The OF Blog: Andrzej Sapkowski, La espada del destino (The Sword of Destiny)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Andrzej Sapkowski, La espada del destino (The Sword of Destiny)

Last July, I read and reviewed the English translation of Andrzej Sapkowski's The Last Wish. I found that collection of interconnected short stories starring the genetically mutated, magically enhanced Witcher Geralt de Rivera to be a delightful read that surprised me with the depth of human emotion that Sapkowski managed to work into stories that originally were intended to be more of spoofs of 1980s era Adventure Quest fantasies than being a serial entity in and of itself. Being the first of two collections before the five-novel story that followed, The Last Wish held a lot of promise for further developments of an enigmatic main character and of Sapkowski's own vision.

However, I was dismayed when I learned earlier this year that Sapkowski's UK publisher, Gollancz, decided to skip the second collection, Miecz przeznaczenia (The Sword of Destiny in English translation) and go straight to the first volume of the five-book Saga, Blood of the Elves (release scheduled for September). I became even more frustrated when I learned from Polish readers that this second collection contains the backstory for the main events in the Saga and that reading the Saga without reading this collection would be more confusing. So when I finally found an online dealer who carried this collection in Spanish, I went ahead and purchased it. Despite having to pay extra due to the import costs ($60), it was well worth the money spent.

La espada del destino contains six novella-length stories, ranging from 34 to 63 pages each, in a 287 page volume. As with The Last Wish, events in the earlier stories are referenced later in the collection, often with poignant connotations that deepens the previous tales and which contain some foreshadowings for the novels. While some of these stories, especially the first, "Las fronteras de lo posible" ("The boundaries of possibility") contain the plays on fairy tale/fantasy quest motifs (such as the hunt for the rare golden dragon in this first story), the book concentrates much more on the human dynamics, particularly between Geralt and the sorceress Yennefer. Their interactions drive the stories and give them a depth and roundness that makes for a thoughtful, reflective reading that lingers well past the stories' conclusions. The passage below is from the second story, "Esquirlas de hielo" ("Shards of Ice"), where Yennefer is speaking to Geralt:

Emociones, caprichos y mentiras, fascinación y juego. Sentimientos y su falta...Dones que no se deben aceptar...Mentira y verdad. ¿Qué es la verdad? ¿La negación de la mentira? ¿O la afirmación de un hecho? ¿Y si el hecho es una mentira, qué es entonces la verdad? ¿Quién está lleno de sentimientos que le arrastran y quién es la cobertura vacía de un frío cráneo? ¿Quién? ¿Que es la verdad, Geralt? ¿En qué consiste la verdad?

-No lo sé, Yen. Dímelo.

-No - dijo, y bajó los ojos. Por vez primera. Nunca antes habia visto que lo hiciera. Nunca-. No - repitió - . No puedo, Geralt. No puedo decirtelo. Te lo dirá ese pájaro, creado del roce de tus manos. ¿Pájaro? ¿Qué es la verdad?

-La verdad - dijo la milana - es una esquirla de hielo. (p. 92)

"Emotions, caprices, and lies, fascination and play. Feelings and its lack...Gifts that one ought not to accept...Lies and truth. What is truth? The negation of a lie? Or the affirmation of a deed? And if the deed is a lie, what is then the truth? Who is full of feelings that drags him and who is the empty cover of a cold cranium? Who? What is truth, Geralt? In what does truth consist?"

"I don't know, Yen. Tell me."

"No," she said, lowering her eyes. For the first time. Never before had he seen her do that. Never. "No," she repeated. "I cannot, Geralt. I cannot tell it to you. The bird will tell you it, created from the rubbing of your hands. Bird, what is truth?"

"Truth," said the kite, "is a shard of ice."
This passage of searching, amplified by the conflicted feelings shared between Geralt and Yennefer, is echoed later in the final story in this collection, "Algo más" ("Something More"):

- ¿Geralt?

- ¿Sí?

- ¿Recuerdas nuestro encuentro en las montañas de los Milanos? ¿Y aquel dragón dorado...? ¿Cómo se llamaba?

- Tres Grajos. Lo recuerdo.

- Nos dijo...

- Lo recuerdo, Yen.

Le besó en el lugar donde el cuello da paso a la clavícula, luego apoyó allí la cabeza, le acarició con el cabello.

- Estamos hechos el uno para el otro - susurró - . ¿Puede ser que predestinados el uno al otro? Pero nada saldrá de todo esto. Una pena, pero cuando llegue el alba nos separaremos. No puede ser de otro modo. Tenemos que separarnos para no hacernos daño el uno al otro. Nostotros, predestinados el uno al otro. Hechos el uno para el otro. Una pena. Aquél o aquéllos que nos crearon el uno para el otro debieran haber tenido cuidado de algo más. La mera predestinación no basta, es muy poco. Hace falta algo más...(pp. 256-257)


"Remember our encounter at the Kite Mountains? And that golden dragon...? What was he called?

"Three Jackdaws. I remember it."

"He said to us..."

"I remember, Yen."

He kissed her at the place where the neck joins the clavicle, place where the head is supported, he caressed her hair.

"We are made one for each other," she murmured. "Can one be predestined for another? But nothing will come of all this. Sad, but when the dawn arrives we shall separate. It cannot be any other way. We must separate in order for us not to hurt each other. Us, predestined one for the other. Made one for the other. Sad. It or those who created us one for the other ought to have had care for something more. Mere predestination is not enough; it is very little. It needs something more..."
It is for poignant, moving passages such as this, which arise from previous character interactions, as well as a mysterious young Daughter of Surprise, Ciri (who appears in "La espada del destino" - "The Sword of Destiny") that the promise of The Last Wish is fulfilled and even more is expected from the upcoming Blood of the Elves. Hopefully in the near future, this collection will finally be released in English translation, as this is one of the finer story cycles that I have read. Highly Recommended.

Publication Dates: 1993 (Poland), 2003 (Spain); current edition, May 2008.

Publisher: Alamut


Mihai A. said...

Very nice review, Larry, as always :) Thank you for pointing me to Alejandro Teran.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you liked it.
The stories here are still reworked fairy-tales but the tone is getting more serious. It's even more serious in the novels.

Have you read the Wawel Dragon story? The Golden Dragon is much funnier if you know it. You can find it on wikipedia. There's also a book The Dragon of Krakow with Polish fairy-tales.

I'm still perplexed by the English publisher's decision to omit The Sword of Destiny collection. After all the first book directly follows Something More. The events and people from that story play main role in all the future events.

BTW do you know the story of Visenna? I'm not sure if that was ever translated. After all it, at first, wasn't connected with Geralt z Rivii at all.

Just one nitpick - it's Three Jackdaws not Crows.

Lsrry said...


I had almost forgotten your almost-professional fascination with the cover art guys. That one was quite nicely done, even if Yennefer's eyes are of a different color than that ;)


Sadly, I'm woefully-informed when it comes to Slavic fairy tales, although I'll certainly love to work on that. I'll look into these in the near future, time permitting.

As for the crows/jackdaws bit, Grajos wasn't in my English/Spanish dictionary and my Spanish defining dictionary hinted at a double meaning without giving me a real clue as to what specific bird. Did an internet search the one I saw had it as another name for cuervo/crow. I'll correct it in a bit. Curious to know if there's a second connotation behind that name in Polish that refers to a stinky, unwashed person :P

Anonymous said...

Curious to know if there's a second connotation behind that name in Polish that refers to a stinky, unwashed person :P

No. Is there in Spanish?
However kawka (jackdaw) means also small coffee :P.

Lsrry said...

Yes, as Urban Dictionary informs me! :P

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