I read The Tower of Fools on its release in October 2020; I had it on pre-order and finished it in two days. I’d planned to write a review as soon as I completed the book. Then, out of the blue, I hit a wall.
Sometimes, it happens to me; one year, I’ll read eighty books, and the next, not a single one. It’s the same with writing; without warning, I’ll lose all interest, and I never know how long it will last.
Spakowski is a favorite author of mine, and now that I’m getting my lust for reading back, I wanted to return with a review of this book. The second book in this series, Warrior of God, is set to release this October. If you’re still undecided on starting this trilogy, hopefully, this review will help.
Title: The Tower Of Fools
Series: # 1 in The Hussite Trilogy
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Published: 2002 (English translation 2020)
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.
I want to start this review by setting something straight; this is not a new book—well, it certainly isn’t now, but it wasn’t new on its October 2020 release either—it was newly translated.
The Tower of Fools is the first novel in The Hussite Trilogy, published in Poland between 2002 – 2006. It’s been extensively promoted as a new Sapkowsi novel.; it isn’t new, it’s just finally available in English.
The Tower of Fools begins in Silesia in 1425; there, we meet Reinmar of Bielawa, who, for reasons that will become obvious, are also knowns as Raynevan. At the beginning of the story, he’s discovered in an… indelicate situation with the wife of a high-born knight.
Reynevan is forced to flee. Pursued by the knight’s powerful family, he escapes into a region filled with political upheaval, war, religious persecution, and intrigue.
The Tower of Fools is, without a doubt, a Spakowksi novel. It’s a compelling story filled with morally ambiguous but well-written characters inhabiting a vivid, brutal world, where the struggle for power is bloody and ruthless.
If you loved The Witcher books and just want to know if you should read this as well, let me cut straight the point, The Tower of Fools is fantastic. If you’re a fan of Spakowskis’s writing, you’ll immediately feel at home, and yes, you should read it.
Speaking of feeling at home, this trilogy was translated to English by David French, who translated (most of) The Witcher books; Danusia Stok translated the Last Wish and Blood of Elves.
So, if you’re coming into this novel after reading that series, you’ll feel very comfortable. The style, pacing, and tone are familiar, well-established, and instantly recognizable.
Likewise, if you enjoy audiobooks, it’s fantastic to hear the marvelous Peter Kinney once again narrate a Sapkowski novel; he understands Sapkowski’s style of storytelling, and the narration flows so well—it’s flawless.
However, this story takes place in a real historical setting, and many events and characters mentioned, like Jan Hus or the Hussite Wars, play a major role in the story.
Therefore, I’d like to make a suggestion.
As I’ve mentioned in my witcher reviews, Sapkowski isn’t an author that coddles his readers—he expects you to understand.
In The Tower of Fools, he will not explain who Jan Hus was, what the Hussite Wars were, and where they happened. He will not discuss the schisms in the Catholic church the centuries before people like Martin Luther and Jean Calvin enter the scene.
He will not tell you where Bohemia was; no, not Bohemia, Germany, Bohemia the Kingdom. He will not break down what a Robbers Knight was, the history of The Knights Templars, the Teutonic Order, nor the importance of the University of Prague in the century leading up to the reformation.
He expects you to understand.
If eastern European 14th & 15th-century history, mainly the Hussite Wars, isn’t a subject you’re familiar with, you should stop by Wikipedia before jumping into this novel.
You don’t have to do a deep dive; just skim a few articles. Not only is it a fascinating time in history, but it will also give you the background you need to focus on the story instead of spending your time wondering where they are, what they’re talking about, and what the hell is going on.
A tip is the podcast, The Almost Forgotten, which covers the Hussite Wars in three 30 minute episodes that are not difficult to follow, even if you’re not a history nerd.
With that said, I think it’s best to approach this trilogy as historical fiction. If you’re a diehard fantasy lover, there might not be enough fantasy in The Tower of Fools to satisfy you.
