The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski

details
Title: The Tower of Fools.
SeriesHussite Trilogy #1.
Writer(s)Andrzej Sapkowski.
Publisher: Orbit.
Format: Paperback.
Release Date: October 27th, 2020 (First Published 2002).
Pages: 576.
Genre(s): Fantasy, Historical Fiction.
ISBN13:  9780316423694.
My Overall Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

thoughts

Mankind is capable of many vices. Throughout history, we have been subject to severe punishments, attempting to cleanse the population of these vile beings capable of corrupting good whenever they please. As various factions rose to power, the indoctrination of the populace was within their grasp and anything they willed could become a heresy. Just when the common folk became vulnerable, things couldn’t get any more chaotic as the Church finally got their hands deep in the jar of power. For one young man who lives and breathes in vices, both the human and magical kind, whether he wants to or not, life got a lot more complicated. Originally published in Polish in 2002, translator David French offers readers the chance to read the Hussite Trilogy in English by the best-selling author who brought the world the critically-acclaimed Witcher books.

What is The Tower of Fools about? The story follows Reinmar of Bielawa, also known as Reynevan to some, in his journey to escape from powerful men looking to rip his head off his shoulders. It all began when his uncontrollable desires lead him to bed a taken woman only for her brothers to discover this blasphemous act. Things get a bit more problematic when one of the brothers meets his death in a tragic manner and vengeance drives the rest of them on a wild hunt. Unfortunately for Reynevan, the young man’s aptitudes as a healer/magician also lead the Holy Inquisition to hunt him, whatever means necessary. Set during the Hussite Wars, in Silesia in 1425, the religious tensions thus rise while the young charlatan runs from menacing and mystical threats and sees him stumble his way to the Narrenturm where lies the Tower of Fools.

Vanitas vanitatum, Reinmar! Vanity of vanities and all is vanity! Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry, ‘for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.’ Remembermelior est canis vivus leone mortuo, a living dog is better than a dead lion.

— Andrzej Sapkowski

Writer Andrzej Sapkowski introduces readers to a story abundantly rich in history and light in fantasy. A relatively linear storytelling narrative sends the protagonist on a journey with countless peripeteia that will require him to showcase some significant cunningness to escape the grasps of a myriad of individuals looking to capture or kill him. Although the author does, unfortunately, drown the reader in historical context, confuse them with Latin words and expressions interspersed in the narrative, and name drops far too many characters for readers to ever truly immerse themselves in the story, it is safe to say that every chapter sends the reader down an episodic adventure where Reynevan grows his fellowship and encounters outlandish individuals, from past acquaintances to inhuman creatures, such as witches or werewolves. It is especially through the protagonist’s subtle wickedness and slyness that the story develops a somewhat amusing prose that captures the premise’s idiosyncrasy.

On top of the extensive historical overlay, this story also heavily incorporates religious, political, and philosophical undertones that are sometimes clumsily incorporated in the story. In spite of their relevance in starkly exposing a time period brimming with power struggles and conspiracy, they also hinder the reader’s ability to properly connect with the deeply flawed and fairly despicable protagonist while also stripping away any opportunity for an authentic sense of companionship among the group that is slowly formed throughout the story. It is also enjoyable to see how writer Andrzej Sapkowski incorporates the light-fantasy elements into this alternate historical world, however, it all remains poorly developed in the grand scheme of things as readers rarely get to embrace the magical elements during the various action scenes in the narrative plot structure. While this adventure is rough around its edges, it undoubtedly has great potential to deliver a stunning sequel and finale.

The Tower of Fools is a sweeping journey packed with strange encounters and peculiar resolutions, wrapped in an overloaded historical fantasy.


EXHIBITA
Thank you to Orbit Books for sending me a copy for review!

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30 comments

  • I have to say, no reviews of any of Sapkowski’s books have tempted me even a tiny bit to read them. I’ll go so far as to say that without the push from the videogames, he’d be a local nobody author that the world would never have heard of.

    This sounds like a darker, more modern take on Katherine Kurtz’ Deryni series. I read a couple of those and the “magic lite” side of things just didn’t work for me. If an author is going to have magic in their world, let’s have some Gandalf level of magic please 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the video games really catapulted his books to stardom and the recent Netflix TV series with Cavill helped the books even more than ever. While I still plan on reading it someday to finally see why it’s so popular, I can at least say that the Hussite trilogy probably doesn’t have the same charisma with what I’ve seen this book offer. Very rare magic lite fantasy stories work too well for me but if they do, I think they’re usually much more shorter or stand-alone too.

      Liked by 1 person

  • “name drops far too many characters for readers to ever truly immerse themselves in the story”…I really don’t like novels that do that. I also don’t like the overall sound of this book to be honest, while reading your post. I don’t mind historical context one bit, but when mixed with a lot of other elements that haven’t been incorporated into a story in a good way, this certainly doesn’t sound like my cup of tea. Either way, as always, I did really enjoy your extensive review. And…it’s nice to for a change not add anything new to my to read list! 😜😀

    Liked by 1 person

      • Lol😂😂😂 I was thinking about that too, but for some weird reason, with Warhammer 40K it doesn’t bother me so much. Don’t know why that is….but that’s the (very rare) exception!😂😂

        Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve always found those name-drop-heavy books hard to enjoy as much as other series too! Like you, there are rare exceptions, but for them to work, I’d have to actually KNOW who all those characters are or something. 😮 I did feel like The Tower of Fools had too much going on without giving anything the time to help to. I do wonder if the sequel can do better now that this one has set the world and all, but I’m in no hurry, for now, to jump now hahah Thanks for reading, Michel! I appreciate it a lot! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know if you ever read the Silmarallion by Tolkien, but I quit reading that after 100 pages. There were so many names that it actually contained a huge appendix that covered all those names. It was crazy! 😂😂
        But true, I’m not a huge fan of that either…with the occasional rare exception 😊

