close to others.
A Shard of Ice — Claudia’s Analysis
I like this story. It’s not my favorite, but it brings Yen into the fold of the main cast for me. Her choices in this story elevate her from a bit character to interesting monkey wrench in the scheme of Geralt’s life.
I have said and will continue to stand by, the fact neither Geralt or Yen behave like adults. Certainly not 80 plus-year-olds. They act like high schoolers, children tugging pigtails not willing to admit they more than tolerate each other. It’s meant to be played as tragic but comes across as such not because you empathize with their pain, but because of how needless the pain is. I’ve certainly met adults who behave like this and I feel the same pity for Yen and Geralt that I do for any grown adult who never figured out how to love without pain.
That said Yen’s actions are in character, flawlessly so, and I found myself believing in her love for Geralt for the first time since meeting the character.
A Shard of Ice — Kyle’s Analysis
This story is absolutely heartbreaking, and that’s the point. Geralt and Yen are deeply flawed people. They have experienced tragedies and suffered abuse no person should ever have to endure. So, when the moment comes for them to commit to each other and finally admit their feeling for each other, they can’t. They will forever be intertwined in each other’s lives, but they will forever be fleeing their hearts desires. They refuse to change in order to be happy.
One thing that Sapkowski does amazingly is to use his characters inherent flaws to show why they work so well together but don’t all at the same time. Geralt is a Witcher and as per false rumors is believed to be emotionless. Geralt plays into this assumption because he believes that he is an outcast and a loner, but he experiences just as many emotions as everyone else. Meanwhile, Yen holds people at arms lengths as she is afraid of getting too attached. She has let Geralt in, but since he refuses to finally say “I love you” she gives him one of her magical kestrels. A kestrel is a symbol of level-headedness, a balance of the mind and the heart. Too much of one and not the other can lead you to act rashly.
I love that Geralt and Istredd go to fight each other over Yen, and she just leaves, making the fight pointless. They have no right to make a choice for her, she had already made her choice. As a result, Geralt is forced to admit he experiences emotions, which is why his decision at the end is such a gut punch. He made a mistake, lost Yen, and now must live with the fact that it’s all his fault. Sometimes, the truth hurts.
Eternal Flame — Claudia’s Analysis
This is one of my favorites in this book. It’s excellent to see them addressing the matter of monsters and their sentence. Racism is prominent in the Witcher. Any world that creates classes and systems based on hunting and exterminating non-human monsters and races has lines that need to be addressed. In this case, the double standard is even brought up when someone refers to Dudu as a non-human and the halfling Dainty points out that he isn’t human, will they kill him too?
No solutions to the racist systems the characters have to navigate are ever proposed. It’s an accepted fact of their world, but we see some clever circumventing of the rules and are given a hint that humans aren’t as in control as they think. That by hunting the dopplers and other monsters to extinction they are forcing them to get clever. That more dopplers may be lurking in their midst, living out perfectly normal lives.
I also think it’s an important place to “check in” on Geralt’s morals. This Geralt goes to rather odd lengths to see Dudu can slip back into anonymity. It’s an almost kind behavior and reinforces that Geralt views himself as a Witcher and monster slayer, but what we define as a monster is up for debate.
Eternal Flame — Kyle’s Analysis
This is the most outwardly comedic of the short stories in the Saga. It’s a hell of a lot of fun while also at the same time giving us some intriguing worldbuilding and poignant themes. Dandelion’s entrance in this story perfectly tells the reader what they are getting into and is perhaps one of the most memorable moments in the Saga. It’s just so funny, complete with some delightful dialogue and a few extracts of Dandelion’s songs. While obviously reading lyrics and having them sang are two different things, at least this provides some insight into Dandelion’s creative process, something that will come up later in the Saga.