Reynevan calls himself a magician, but for a large part of the book, it’s unclear if he can do actual magic or if it’s “magic” the way it was thought of during the late middle ages.
Reading, I got the feeling that the intrigue might push the fantasy elements more to the forefront in the coming two books—but I’m not sure.
Either way, I enjoyed how the fantasy felt grounded in the world; it was deftly weaved into the medieval setting and historical context. Even if you read it as a historical novel, the fantasy elements won’t feel too out of place.
As for plot and world-building, I found it deep, captivating, and immersive. But, as always, with Spakowski’s writing, some might find it too expository.
My favorite part of the novel was the characters and dialogue. Reynevan and the people he comes across during his flight are well-defined characters that stand out as real individuals. His villains are bone-chilling and complex, and they all, good or bad, exist within that moral and ethical grayscale Spakowski is so good at portraying.
That being said, Reynevan is not Geralt of Rivia.
I thoroughly enjoyed Reynevan as a character, but don’t come into this novel high on Geralt’s badassery and sexy, grumpy sarcasm expecting an equally badass Reinmar of Bielawa—you’ll be disappointed.
Reynevan is a young, fumbling book nerd, he’s a man of knowledge, not a fighter; a love-struck teenager so naive all you want to do is slap him.
He certainly has his talents, and you can see the outlines of a character that might, one day, be badass. But, the fact that he survives the book (don’t give me that look—it’s a trilogy, and he’s the main character) is due to the prowess of the people he teams up with along the way.
The Tower of Fools introduces a young adult still a long way from reaching the height of his abilities.
As for negatives, as I’ve said, I loved this book, but it isn’t an easy read.
I don’t think there are glaring problems such as pacing, plot, or the writing itself, but it is a challenge.
It’s a wonderful read if you enjoy historical novels with a gray, gritty, morally ambiguous style; The Tower of Fools isn’t a book suited for all readers.
If you’ve tried reading Sapkowski before but gave up or struggled because of his style, pacing, lengthy dialogue, or complicated intrigue, you’ll struggle with his book as well; maybe even more so than the witcher novels.
If you’re new to Sapkowskis books, I talk more about his style in THIS post. Although that article is about the witcher novels, the style in The Tower of Fools is the same, and the things I highlight in that text apply to this novel as well. It might be worth a read before you buy this book, so you know what you’re in for.
The Tower of Fools is a great Spakowski novel, and thanks to David French’s translation, the style and tone are instantly recognizable.
For those who enjoy Spakowskis slow, sometimes expository, deep, philosophical plots and dialogue, and his gritty, gray worlds, you’ll feel instantly at home.
That being said, The Tower of Fools is a historical novel, and if you go in expecting high fantasy, you’ll be disappointed.
It’s also a difficult book; in terms of writing, I don’t think it’s harder to read than The Witcher books, but Spaowksi takes for granted that you understand what he’s talking about.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who have gone into this novel without knowing the first thing about the Hussite Wars or 15th-century eastern European history in general; I’m not saying you can’t, but I think you’ll enjoy it more if you do.
So, did I miss Geralt while reading? I won’t lie; I did. I’m not saying that to downplay this book or make unfair comparisons to a series I’ve loved for years. I’m telling you this, so you don’t go into this novel with unreasonable and unfair expectations.
The Tower of Fools is great but, Geralt of Rivia has left the building, and Reynevan is not his equal—not yet.
I’m fond of Reynavan, he has great potential, and I’m curious to see how his story plays out; but, The Tower of Fools is an origin story. Our hero is new at this, so be prepared to roll your eyes, sigh in frustration, and yell in consternation at his naivete and youthful stupidity.
Over all, I don’t think The Tower of Fools quite reaches up to the best of Spakowski’s novels, like Baptism of Fire or The Tower of the Swallow, but it’s a fantastic start, and I might feel differently once Raynevans story is complete.
Regardless, I’m impatiently awaiting the second novel, Warrior of God, which will release this October.
Overall, The Tower of Fools is a great read and a strong 9/10.