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Friday, 23 October 2020

Book Review - The Tower of Fools - by Andrzej Sapkowski

My Rating - 4 out of 5 Stars

The first thing I want to point out is that this is a translated book coming out almost twenty years after its initial publication. I've seen a few comments from other readers with advance copies struggling to get to grips with character names etc. and levelling that as criticism, which I find hugely unfair. It's set in a historically grounded location - the rest of the sentence might be translated into English but names / place names won't be. It wasn't written for an English speaking audience so of course there'll be some unfamiliarity, and whilst that made it a little hard at times to keep track of the characters and their causes there's more than enough context to figure out why a person appearing again proves significant, a half beat or so later than those reading the original at most.

I think the original date of publication plays into the naivety of the main character as well. He's a red blooded young male led by romantic obsession. As the lead perspective you can expect world views and attitudes to largely fall in and around that bubble. The characters themselves are not unaware of this, and the lead even calls himself out for it later (characters should be allowed to grow after all). I don't know that there'd be much call for this mindset if it were written recently, but with the Witcher series gaining a huge spike in interest due to the recent adaptation for Netflix somebody was probably looking to capitalise on the author's other works. I don't know what time the decision was made for either undertaking but they are suspiciously close together. It's a successful one too - I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of a choice of books and picked this one specifically because I was intending to dip into Witcher at some point on the back of playing one of the games, and am now confident I'll take to the style of writing. Just be aware that this dated attitude is quite prevalent, right from the off.

I think this book took a little while to get going but I thoroughly enjoyed it by the end. The layers of mystery deepen beyond the somewhat vapid start, with pieces laid out early coming together in a satisfying way as the situational crises worsen. As the first in a trilogy it's always worth bearing in mind how the first third of the first book is going to be paced to account for later escalation. It's a book that grants you POV into an opposing entity (very briefly) so it falls into that category of knowing more about the bigger situation than the characters do with them playing catch up, which is a delicate balance that I found a little bit wearing at times. Though a sign of a good book to me is one that leaves my writing pad brimming with inspiration, and I certainly picked up a few ideas here!

When it comes to character I didn't quite gel with Reynevan. He only really caught my attention when he was doing something irritating. I accept him more as the avatar holding the camera that enables us to meet everybody else, and that's where I think the strength of the book is, in the people that Reynevan pulls around him.  It's suspiciously effective. Scharley, the real star in my opinion, COULDN'T work as well as he does if  we were granted POV insight. He operates exclusively outside of our understanding. That's not to say that Reynevan is a passive lead - the opposite in fact. We're dragged around entirely by his whimsy, the trick I think the book pulls off is to construct reasonable narrative on a case by case basis as to WHY (or a good amount of intrigue as to why ACTUALLY) the characters accept him as the lead protagonist. Though I will admit to several hard eye rolls at the advent of a recurring phrase that highlight just how much benefit being the main character grants you should the plot demand it... there's a little bit too much chance / coincidence that contributed to me being unable to give the book any more than four stars.

I don't read blurbs where I can help it. I was surprised upon reading it after the book that Reynevan is mentioned as a magician upfront. I found the slow unveiling of that fact one of the better points of intrigue. One last thing that irked me then was how another great character, Samson, received his physical strength. I found it a cheap gimmick and unnecessary given that magic is an established part of the world - especially considering his origins. I'll likely carry on the adventure at some point, but I'm more interested in taking on The Witcher before then.


'The Tower of Fools' by Andrzej Sapkowski - https://bit.ly/3nPfc3h

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