Title: The Tower of the Swallow
Series: # 6 in The Witcher Saga
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Published: 1997 (English translation from 2016)
For more information about The Witcher Series, and my review of previous books, you can find my introductory post HERE.
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…
With The Tower of the Swallow, the second to last book in The Witcher Saga, we’re nearing the end.
First, let’s clear something up; what is the actual title of this book? The Tower of the Swallow or The Tower of Swallows?
As for the original Polish title, it refers to a singular swallow, which would make the UK title the more accurate translation. Personally, I prefer the UK title as I find it more true to the story.
Whichever you prefer, this book is published under both titles, although I believe The Tower of Swallows is more commonly used.
The Tower of the Swallow picks up where the last, Baptism of Fire left of. Geralt’s continued search for Ciri remains fruitless. His journey is continuously interrupted and sidetracked by adversaries and obstacles. He’s also plagued by doubt and internal struggles, questioning his role as a witcher and the loyalties of people he once trusted.
Yennefer has made her choice and defied the wishes of the Lodge of Sorceresses. As a result, women who were once her friends and allies are now pursuing her. In her continued attempts to protect Ciri from Vilgefortz, she makes her way to the Skellige Islands.
Ciri has overcome the emotional numbness that has kept her switched off and in the company of The Rats. As she leaves the group to find her adoptive parents, her situation goes from bad to worse as she encounters the sadistic bounty hunter Leo Bonhart.
As I’ve stated many times in previous reviews, a common critique against the witcher series is that the narrative is “all over the place.” And, as I’ve also said many times before, I disagree.
However, both The Tower of the Swallow and the following book, The Lady of the Lake deserve the term difficult. The narrative is not “all over the place” but it is challenging. Let’s begin this review by addressing the writing.
As in previous books, the narrative switches between several points-of-view. Neither Geralt nor Yennefer’s narrative is particularly difficult; the same can not be said about Ciri’s.
If you remember, the previous book, Baptism of Fire, focused mainly on Geralt. When The Tower of the Swallow begins, there’s been a time jump in Ciri’s POV; we find her injured and in the care of a hermit.
Moving forward, her side of the story is told though flashbacks as she recounts her story to the old man. This can cause some confusion as to where you are in time, especially when the story switches between characters, which it does often and sometimes without a clear narrative break.
This confusion is amplified by the main characters being unaware of each other’s fates having to rely on rumors and intentional misinformation.
Still, as demanding as this book can be, if you’ve made it this far into the series without getting too frustrated by Sapkowski’s style, you shouldn’t experience too much difficulty.
As for the characters, this part of the story is not kind to them. The Tower of the Swallow is the deep breath before the plunge. It’s the book where the characters are brought low, doubting themselves, and their motives. It’s the book where they’re given a choice: give up or endure.
While Geralt’s struggles are mostly internal, both Ciri’s and Yennefer’s POV is riddled with violence.
That being said, Sapkowski’s writing remains restrained when it comes to graphic descriptions.
For an author so fond of expository writing, Sapkowski never indulges in lengthy descriptions of violence (or sex) to horrify or titillate his readers. Instead, he gives enough information to understand what has or is about to happen, and then lets the scene fade to black.
Sapkowski never uses shock value as a narrative technique. When a scene does contain violence or other types of abuse or humiliation, it serves a purpose. It’s there to either move the plot forward, tell us something about a character’s personality, or to emphasize how dire a situation a character finds itself in. It’s never violence for the sake of violence.
As for the larger plot, it’s given somewhat more space than in the previous book, where the complicated intrigue and politics stayed in the foreground. In The Tower of the Swallow, it once again steps into the light.
The plot is literally thickening. This book is roughly one-hundred pages longer than the previous ones at four-hundred and thirty(ish) pages.
The antagonists are flexing their muscles, and the competition between them is heating up. You can tell that all sides are preparing for the big showdown. Although, most of the intrigue in this book focuses mainly on two of the fractions.
The sorcerer Vilgefortz and his cohorts finally step out of the shadows and reveal their plan.
The Lodge of Sorceresses is also stepping up their game. By aggressively pursuing Yennefer and Vilgefortz, they hope to be the ones to gain control of Ciri.
What I enjoy most about this aspect of the plot is that, in this world, influential and powerful women are just as terrible as the male antagonists. It’s also refreshing that there are no moral pointers or judgment in their characterization. They’re portrayed as ambitious, power-hungry women, ruthless in their attempts to gain influence.
While Vilgefortz represents a more traditional “evil” antagonist, the sorceresses, lead by Philippa Eilhart, are callous and self-serving. In fact, I think their particular brand of ruthlessness is more impactful, especially in their interactions with Yennefer.
As dark and challenging as this story is for the characters, it’s not all death and despair. It has some high-notes in terms of the characters experiencing victories, personal growth, and relationships solidifying.
Geralt and his company continue to strengthen their bond. I adore the interactions between Geralt and Cahir, as well as Geralt and Regis.
Ciri’s growth is harder to read. But, after being somewhat stagnant since the end of Time of Contempt, she’s becoming a much more complex and layered character.
The same is true for Yennefer, who, by choosing to go against the wishes of the Lodge of Sorceresses, have sacrificed everything and is fighting her battle completely alone.
What works against it, and ultimately made me choose Baptism of Fire as my favorite book in this series, is the demanding narrative. This book offers no place for you as a reader to “rest”. You need to be one hundred percent focused to keep-up with the twist, turns, and time jumps.
Still, if you’re able to keep that focus, the story told is absolutely fantastic. It’s brutal, unforgiving, and disturbing. It’s also relentless in the way it keeps expanding the infinite grayscale that drives the actions and choices of the characters.
As despicable as Vilgefortz and his cohorts are, it’s almost restful when they make an appearance because it all becomes a little easier.
While The Lodge of Sorceresses, the Scoia’tael, and the different scheming Kingdoms and Empires all exist within the grayscale where none are better or worse than the other, Vilgefortz and his muscle represents a more traditional type of antagonist. One easy to place on the “evil” side.
Despite that, at its core, this is still a story about family, loyalty, friendship, and love. It’s heartwarming, funny, and sarcastic, with believable character interactions.
And, without spoiling anything, there’s a great battle scene at the end.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that this is another ten from me. I love this series three-thousand.
My Rating: 10/10