Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Tower of Fools (Hussite Trilogy #1)


The Tower of Fools is the first book in The Hussite trilogy by Andrzej Sapkowski. First published in 2002 (in Polish), this reformated English translation from Hatchette on their Orbit imprint is 560 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

This is a well written, complex, character driven story with fantasy elements set in medieval Europe. I found myself floundering early on and felt like I was dropped headfirst into the narrative (with a vast cast of supporting characters). The prologue sets the stage (complete with a bewildering array of characters and history) rapidly followed by the juxtaposition of a graphic sex scene alongside hymns from the Latin version of the Ad Sextam Officium Beatae Mariae (the offices of the Blessed Virgin).  Apart from the doorstop appearance of the book and the fact that most onlookers would assume it's another book in the prolific author's Witcher series, this is -emphatically- not safe for work reading and should probably be in a plain brown wrapper. 

It's supremely irreverant and occasionally raunchy. There are glimmers of humor (profane sexual comparisons abound) and quite a lot of graphic violence (both of the sexual and garden variety). Once the story found its pace (or once I found *my* pace in the story), it unfolded at a canter. I never got over the feeling that it was literature in translation; the writing has an uneven off-kilter feel in English. I wish I could have read it in Polish. If I had to compare it, I would suggest that the rhythm and pace of the words reminded me a lot of Umberto Eco in translation. 

There's a lot to like here. The story is interwoven onto a skeleton of actual history and it's not always clear what is real and what is fiction. I would recommend this one to fans of Eco, Katherine Arden's Winternight Trilogy (with a lot more sex and ribald dialogue), and other sort of hardcore historical fantasy realism. 

Three and a half stars. (I strongly suspect my rating would be 4+ if I could read Polish).

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.


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