In this part of the retrospective on The Witcher Saga, Kyle and Claudia have a Q&A where they discuss The Tower of Swallows. Being the penultimate novel in The Witcher Saga, their differing perspectives are certain to color their opinions of where the story is heading. You can find the previous Q&A on Baptism of Fire along with the other books in The Witcher Saga here.
Convening The Conclave On The Tower of Swallows
CLAUDIA: What was your general opinion of the book as a long-time fan? Is your overall impression different on a reread versus the first time you read these books?
KYLE:Tower of Swallows is really just a set up for the final act, the next book. We see a lot of set up for various things, but we get a really nice arc for Ciri. I quite enjoy this book. I really only have two problems with earlier books. Blood of Elves has a pacing problem and Season of Storms is a bit off. This is just a good book. I like Ciri’s portion and I love Yennefer’s chapter.
It ebbs and flows in terms of tone. It gets really dark in Ciri’s part with Leo Bonhart. And then it gets comedic, such as with the Knights Errant. Then there’s the constant playing with time and Dandelion’s journal being burned years later. It’s trying to lighten the mood while setting the stakes for an incredibly sad conclusion. I very much enjoy this book and where we left off with Ciri. What about you?
CLAUDIA: From a craft perspective this book is stepping it up in a lot of ways. It’s the best-written book so far, and I say that having really enjoyed the last book. It had a lot of my favorite fantasy elements. It introduced a host of characters I loved and focused a lot on the group dynamics. But from a craft perspective, he finally managed to master pacing and dialogue here. The first book was a lot of disembodied voices and that is gone entirely by this book. He’s figured out the long-form narrative and it’s good to see him leaning into his favorite tropes, such as framing devices and ironic humor. So, I really enjoyed it.
The Unique Framing Devices
KYLE: What is your opinion on the use of framing devices?
CLAUDIA: He does a phenomenal job. If you think about it, in terms of framing devices, we’re looking at Ciri in the hut, the trial, Triss, Dandelion’s journal, and that’s just off the top of my head. And all of those are really well done, tightly wound, well thought out frames that are not only well written but contribute to the plot and theme surrounding the entire book. Given the reveal of Ciri’s control over space and time, the way the framing devices interact with timelines is great. And that space part is important too when we take into account how far Ciri has been flung from home and the existence of other worlds.
None of the framing devices happen at the same time, so you are being told the story from different perspectives and points in time, and yet you are never confused. Even as we switch from one perspective to another mid-scene, at no point do you lose track of whatever is going on in a given scene.
I really enjoyed him giving into the framing device full force. I like that we are playing with the idea of space and time in a literary sense on top of playing with it in a storytelling sense. It makes his writing stronger, and I can tell he loves it.
KYLE: I see it as feeding into the theme of misinterpretation. Part of that being the difference of opinion and perspective on everything they experience. Kenna’s view is different from Ciri’s is different from Bonhart’s. Next book it will become apparent that this is a legend being passed down. And suddenly things that were insignificant are heroic battles. The different framing devices are masterful here.
CLAUDIA: You mentioned you really liked Yennefer’s portion. How are you feeling about her presence in the books so far? I know for me it feels like she isn’t in these books very much.
KYLE: I will contest her not being here for large amounts overall! She’s in quite a bit of The Witcher Saga books but in smaller bursts. Four short stories, two chapters for Blood of Elves, three chapters for Time of Contempt, one for Baptism of Fire, and one and a half here in Tower of Swallows. That’s plenty of screen time for not being Geralt or Ciri. Outside of Dandelion, she has the most screen time besides Geralt or Ciri themselves. She’s in quite a bit, just in smaller, concentrated chunks.
CLAUDIA: It’s interesting Dandelion shows up more than her. I get the feeling that contributes to the feeling she’s not in The Witcher books as much.
Yennefer Truly Becoming The Mother
KYLE: Her arc kind of concludes here, in fact. She was unsure of herself. She knew she wanted a child, but she was scared she would go too far, like her parents. But here she literally has a vision from Freya, the mother goddess, bestows the orb for telecommunication after Yennefer pleads to her. Freya goes “Yeah, go find your daughter.” You cannot ask for more reassurance that you are a mother figure than the literal embodiment of motherhood telling you you’re doing good.
