Thursday, April 28, 2022

Review of The Tower of Swallows by Andrzej Sapkowski

Note: This review of The Tower of Swallows (1997), fourth volume in the Witcher series, is going to assume the reader has read the prior three books.

If you’ve read Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher saga this far, it’s likely anything I write will change your mind whether to push forward with the fourth, penultimate volume, Tower of Swallows. Then again, Baptism of Fire was such a weak book that you may think twice.

Fear not—or at least only a little, Tower of Swallows is likely the best book of the saga thus far. If the reader has felt a little sea sick trying to follow Sapkowski’s timeline and plotline, this book starts to braid all the pieces together in tighter fashion. It gives readers recognizable plot handles to hold in relationship to one another.

While Ciri has popped in and out of the three Witcher novels to date, in The Tower of Swallows she becomes the focal point. Told in flashback fashion, the reader is introduced to Ciri as she recuperates in a forest hut after being found by a hermit. Having taken serious head injuries, her memory of what brought her to where she is slowly revealed to the hermit. And what a harsh tale it is.

On top of a storyline, beginning to end, that felt satisfying, I would like to comment on the translation (done by David French). It’s superb. I had major struggles with the Witcher short story collection, The Last Wish. My hunch is that the translator stuck too close to the source material without adding color—in a fashion respectful to the Sapkowski’s material but in a way that delivers the underlying flavor of the Witcher. With the Witcher saga books, and especially Tower of Swallows, I could feel the English language being stretched to its advantage. The reader senses Sapkowski was trying to create a dark fantasy world by turns subversive and familiar—that Geralt’s world is not happy hobbits smoking pipes and elves singing ethereal songs. Much more blue collar, dirt-in-the-road type stuff, French should be commended for the manner in which he puts this across to the reader.

In the end, Tower of Swallows is, at least for me, the point in the Witcher series at which the rubber finally hits the road. Reading the prior books my mind regularly wandered and I had to regularly refocus. Tower of Swallows kept me engaged almost throughout. Sapkowski still occasionally goes off on a useless, philosophizing tangent, but the pieces of the Witcher world are brought together in a fashion that gives the series a vision and place. For the first time I can truly say I am looking forward to the next, final volume, The Lady of the Lake.

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