Arguably, The Witcher has been one of the biggest SFF franchises in recent years after Game of Thrones. And now it’s author is back with a new series – or shall we say, a new old series. The Tower of Fools was originally published in Polish in 2003 but is now being translated into English for the very first time. Much less a fantasy world than Sapkowski’s other world, this is set in a late Medieval Europe, referring historical movements such as the Hussites and the Wycliffites.
Many thanks to Will O’Mullane and Gollancz for sending along a review copy. All opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 27/10/20
SYNOPSIS: Reinmar of Bielawa, sometimes known as Reynevan, is a doctor, a magician and, according to some, a charlatan.
Discovered in bed with the wife of a high-born knight, he must flee his normal life. But his journeys will lead him into a part of Europe which will be overtaken by chaos. Religious tension between Hussite and Catholic countries is threatening to turn into war.
Pursued not only by the affronted Stercza brothers, bent on vengeance, but also by the Holy Inquisition, and with strange, mystical forces gathering in the shadows, 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. The ‘patients’ of this institution form a gallery of colourful types including the young Copernicus, proclaiming the truth of his heliocentric solar system.
But can Reynevan escape the Tower, and avoid being drawn in to the conflict around him, without losing his own mind? (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: In a nutshell, The Tower of Fools could probably be most closely compared to Baudolino by Umberto Eco in it’s meandering style and detached narration, crossed with George R. R. Martin’s predilection for grittiness and sexual content. However, I expected The Tower of Fools to be very much a 2020 book in terms of content and sensibilities, not realising when I originally picked it up that it was actually written nearly two decades ago. And that is definitely something that shows in the book itself.
It felt like the major emphasis of the book was laid on atmosphere and descriptions rather than a coherent plot or deeply developed characters. Not having read the Witcher books myself, I’m not sure how The Tower of Fools compares, but I do see how the world and characters here again would lend themselves to game adaptation at the very least. It is a detailed, visual world, at times even overly descriptive to the detriment of a streamlined reading experience.
What I did enjoy about The Tower of Fools were the historical descriptions, the details about the religious movements in a period of upheaval. I felt that the atmosphere of that came through well. Nevertheless, I think I would have enjoyed my reading experience more if the characters were more nuanced, if there had been more complex female characters, especially ones that were not objectivised. Sadly, Reynevan, the main character, considers women as pleasure objects more than anything else, so there was not much opportunity for women to appear as more than side notes to the story.
So, all in all, quite a mixed bag for me personally, and I don’t think I will continue with the trilogy. Nevertheless, you can find The Tower of Fools on Goodreads here, and on Bookshop here. (affiliate link)