Genre: Adult Historical Fantasy
Year Release: 2021
Source: Physical Copy
Content warning: war, accusations and threats of sexual assault, gore, blood, vomiting, illness, bigotry, use of the g-slur for Romani, reference to blood libel and pogroms
Review of Book 1, Tower of Fools, can be found here
The saga of Reynevan of Bielawa continues as battles take place, more scheming continues, war ravages the countryside, and his personal reputation neither gets worse nor improves.
What Sapkowski weaves here is even more snark and careful maneuvering around political machinations, where he has no patience for the exploits of Reynevan and, I’d say, even enjoys dolling out consequences, dragging him further and further through uncertainty.
The cast in this book is massive. There are several Jan’s and Łukasz’s, and Sapkowski does a phenomenal job making them all easy to discern from each other, especially given that several tend to be in the same social classes and military ranks. I cannot at all comment on the historical accuracy, but the immersion in the time period, reminding the reader of the key players, the importance of cities and forts, it works really well and, while it certainly adds to the page count, it keeps the reader grounded in all the forces circling around Reynevan. There are more perspective breaks in this book, which helps give more insight into the different factions at work in fifteenth century Eastern Europe. There are the Hussites, the various Polish tribes, the Inquisition, and I’m sure that won’t be the last of the complexity come the third book.
Though there are several battles, the narrative sticks to its character-driven form. The only details provided are those relevant to wins and losses. What’s also fun is that the chapter headings help the reader temper their own expectations. While there aren’t specific spoilers, they set the tone of the outcomes and what lies next for Reynevan (generally, nothing good). Sapkowski has such contempt for his character, and it emerges in the hot coals he rakes him over. The fact that the chronicler gets more characterization makes me think he’s more than just a self-insert and might emerge as a character in Light Perpetual. To be determined, obviously.
The fantasy blends well with the history, where there isn’t a hard line between truth and legend, though it certainly blurs during scenes where a vodyanoi is interrogated and a green lady like The Green Knight makes an appearance. It’s wonderful and enchanting, and it won’t be long until we find out how it all ends.