Review: THE TOWER OF THE SWALLOW (The Witcher #4) by Andrzej Sapkowski

I love writing reviews of The Witcher books. They’re terrible books honestly, but I have so much fun with them I don’t really care all that much. At the start of The Tower of the Swallow we meet Ciri again, having just been found wounded and collapsed in a swamp and rescued by a philosopher hermit who is the only person living in the area for miles around. How did she get there and why is she wounded? Where are her pals and gang of outlaws and miscreants The Rats? What the actual hell is going on? Who knows at this point honestly. Meanwhile, Geralt and his party of mismatched brigands are travelling with the army of Queen Meve of Rivia, though Geralt is keen to locate a community of druids he suspects can help him find Ciri. And Yennefer, who is I think presumed dead by the Lodge of Sorceresses, has taken refuge on the island nation of Skellige, where she persuades the jarl to assist her in investigating the dastardly plans of the villain Vilgefortz.

Read my reviews of previous books in this series:

Clearly there’s a big chunk of unaccounted for time in Ciri’s story at the beginning of the book, and the gaps are gradually filled in as she begins to confide in the hermit Vysogota and tell him how she came to be alone and bleeding in the swamp where he found her. And jeez, what a story it is, even if it is difficult to follow along sometimes. I say this every time I review a Witcher book, but I can’t tell if the story would have been less confusing in the original Polish (cos I have no knowledge of how the language is constructed) or if Sapkowksi’s writing style is just genuinely bonkers. I suspect it may be a bit of both, but suffice to say the chronology jumps about all over the place, there’s flashbacks nested in other flashbacks and we jump about just as much in space as we do in time, flitting from one perspective to another, often to entirely new characters we’ve never seen before in situations that are rarely explained. It’s sort of hilariously confusing in a way I find strangely endearing. I really enjoyed how Ciri’s relationship with Vysogota developed as well. She’s understandably a bit suspicious of him when she wakes up in a strange bloke’s house, but over time they grow quite fond of each other and she grows to trust him enough to tell her story over time while she recovers. I enjoyed how Sapkowski showed the passage of time but also the development of their relationship, as Ciri tells her story across a bunch of different settings and backdrops, while she and Vysogota are mucking out the stables or while he is redressing her wounds and seeing to her bandages. It was a nice touch.

Ah Geralt. Geralt Geralt Geralt. Why is he the dullest character in these books? All he does is walk about and swing a sword around from time to time. It’s the people around him that make his parts of the story even remotely interesting. In the last book I very much enjoyed meeting his pal Zoltan Chivay, the sort-of-chivalrous dwarf and I’m glad that Regis, the friendly vampire physician, is still around in this book as well. Tell you what I don’t get about Geralt though, is his continuous obsession with saving Cahir’s life. Cahir being the mysterious Nilfgaardian knight, the ‘Black Rider’ who (I think) Geralt only knows as an enemy to Ciri at this point. Maybe this is just me projecting, but I feel like Geralt wouldn’t (or in my opinion shouldn’t) go out of his way to keep him alive. Geralt is a weirdly peaceful and merciful guy outside of battle, even when it goes against what I’d perceive as his own interests. I can’t tell if I just want Geralt as a character to be something he isn’t or whether Sapkowski just writes stories that hand-wave a lot of the character stuff in favour of plot. I lean very hard towards the latter, which is largely why I think these are terrible books haha, but I’m willing to be persuaded. I also think the success of the video games has given people a warped perception of what to expect of these books too, cos there really ain’t a lot of monster-slaying for a series about a monster slayer. Most of the fights Geralt gets involved in are actually pitched battles and skirmishes with other humans and elves. And that’s actually a strength of this series I think; it does the whole ‘people are the real monsters’ thing quite well. There’s a few points where that’s very obvious and in your face, but it’s largely subtext, and I’m a sucker for subtext.

Finally there’s Yennefer. I love Yennefer man, she’s my fave character without a doubt. The Witcher? Pfft, just rename the series The Sorceress and have done with it. She resurfaces here on the island of Skellige, which is ruled by our old pal Crach an Craite, who you may remember from the short story collection as a potential suitor for Ciri’s mother, Princess Pavetta of Cintra. Here she sets about trying to find out the whereabouts and intentions of Vilgefortz, who has been MIA since the coup at Thanned. There’s more than a hint of Norse mythology about the culture of Skellige and Yennefer entreats the local religious bigwigs, the Priestesses of Freya, to assist her in her investigations. There’s a really great section where we hear about and, through an arcane vision, largely witness the prophesied Ragh Nar Roog, the end of the world. Sound familiar? As someone who love love loves Norse mythology it really was a treat to see a fictionalised version of it incorporated into the culture of Skellige and actually play a pretty central role in how Yennefer’s plans unfold. And let’s be clear here, Yennefer is the only one who’s actually done anything of any consequence since Thanned; while Geralt’s been wandering around the forest she’s been battling with the combined might of the Lodge of Sorceresses, imprisoned in a jade figurine, escaped, magically transported herself and landed in the middle of the fucking sea and has now set about hunting for the head of the snake, Vilgefortz himself. These were the best bits of the book and it irks me Yennefer doesn’t feature more heavily in the series so far, though the aforementioned ‘imprisoned in a jade figurine’ situation does admittedly make that difficult.

Another solidly mediocre but highly entertaining instalment in The Witcher series. One final thing I’ll say is that the closing scenes of this book are probably my favourite parts of this whole series so far, where Ciri starts coming into her own. If you go on to read it, or if you’ve already read it, then you’ll know about the frozen lake, the fog and Ciri whizzing about like a fucking wraith in the mist. This entire series is worth reading for that scene alone. And it occurs to me now that I’ve only got one more Witcher book to read! Then I can actually watch the Netflix series and play all the games, which I haven’t done yet cos my brain likes to do things in order. I realise I’m supposed to be wrapping up but I did play a good few hours of the first game before I found out it took place chronologically after the books, but the game felt much more grimdark than the books really are, which is why they ended up on my grimdark reading list. I have opinions, but if you’ve read these books please let me know what you think about their grimdark credentials. Now, on to the finale!

image credit: by Svetlana Alyuk on

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