        Liked by 1 person

        • I haven’t as I’m still working my way through finally reading the LotR trilogy (still need to make time for book 2 and 3 now) but I look forward to everything the man has written. That one does sound like a huge challenge compared to The Hobbit or his trilogy though hahaha I look forward to discovering that appendix! 😛

          Liked by 1 person

  • The world mixed with history, fantasy and politics filled with adventure and action, interesting! I agree too many characters can be distracting and makes the book a little slow. I will try The Witcher first and then I’ll think about this. Wonderful review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep! It has so much going on while keeping the magic in the background. It’s fun but there are things that are bound to bother some readers who probably wouldn’t have expected those things especially. I think The Witcher is definitely a better place to begin with if you want to see what this author has to offer though. Thanks for reading, Yesha! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  • Ha damn that’s a flop then! And we can’t blame the translator for all that you found there. Morale: never bed a taken woman 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  • Ill be reading Whitcher first before I think about this one. I have had a problem in the past with some things getting a bit lost in translation especially with his work. Great review non the less bro!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Though this one doesn’t sound like something I’m in any hurry to try I would still like to try his Witcher stories, see if I enjoy those. Would you say the focus of this book seemed more world building and less character development? I’m sometimes ok with that but it’s much easier for me to enjoy a book if there are characters to become invested in, and not so many I get lost trying to keep track of them. I’m ok with the light-fantasy element. In fact, I was just thinking about a book (The Throne of the Five Winds) whose sequel I’m looking forward to, and I don’t recall whether it had any noticeable magic at all. Add to that it was far more a political and court intrigue sort of story, which I don’t usually get into as much. And yet I really enjoyed it. Anyway, sorry this one didn’t work as well as it could have. Perhaps the sequel, if you read it, will work better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s better to start with Witcher books, especially with how much that series expanded over the years thanks to comics, video games, and now TV series! I definitely think this one looked to focus on the world-building more than the characters. There’s still enough of the latter but only enough to allow the group dynamics to build throughout this adventure. I think I have a digital copy of Thr Throne of the Five Winds and that I actually picked it up because I saw that you enjoyed it hahahaha I think light fantasy is tricky but if done right, I can definitely appreciate it a lot too. I am curious to see if the sequel will do better or if it’ll just be more of the same. Thanks for reading, Todd. Always really appreciate your comments, my good friend. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • If you end up reading Throne of the Five Winds I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It was a bit of a slow build with little of the typical fantasy elements other than new interesting cultures. And it didn’t focus all that much on world building, instead on the politics of the cultures and character development. It was the characters that drew me in. I felt like I was really getting to know many of them.

        Liked by 1 person

  • Ahhh….fantasy but not really fantasy…What a shame that there weren’t any chance for the reader to ’embrace the magical elements’ due to its poor development 😦 Honestly, that would’ve turn me off! What a great, balanced review, Lashaan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would’ve really liked to see more of its background magic elements shine throughout the story more but this had more focus on the historical fiction elements than anything else! Thank you so much for reading, Jee! I appreciate it. 😀

      Like

  • Don’t put your hopes up, Lashaan! 😂😂😂 The sequels are better than the first installment, but not by much – the Hussite Trilogy sadly cannot compare to Witcher (and to be clear, I hated The Lady of the Lake 🤣)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good thing I didn’t let this one deter my interest in the Witcher series though. And now you’ve got me all intrigued about The Lady of the Lake hahahahah For the time being, I’ll mostly rely my hype for the series on your dual post with Piotrek back in the day. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  • Very interesting review, I didn’t know it’s been translated. Personally, I did not like it, not after reading and immensely enjoying the Witcher Saga. I did not mind the name-dropping, as it’s a period of history I’m rather familiar with, so that actually was a bonus, but overall I was tired after reading the first volume and never got any further in this trilogy. Sapkowski is a history nerd, loves Latin and heraldry, and here he let go a bit too much.
    Although I have to say I have a friend with lit degree who claims this is Sapkowski’s masterpiece, and it’s likely another novel hard to translate into English – this is an author who mastered the intricacies of our difficult language and writes in a way that is more difficult to translate than novels of some of his younger colleagues would be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can soooo imagine this pleasing a history nerd. I think name-dropping this much works best for people who actually know who the people are because, I, for one, clearly don’t know as much as Sapkowski wishes I did for this one to really appreciate what he tried to achieve here hahah Thanks for the insight on the translation struggle though. It does indeed sound interesting in Polish though. I imagine the Witcher saga doesn’t suffer too much from translation problems if it was able to capture the hearts of many English readers over the past years though! 😮 Thanks for reading, Piotrek! I appreciate it!

      P.S. There was a character in that book with a name so similar to yours, I couldn’t stop imagining it was you hahaha (Piotr).

      Liked by 1 person

  • Very interesting review Lashaan! I always find it quite interesting to read reviews about translated books, as a “bad” translation can definitely influence (negatively or positively) the reading experience. For this one however I feel like it might not entirely be about it, and I have to say that some of the things you picked up also tend to annoy me sometimes when I read a book! Have you read the Witcher series? I would be curious to know how they compare! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Juliette! I’m always wary about translated books for various reasons, especially that fear of an author’s writing style not having the same impact once translated. This one isn’t the worse of those out there but it didn’t help that it was fundamentally veeeeery historical fiction ahhaha I haven’t read the Witcher books but I have read comics and whatnot from the franchise hahaha I’ll definitely pick the Witcher saga in the near future though! Thanks for reading as always! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

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