This story is used to tackle two very heavy topics while never losing its comedic charm. Racism and adherence to religious dogma are the two topics covered by the use of the dopplers. The Church of the Eternal Fire preaches the idea that you must fear the “other”. Dwarves, elves, halflings and so forth, basically anything not human. But as Dudu points out, when put into practice the humans only fear anything that doesn’t look anything like them. Elves may be subject to racism, but dopplers are hunted and killed. This is exemplified by the casually racist comments espoused by the bartender.
The main theme of the story is that appearances can be deceiving. Obviously, Dudu is a shapeshifter. But he takes on more than just the appearance of a person but also their memories and personality too. Thus, Dudu is able to pick up useful skills and in fact becomes an amazing businessman. The point of this being that you should never judge a book by its cover. You have never walked in their shoes, you don’t know what they have experienced or are capable of.
A Little Sacrifice — Claudia’s Analysis
I loved The Little Mermaid as a kid. Both the story and the Disney movie. Seeing an interpretation of this excited me. The background story of the duke and the mermaid entertained me endlessly, even if it was a bit odd.
But I did not enjoy Essi. Essi was fine herself. But once more we have a woman who shows attraction for Geralt, and, for whatever reason, she claims she loves him. I don’t know why or how this came to be. If it was love at first sight, I almost expect there to have been more to it than what was shown. As it is, her dialogue reads like an entry from my melodramatic middle school diary. When I am supposed to feel sad, I feel bored, when I am supposed to pity her I can barely muster the energy to care.
For me, love is an action as much as a feeling. Essi claims she loves Geralt but I cannot fathom what in her actions could be read as love. All she does is speak to him. At least with Yen, there is a somewhat interesting if childish tug of war being played. With Essi I am bored. And while the end, as told by Dandelion, is sad, I felt it revealed more about Dandelion’s character and the world he lived in than anything else.
A Little Sacrifice — Kyle’s Analysis
This is perhaps one of the best of the short stories. I personally love the turbulent love story of The Last Wish a bit more. However, this one sticks with me, making me ponder over it still after repeat rereads. Perhaps it’s because I was once in a situation where I loved someone but knew they were not capable of loving me back or perhaps not. What I do know is that the tragedy of Essi Daven and Geralt of Rivia is one I cannot forget.
The main thrust of this story is relationships and the sacrifices that come with that. The symbolism of marriage is two people becoming one. The couple are two unique people, that have their own thoughts and opinions. However, the very point of dating is to get to know someone so well that you understand their viewpoints. Both of you sacrifice a bit of your ideas in order to become one person in marriage.
Something that Geralt and Yen both refuse to do because of their flawed natures. Through Essi, we get so see Geralt called out on this. He is afraid of love even though it’s one of the things he wants most in the world. Geralt has to learn to accept the truth that his problems are caused by his own unchanging nature that he forces upon himself.
This story makes me cry every time I read it. It’s simultaneously a fantastical romance, a fantasy adventure, a tragedy, and a character piece. Every aspect of the story makes the reader feel for everyone involved. From the moment Geralt realizes he likes Essi but knows she cannot replace Yen to Essi’s powerful death, we feel it in our hearts. I think this really shows just how masterful Sapkowski is as a writer.
The Sword of Destiny — Claudia’s Analysis
I like this story. The Dryads are a stereotype if I ever saw one, of warrior women and Amazons in general, but Ciri is a delight.
I do think the implications of the Dryads and the focus on reproduction and races are going to get uncomfortable if Sapkowski continues to explore it in quite this way, but Ciri is a charmer from page one and the story is truly about her. Her status as chosen one makes her almost more likable. She is unshakable in her belief in her destiny, something that many chosen one’s question, and that attitude makes her likable.
She brings out the kinder, softer Geralt, the one who lets Dudu go and wishes people stopped treating him like he couldn’t feel emotions. You can easily tell that Ciri will become important to him from even the brief time they spend together. I think Kyle covers this better than I ever could, but the set-up and execution is gorgeous and this is certainly a contender for my favorite story.
