#WyrdAndWonder Day 20 – Celebrate a Dark Fantasy: The Sword of Destiny

And we’re back with day TWENTY of #WyrdAndWonder (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, please checkout this year’s #WyrdAndWonder Kick off post).

Wow I feel like May is going by entirely too quickly. Anyway, today’s prompt is to celebrate a Dark Fantasy.

I’ll be honest I wasn’t really sure what made something a “Dark Fantasy” as opposed to Grimdark or any of the other more brutal fantasies I’ve read recently (I’m thinking of books like Shadow of the Gods, any of the Green Bone books, and even Ring Shout).

Good reads defined Dark Fantasy, as having a few core elements such as “pronounced horror elements” (often of a supernatural nature), and “often anti-heroic or morally ambiguous protagonists”.

I immediately was reminded of the Netflix’s The Witcher, which I feel embodies all of these criteria pretty much to the T. But what about the books? I decided to read one and find out.

Start here . . . Or maybe here?

I think I may have goofed this bit up. When I looked up where to start the Witcher Saga, it seemed there were many different reading orders. The one I chose was the publishing order from Tim Hawkin’s The Witcher Books in Order – Two Ways to Read Them. Which turns out to be the order they were published in the US, which maybe isn’t the order they were published in Poland, and definitely isn’t chronological within the universe. So . . . I’ll be reading The Last Wish next, which I think will satisfy either order, and then make my decision what to do from there.

Anyway, all of that to say, the one I chose to start with was The Sword of Destiny.

Was it Dark Fantasy?

Sure. Of the criteria listed in the definition above, the anti-heroic behavior and the moral ambiguity of the protagonist seem to be the lynch pin of each of the stories in this collection. The question they each ask, is whether or not the protagonist — the famed Geralt of Rivia — is a hero or just another monster which everyone seems to believe Witchers to be.

Personally, from the stories I’ve seen in this collection, Geralt is almost at Eddard Stark levels on the morality scale. Good to a fault. But I think Sapkowski’s trick here, is that the world in which the Witcher takes place is filled with so many other morally ambiguous (and often morally bankrupt) characters that the book still reads like a Dark Fantasy. Of course Geralt always has some excuse for why his actions are neutral or self-centered, and so he believes himself to be just another monster, but I don’t think the reader ever really buys into that. Even the sad endings are kind of happy (opposite from the show in which even the happy endings leave you feeling sad).

I wouldn’t say horror is a huge focus of the book, except for the fact that when you come down to it, Witchers fight MONSTERS. Perhaps it’s the translation, but I never really felt afraid or scared in the ways I have reading pure horror books, but the text does give the monsters a sort of disgusting quality in many instances which I definitely would associate with horror so . . . perhaps it adds up there too.

Get your ink ready, we’ve managed to check off the two criteria. We’re stamping this one Dark Fantasy.

Read this one?

Oh I’d say so. There were quite a few things which caused me to roll my eyes, but it was never enough to make me put the book down, and I genuinely enjoyed most parts of it.

Probably the most distracting issues in the stories were Sapkowski’s overbearingly male gaze. In one story, we make it exactly one sentence before mentioning a mermaid’s uncovered and ample breasts. They do not stop getting mentioned in that story, and it seems like every other story has a buxom woman just waiting to heave her chest as a signal of almost any emotion.

Looking past that however, I was surprised to find quite a bit of humor within the stories, and twists on common fantasy tropes. One of my favorite images comes from Yennefer who, bound at the wrists, swings and kicks her legs to cast a spell. The magic seems to cause a good deal of havoc among her enemies, turning whole troops of people into frogs or something equally ludicrous.

I laughed quite hard at that one, but given the “dark” and serious nature of the rest of the events, I was unsure if that humor was intentional. These stories seem very aware of fantasy tropes, and make an effort to skewer them whenever possible. Could all those heaving bosoms also be satire?

I never really landed on a yes.

Despite all of this, there’s just something fun about a man who roams the kingdom slaying stuff (Geralt is very adamant that he is NOT a Knight Errant although he totally is. The very first story, Bounds of Reason, makes fun of the Knight Errant by showing them as absurd, and literally wrecking one . . . and yet).

I also really enjoyed — as has been my theme recently — the glimpses of slavic folklore and fairytales in general. One story, A Little Sacrifice, has very obvious associations with The Little Mermaid which was also interesting as I associate that story as a pretty western fairy tale. Perhaps some more research is needed.

Anyway, all of that to say, definitely give this book a read. I’m interested to see what you all pick up on that I missed.

And since we’re at the end of the post, please let me know what your thoughts and comments are. Has anyone read this book yet? The series? I’d love to hear from you!

Still here? Awesome. I’m glad you enjoyed my review of Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Sword of Destiny. I was so inspired by this book, and others like it, as well as some Russian history, fairy tales and folk traditions, that I decided to write my own short story in a similar setting. It is called Farewell to Rusalka, and I released it to newsletter subscribers back in April. However, if you’re still interested in reading it, please sign up for my newsletter, and I’ll send you a copy as a thank you.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!

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