If you’re unfamiliar with the Witcher series of books (I’m assuming most people are now at least passingly familiar with the highly successful series of video games), then there are two things you need to be aware of before you dive in headfirst: (a) the books spawned the video games, the latter of which take place years after the last of the books, so prepare yourself for a few changes when it comes to characters, outlines, and occurrences, and (b) the books which make up the series itself must be read in order if you truly want to understand who people are and what’s going on. This is an epic fantasy bordering on high-fantasy: the world is huge, the factions are many, the politics are a very realistic jumble and necessary to the underlying story, so… you’ve been warned. If you start in the middle now, don’t come crying to me that you’re lost later.
There are two short-story collections: The Last Wish (published 1993 / 2008) and Sword of Destiny (1992 / 2015) which aren’t required and can be skipped or read out of order entirely; they’re basically snippets of Geralt’s past adventures. So if you played the games and ever found yourself wondering what some of those monster-hunting references were to, these collections are where they’ll be! There are then six books to the actual series, four of which are now available in English:
Blood of Elves (Orig. 1994 / English 2008)
Time of Contempt (Orig. 1995 / English 2013)
Baptism of Fire (Orig. 1996 / English 2014)
The Swallow’s Tower (Orig. 1997 / English 2016)
And this leaves the final two books of the series for which we are still awaiting English translations:
Lady of the Lake (Orig. 1999 / English 2017)
Season of Storms (Orig. 2013 / English TBD)
One other quick note regarding translations… The original title in Polish is Wieża Jaskółki, which has been correctly translated in Europe and the UK as either The Swallow’s Tower or The Tower of the Swallow; however, for some stupid American reason the stupid American publication carries the stupid American title The Tower of Swallows, which is not only the wrong translation but also sorta-kinda-totally changes the whole premise behind the name of said Tower itself: the swallow mentioned in the correct singular-tense version of the name is actually a reference to a single person.
I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting for this particular book, but just sitting here preparing to write about it, just a few hours after finishing it… I gotta tell ya…
I still have chills. Chills, people. Chills.
The Swallow’s Tower (The Witcher #4)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Published: 1997 / 2016
Version: Amazon Kindle
“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… ”
This review is written with the assumption that you have already read the previous books of the saga and thus are already familiar with the main cast, the countries, the battles and skirmishes which have led to so much of the drama woven into this series, the various factions, and the choices which Geralt has already made (and been forced to make) that have led to him and his merry band of wanderers to this point.
If you haven’t read all of the previous installments, then you’re probably going to want to stop here. And you’ve been warned – beginning in three… two… one…
The biggest distinction The Swallow’s Tower has to offer amidst a saga of excellent books is that this is less a tale of the indomitable Witcher and more the story of the Lion Cub of Cintra, Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon. I have a few acquaintances who are reading this series, and they all complained of the same thing when it came to this selection: this book contained “too much” Elven history and human politics and not enough of the monster-hunting shenanigans for which Geralt is most well-known. For myself, this wasn’t a problem – I quite like the history of Sapkowski’s world and all that led up to the current hatred and fear the races all have for one another, and I had been, at best, completely indifferent to Ciri’s existence in what has become, to me, The Geralt Show; it wasn’t until The Swallow’s Tower that I established the love I now have for the Lion Cub as a character. So, if you’re wanting to be wowed by hundreds of pages of Geralt’s adventures, be warned: he’s a minor player in this novel, and Ciri is front-and-center.
When we left Ciri at the end of Baptism of Fire, she had reinvented herself as Falka, a cold-blooded killer fully dedicated to the life of unrepentant murder, thievery, and all-around mayhem enjoyed by the gang of rowdy rebels known as the Rats. But besides hitting bottom and finding out that she’s actually quite adept at killing people with flair, Ciri also formed a bond with fellow Rat Mistle, a friendship which quickly blossomed into an intense and passionate affair that provided Ciri with her first real experiences of physical and emotional love.
Because we are omniscient spectators in the Witcher’s world, we also knew that while she was establishing this alter ego, a ruthless bounty hunter named Leo Bonhart (who was also an infamous assassin and famed witcher-slayer) was set on her trail under two separate Nilfgaardian contracts: one offered by the coroner Stefan Skellen (aka Tawny Owl) for proof of her death, and the other from Baron Casadei who sought redress for a robbery from the Rats – and Falka in particular – and had paid Bonhart to capture our blood-thirsty little waif alive.
When The Swallow’s Tower begins, Ciri is suddenly in the company of the philosopher-hermit Vysogota of Corvo, who has taken her into his home nestled within a rather foreboding swampland; a fair majority of The Swallow’s Tower technically takes place in this location, as it’s made up of her retelling of the events that took place after Bonhart finally caught up with the Rats. She eventually convinces herself, as she goes through her tale, that both Geralt and Yennefer are dead, and she decides to make her way towards Tor Zireael – the Tower of the Swallow – to fulfill what she now believes to be her destiny. It’s very clear with this novel that the little girl we knew is gone; Ciri’s life began as a luxurious and pampered dream, but she has literally lost everything and everyone and has been forced, in the name of sheer survival, to reinvent herself multiple times… and she’s only fifteen! What I love about her by the end, however, is that she is no longer the bratty woman-child who throws a tantrum or flings her hands up in the air when things go horribly, terribly wrong – after all of the trials and tribulations she has been through, after all of the death she has witnessed and caused, after loss after loss after loss, she stands tall and proves that she has overcome it all, she has passed each test, she has gone through the fire and emerged, burned but unbroken, on the other side to be a strong, confident, and independent character.
Meanwhile, the series’ titular hero, Geralt the White Wolf, finds himself knighted by Queen Meve – at this point officially becoming “Geralt of Rivia” – and primarily focused on continuing his search for Ciri with his motley crew of fellow travelers: Dandelion the bard, Milva the huntress, Cahir the erstwhile Nilfgaardian knight, and Regis the vampire. Their start-and-stop, winding journey eventually leads Geralt to one of my favorite scenes in the novel: the cave-home of an elf named Avallac’h, who tells him the history behind the prophecy surrounding a child of the Elder blood – a child Geralt immediately suspects may be Ciri. The elf counsels Geralt to search out the druids, who can point him in the direction of Tor Zireael, the only place fate could possibly be leading the child of prophecy – but the journey is by no means easy, as the land is ravaged by war, and the destruction left in the wake of so many battles has forced the druids to relocate more than once.
And that brings us to Yennefer, who, rather than being dead as assumed by Ciri, is actually alive and on the hunt for the overly-ambitious, supremely power-hungry mage Vilgefortz, who has, in turn, also figured out that Ciri may very well be the child mentioned in the prophecy. He, being who and what he is, plans to use her blood to claim the powers of the Elder blood for himself. Yennefer naturally eventually finds the vile villain Vilgefortz (see what I did there? Fun with alliteration.), and that’s when da shitta da hits da fanna, bringing the entire novel to a massive crescendo of a finale, with everything you’d come to expect from Sapkowski: magic, mayhem, torture, tears, and another epic – if brief – battle scene that leaves nothing wanting and answers the question everyone seems to be asking this time around: “Is Ciri the prophesied child, and what, exactly, does that even mean?”