Reinmar of Bielawa, sometimes known as Reynevan, is a doctor, a magician and, according to some, a charlatan. And when a thoughtless indiscretion finds him caught in the crosshairs of powerful noble family, he is forced to flee his home.
But once he passes beyond the city borders, he finds that there are dangers ahead as well as behind. Strange mystical forces are gathering in the shadows. And pursued not only by the affronted Stercza brothers, bent on vengeance, but also by the Holy Inquisition, Reynevan finds himself in the Narrenturm, the Tower of Fools.
The Tower is an asylum for the mad, or for those who dare to think differently and challenge the prevailing order. And escaping the Tower, avoiding the conflict around him, and keeping his own sanity might prove a greater challenge than Reynevan ever imagined.
The Tower of Fools is a historical fantasy from the master behind the Witcher series, Sapkowski – back is the hefty, unique voice that is pervasive in his writings, the fantastical prose steeped in European lore and myth. Taking place in medieval Europe, this is a tale featuring an eclectic mix of characters, magic, factions and monsters. It’s a historical tale with an undeniable, fantastically researched sense of place; a plot that oozes mystery and is drenched is credibility, but one that takes a while to get going.
The plot sees Reynevan and his flight from the Sterczas, a family who blame him for their brother’s death and for cuckolding another brother with his beloved Adele – along the road of escape, he meets brigands, men of god, soldiers, a randy Werewolf, and Sharley – who is promised to help him escape a fate at the end of the sword. Along with a botched exorcism that results in Samson joining their band, there’s certainly no shortage of antics that drive the plot forward. This plot also features Sapkowski’s trademark character swapping – sometimes beginning chapters in mysterious meetings or with characters who don’t yet mean anything. There’s certainly no shortage of POVs, but for this one I felt that it made the plot drag a little. I was constantly searching for something to keep me enamoured, something (like in the Witcher) that made it impossible not to follow these characters to the end. However, I felt a certain disconnect from the plot and didn’t feel that it delivered the blurbed promises until well after midway in this quite-a-chonk-of-a-book.
I believe the pacing remained the problem throughout the book – I certainly don’t mind it being slower but I felt like Sharley, Reynevan and Samson didn’t get too far too quickly. Although, I did love them. Sharley’s supposed expertise in everything and jack-of-all-trades character did have me laughing in some parts and wowed in others. He was very interesting for one of the main character’s sidekicks, and the bits where he wasn’t on screen well the duller moments. Yet, there were pockets of excitements and strange intrigue throughout the book – with men who wouldn’t be slain, even when they lost their head.
As always with Sapkowski books, the dialogue was the strongest point for me. He seems to drop a lot of exposition in favour of hints throughout the dialogue; for example, you’ll have X character telling Y character to stop doing something, which may seem simple but the balance of getting it right or getting it wrong is tight – on the surface may seem easy, but it is no easy feat to pull off while maintaining genuine-feeling dialogue. Having said that, he does so perfectly.
Overall, this was a book that I’ve looked forward to for a long while; a book that I really tried to love, but struggled at times due to pacing – even leading to sections feeling like a chore to read. For those fans of Sapkowski, I would say give it a go. But those not familiar with his works, I would recommend the Witcher series as a starting point.