The Tower of Swallows: Sapkowski always subverts expectations

The Tower of Swallows (The Witcher Book 4) Kindle Edition by Andrzej Sapkowski  (Author)The Tower of Swallows by Andrzej Sapkowski epic fantasy book reviewsThe Tower of Swallows by Andrzej Sapkowski

Warning: This review of the sixth book in the WITCHER series will necessarily have some spoilers for the plots of the previous books.

The Tower of Swallows, published in Polish in 1997 and translated into English in 2016, is the sixth and penultimate book in Andrzej Sapkowski’s WITCHER series. I’ve enjoyed all of these books. If you look at the covers and read the publishers’ promotional materials, you get the feeling that WITCHER is just another one of those medieval-style epic fantasies full of elves who are tall and beautiful but arrogant, dwarves who wield axes and mine precious metals and gems, kings and courtiers who conspire against each other, and magicians and sorceresses who sometimes interfere with kings’ plans. Indeed, WITCHER does have all that, but Sapkowski often subverts expectations with unusual heroes, strong smart heroines, fresh-feeling prose, amusing dialogue, experimental narrative techniques, deep philosophical discussions, and an unpredictable plot.

The story begins soon after Baptism of Fire ends. Princess Ciri, who had been a member of a gang called the Rats, is lying in a forest, near death, when a hermit finds her and begins nursing her back to health. As she recovers, she tells the hermit what has happened to her since we saw her last. Her story is tragic and she is scarred both physically and emotionally. She feels betrayed by her destiny and abandoned by ideals she held dear. She thinks everyone who loves her is dead and she’s bitter. Ciri’s heart-rending narrative is interspersed with scenes showing the Witcher and his comrades (Dandelion, Milva, Cahir, Regis, etc.) trying to find Ciri. They are pretty sure she is not in Nilfgaard, as the rumors say, and are searching for some druids who may be able to scry Ciri’s whereabouts. Geralt is worried, though, that there may be a traitor in their fellowship. Meanwhile, intelligence operatives from Nilfgaard are searching for Ciri, Caer, and Vilgefortz. Yennefer, rumored to be a traitor, is also trying to find Ciri, so she sets out on a journey that she expects will kill her. And of course there is plenty of political intrigue going on in the background as kings and sorcerers plot for their own advantages and one character is determined to overthrow them all and establish a democracy.

The Tower of Swallows has a lot more plot than the previous book, Baptism of Fire. Most of Ciri’s part of the story is told as a series of flashbacks and courtroom testimonies, so it’s not happening live. This might disappoint some readers, but I really appreciated how Sapkowski creatively plays with different narrative techniques. The Witcher’s storyline is told in a series of diary entries written by Dandelion. Dandelion, a pretentious bard, is the most amusing of Sapkowski’s characters, so I thought it was a great choice to have him narrate their journey. He’s hilarious and the addition of the diary adds more levity to the story when the characters traveling with Dandelion begin demanding to know what he’s writing about. In one hilarious scene set hundreds of years in the future (there are a few other flash-forwards, too), we get to see what eventually happens to Dandelion’s journal. This journal-writing technique also works great with the audiobook because Peter Kenny does such a wonderful job with Dandelion’s character.

There are some awesome scenes in The Tower of Swallows. All of the scenes with Leo Bonhart, the vicious bounty hunter, are terrifying, as is the gladiator scene set in a coliseum. At the end of the book there’s a spectacular battle in which the combatants are on ice skates, and there’s an intense episode in a ship on the ocean.

But even the non-action scenes are entertaining. One of the things Sapkowski does best is to create interesting and thoughtful philosophical discussions between his characters as they travel, or just sit around recovering. In The Tower of Swallows, one of these is about the importance of law and order and how the dogged pursuit of law and order can create exactly what it was intended to avoid. I also loved the passionate discussion between young Ciri (a warrior) and the old Hermit (a philosopher and healer) about the nature of evil and the most effective way to fight it:

“You seem to know a great deal about the problems of good and evil.”

 

“Because I do, and not from scholarly books, either.”

 

“No, of course. You know it all from experience. From practice. For you’ve acquired plenty of experience in your long sixteen years of life.”

 

“I’ve gained enough. Quite enough!”

 

“Congratulations. My Learned friend.”

 

“You can sneer,” she clenched her teeth, “without having any idea how much evil you’ve done to the world, you aged scholars, you theoreticians with your books, with your centuries-old experience of reading moral treatises so diligently you didn’t even have time to look out of the window to see what the world was really like. You philosophers, artificially shoring up artificial philosophies in order to earn salaries at universities. And since not a soul would pay you for the ugly truth about the world, you invented ethics and morality; nice, optimistic sciences. Except they’re fallacious and deceitful!”

It goes on and gets graphic as they continue to argue. It gave me chills and reminded me that our different viewpoints/politics, etc. come from our different experiences and that we should listen to people who are different from us because they might just know more about things we, especially those of us who live in our “elitist bubbles,” have never actually been forced to face.

The Tower of Swallows is 16.5 hours long in Hachette Audio’s excellent version. The final WITCHER book, The Lady of the Lake, will be released in English next spring. I look forward to it.

Published in English on May 17, 2016. The Witcher returns in this action-packed sequel to Baptism of Fire, in the New York Timesbestselling series that inspired The Witcher video games. The world has fallen into war. Ciri, the child of prophecy, has vanished. Hunted by friends and foes alike, she has taken on the guise of a petty bandit and lives free for the first time in her life. But the net around her is closing. Geralt, the Witcher, has assembled a group of allies determined to rescue her. Both sides of the war have sent brutal mercenaries to hunt her down. Her crimes have made her famous. There is only one place left to run. The tower of the swallow is waiting…

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. You are making these books more attractive with every review.

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