You know what’s really fun? Coming up with new ways to “critique” a series that you’re still inexplicably reading even though you haven’t really enjoyed it from the very beginning. Thankfully, this is the second to last book, so I’m so freaking close to being done with this thing. Anyway!
#6, Tower of Swallows is clearly the one where Sapkowski just said “fuck it” to anything like a comprehensible narrative structure or manageable set of POVs (although the latter has been on life support for at least one or two volumes already; here it was finally unplugged.) I’m not someone who has issues with non-linear narratives as a rule, but I have become a bit more discerning about whether that structure is being employed for good reasons or if it’s just there merely to make the story seem more unique and clever than it actually is. Can you guess which camp I found this book in?
There is no reason why this book needed to be all over the place in time-space. None. It’s confusion and misdirection masquerading as mystery and complexity. “This character is gravely injured — let’s travel back in time to find out how!” is a harmless retrospective hook on its face, but in the context of a larger series, it breaks up the continuity in a needless and ultimately frustrating way. It’s another example of what has been the biggest problem in the series, which is that the story can’t ever just progress organically. The (alleged) main characters spend all of their time on the page grumbling at each other and journeying from this place to that, and any actual exposition and insight as to what’s holding all of these plot threads together ALWAYS comes in the form of infodumps. Worse, strangely often, those infodumps are oddly specific “dialogue” between two random characters gossipping about the state of the kingdom and “Haven’t you heard about …?”
So in one corner you have Ciri telling her story of the past few weeks to a hermit she meets in a swamp, and in another you have a bunch of the elven Emperor’s minions twirling their mustaches at each other as they talk about trying to capture Ciri, and in another you have the sorceresses still sore about being betrayed and having their Guild party blown up, and somewhere off in the wilderness you also have Geralt and whoever is with him at any given moment just kind of hanging in there and also being periodically attacked.
There’s just no synergy to any of this. I know it’s supposed to be an expansion of the universe and a slow weaving together of seemingly disparate threads, all very much in the epic fantasy mold. But the problem is that, from the beginning, Sapkowski had one concept — the idea of Witchers and what they do — and somehow, the story that became the series had nothing to do with any of that. Witchers are supposed to fight bad or evil magical creatures for hire. That is what the first two books, collections of short stories, were about. They weren’t perfect, but there was something actually fun and interesting there, as they explored the life of a Witcher. Then ALL of that was just abandoned, and ever since the story switched to focus (“focus”) on the war between the elves and humans and Ciri’s role, Geralt might as well be some guy who is better than most at swordplay. Everything unique that made him a Witcher is completely disregarded. And so I just don’t understand what the point of the series is. Maybe the material on the Witcher actually Witchin’ was only two books long. That’s fine! Whatever the rest of the books became is Fantasy Battles and Babble 101.