The Sword of Destiny — Kyle’s Analysis
Finally, the most important character in the entire Saga makes her first appearance. Ciri is used by Sapkowski to deconstruct several fantasy archetypes throughout the Saga. But here we get to meet her in a way that downplays her importance until we get the whole story. We meet her as a little girl with a cold, not exactly the ideal of a chosen one, is she? This allows Geralt and Ciri to start bonding without them or the reader for that matter in on the concept that they are linked by destiny. This idea of taking the big concepts and boiling them down to the small character focused level is something Sapkowski is incredibly good at.
The scenes between Geralt and Ciri are both fun and poignant. They really show how good Geralt would be as a father. What I like is that Geralt is the only one that doesn’t lie to Ciri nor does he placate her simply because she’s royalty. He treats her normally, sweetly, and takes on a very fatherly presence. Meanwhile, Ciri’s presence is that of youthful innocence. She makes Geralt feel like he’s a child again, happy, and most importantly like he is alive.
But all of that culminates in a beautiful ending in which Geralt runs away. He flees hoping to never have to face the truth, which is a recurring theme in the Saga. Death dogs his footsteps, people he cares about die and he knows that emotional attachment will only lead to heartache. It’s a brilliant inversion of the trope of the hero that faces his destiny with his head held high. Geralt is afraid and runs knowing it’s useless. Destiny will catch up to him, something he denies repeatedly, but deep down he knows the truth.
Something More — Claudia’s Analysis
This is my favorite of all the stories. The Sword of Destiny isn’t like the first book, in that all the short stories here are truly building up to something greater. They’re thematically linked, by Ciri, by ideas about legacy, and by Geralt’s struggle with himself.
Geralt fades in and out of consciousness and we learn about his first attempt to claim Ciri. We learn about how he turned destiny down. Repeatedly at this point. And about the lengths that Ciri’s grandmother will go to to protect her. We even meet Geralt’s own mother. Generally, the story builds off these soft emotional impacts one by one until they culminate in an ending that feels almost perfect.
The Slaughter of Cintra stings and the feeling a major change has happened hangs over the events of the story, but the quiet, personal nature of the characters and conversations keep us from being drawn into the greater politics aside from Geralt’s personal interest in it.
Ciri’s unshakable faith, in Geralt, in her destiny, create an ending that feels right in a way that can only work because of the way every story has built to this moment.
Something More — Kyle’s Analysis
This story really sells the idea that something big is on the horizon. For the first time in the Saga, we break away from purely telling the story from Geralt’s point of view, which is something Sapkowski will continue to do from here on. The concept being played with by doing this is to show that the story is far bigger than one person. Geralt is merely a cog in the machine of destiny.
There are several scenes in this story that are very powerful. Geralt’s visit to Sodden Hill remains one of my favorite moments in the entire Saga. Geralt thinks he has lost everything that matters to him and finally faces the truth by talking to Death. Visenna implying that she is his mother without outright saying it. Which within of itself parallels Geralt’s own refusal to admit that he is Ciri’s father. He is very much like Visenna. The Slaughter of Cintra is something we will actually get to see in the next book, but I like that we are separated from it here. The effects of that event on Geralt is what is important for this story.
The point repeatedly driven home in this story is that life may not seem like a fairy tale, but if you learn from your mistakes it can be. Yen and Geralt sleeping together and admitting that they are made for each other is both beautiful and a gut punch. They need something more, such as the love of a child. And it’s only after Geralt thought he lost them both that he truly is open to change. That’s why the ending of the story is such an eruption of emotion. Geralt understands that he was at fault. That love is what matters the most.
Conclusion Of Part 3 The Witcher Retrospective
Thank you for joining us as we went through each short story in The Sword of Destiny collection. The next part which will come out tomorrow will be a Q&A between Kyle and Claudia. They will discuss their opinions on the story, the characters, and The Witcher Saga as a whole from their two differing perspectives.