Throughout the Witcher series, the message has been that something big is coming; the world will end and a new world will dawn, and Ciri, the child of the Elder Blood, will help bring this about. Geralt frequently states that he feels like something in him is changing as well, that something is coming to an end, and in this fourth novel (sixth book) of the Witcher series, the reader gets a sense of what he means.
Geralt’s schtick has always been that, as a Witcher, his job is to kill monsters for money. He does not get involved in politics or personal matters, he just kills and leaves. And as witchers go, Geralt is renowned for his talents in this area. Everyone has heard of the White Wolf and his deadly skills. Some esteem him, some fear him, and some abhor his ways. The latter group includes Druids, nature lovers who detest the killing of any creature. Yet Geralt, for all his protestations of not caring or wanting to get involved, finds himself caring more than he would like to admit. In previous stories he sometimes refused jobs if he thought the “monster” was not a real threat or even needed protecting. In The Tower of Swallows, Geralt finds himself fighting frequently but it is almost exclusively with humans; he and his band (including Dandelion, Milva, Cahir, and Regis) must hide or fight constantly as they move south to find Ciri. With war raging between Nilfgaard and local kingdoms, one is expected to take a side and fight, something Geralt and his band have no interest in doing. Geralt’s story arc takes him into realms where, rather than fight monsters, he must find his enemies to try to track down Ciri; and he discovers that someone he had trusted might have betrayed him.
While most people think Ciri has been taken to Nilfgaard and is being held until her marriage to Emperor Emhyr, in fact Ciri has been living the life of a bandit. Going by the name Falka, she and a group of teens called “the Rats” raid, rob and occasionally murder. For that reason alone they would be pursued by civil authorities, but in Nilfgaard, the emperor and a few trusted advisors know that the Ciri they have isn’t the real one. Emhyr’s spies are on the lookout for Ciri and a bounty hunter called Bonhart is hot on the trail of the Rats. He knows who Falka really is. Yet when the novel opens, Ciri is in an impassable boggy marshy area known as Pereplut, being nursed back to health by the hermit Vysogota. Over the cold autumn nights, she will unravel the horrific tale of what happened to her and the Rats at the hands of Bonhart — a truly evil monster of a man. Vysogota, a scholar and philosopher who has known his share of persecution, will not only guide Ciri back to health but also help her with her path forward, telling her of the Tower of Swallows which she is destined to find and use as the child of the elder blood.
The story arc for Yennefer gets more attention in this novel than in the last, but it is still full of mystery. Yennefer’s main concern is Ciri and she seems to be working against all other mages in order to find and protect her. The “lodge” of female sorceresses, which includes Philippa Eilhart and Triss Merigold, plans to marry Ciri off to a king of their choosing, while the sorcerer Vilgefortz has downright macabre intentions for Ciri. It is still unclear what role Yennefer played in the past which led to the events on Thanedd (Baptism of Fire), causing this rift among mages and the disappearance of Ciri through the portal in the Tower of Gulls. But Yennefer now knows that Vilgefortz is her enemy and that she must confront him while also evading the members of the lodge. Yennefer ends up in the island kingdom called Skellig, where the ruler owes her and Ciri some favors. It is here that the reader gets some interesting new information regarding Ciri’s parents and their deaths. At the end of this story, Yennefer is in mortal danger and it is not clear why she has allowed herself to be put there, but I am very intrigued.
The Tower of Swallows gives more attention to the political workings and intrigues of Nilfgaard, with special attention to the “coroner” Stephen Skellen, aka Tawny Owl, and his bounty hunter Bonhart. Skellen’s search party includes a “psionic” named Joanna who is able to read and manipulate the minds of others. I am hoping she will return in the next book, because once she understands what her bosses are doing and what has happened to Ciri she begins to have doubts about her role in it. The Tower of Swallows contains several gruesome and thrilling fights, reminiscent of the kinds of showdowns you’d find in a western. Ciri, though only 15, is a ferocious bad ass who is clearly suffering from trauma but who, as one character tells Geralt, is going to be able to take care of herself very well. The eponymous Tower of Swallows is her destination and when she finds it, all hell breaks loose before she can enter. I can’t wait to see what happens next!