I think we, as the audience, always took her as a mother figure. I think for her, the character though because she’s holding all this baggage, it’s only now it finally clicked, and she knows she can do better. Now she’s on the warpath, and she’s on a suicide run to the point some thought she killed herself.
When she’s tortured by Vilgefortz she does not give up Ciri’s location. She gives up Geralt’s, but she knows he can handle himself, and she gave him up unwillingly. And when she gave him up, she made Vilgefortz think it was Ciri. I just love her strength of will. It’s really shown how far she’s willing to go to save Ciri and put together her family. I love this portion, it’s very emotional, centered on her and where she’s going. It’s very powerful to me.
The Effects Of Misinterpretation
KYLE: What is your opinion on the overarching theme of misinterpretation? There’s Cahir’s story where Young Ciri misinterpreted his bathing her as rape, which caused the nightmares. A sort of innocence turned dark. Avallac’h in the cave drawing purple bison as a massive middle finger to humanity, so centuries from now people will discover it and think ancient humans drew it. Demonstrating human intelligence is small. And then the omen at the beginning. Everyone thinks Ciri is dead. In actuality, she just time-traveled a little.
CLAUDIA: As far as misinterpretation as a central tenant goes, in order to make something like that work you have to really layer it on. You can’t just have one tiny miscommunication, because then everyone’s stupid. It can’t even be a few. Something that weakened his earlier stories is that he still had a lot to layer on in order to make his stories have depth and he just wasn’t there yet.
In the short stories, you have some misinterpretation of curses or monsters on a smaller level. In this long-form, he had to relearn how to impart this idea and for that he needed time. This book is polished but can also capitalize on the previous books’ groundwork. It’s a pity it’s been spoiled for me because it relies on gradual build-up. Here’s what so and so got wrong and here’s how so and so went down.
Points Of View Feeds Into The Theme
CLAUDIA: He also locks down his limited perspective. In previous books, perspective was limited but there was still a feeling of openness. I think lack of practice using points of view other than Geralt’s made it feel very generic. In this book, I, as a reader, am always anchored to someone’s perspective or interpretation and while previously Geralt was the main character there was something about the narration and lack of framing devices that made the text feel looser and vague. That is completely gone by this point.
I want to see what happens to the characters now. Interpersonally it’s not so much misinterpretation but the separating of Ciri where he’s been able to create a lot of baggage and hopefully, we’ll get a payoff for it. There’s a huge amount of plot fodder to run with. I’m excited all around. Artfully done.
KYLE: I think the book shows just how, in many ways, the various points of view, and flawed interpretations, such as Cahir’s entire arc which was entirely based on misinterpretation. He was a villain, then a buffoon, and now I think you’d agree, a pretty good guy who most readers like.
Then Avallac’h is driven by his superiority and belief in cycles of violence. We’ll get into where he’s from next book. He’s driven by this need to fuck with history. He’s so above you he can change your history. Which is why he makes the buffalo purple.
Then the omen thing subverts our expectations. You expect for him to reveal someone else died. But no, it legitimately happened to Ciri, she just traveled through time. He’s playing with clever setups, themes, and subversions which makes it a lot of fun.
Gods In The Witcher
CLAUDIA: This is the second time we’ve seen a deity. What do you think of the idea of belief, lack of belief, whether or not they’re real, and their impact? Or what their realm of authority might be? When Yen says she doesn’t believe we get a reiteration of a conversation Geralt had in book one that says lack of belief never did anything. A lack of belief can be a lack of conviction. So, where do the gods fit in The Witcher Saga?
KYLE: We’ve had Dana Meadbh, Freya, and Melitele. Also, St. Lebioda, the prophet for Melitele. I believe Freya is mentioned once before this book, but there’s little context given. And one character that’s been recurring since Blood of Elves will be exalted to godhood.
It’s left to interpretation whether or not the gods exist. No explanation is given. They’re used to show how cultures interact and belief systems develop. And with the Church of the Eternal Fire, used to throw shade at history. Freya and Dana Meadbh are the only times you’ll see gods in person. It’s left up to interpretation much like real religions. It is simply faith. You have it or you don’t.
CLAUDIA: I see a lot of fantasy games and IPs do a similar thing. We’ll have a bunch of magical things, but when it comes to god and religion, we keep it close to real life. This merits more examination than that. There’s a lot to unpack and it’s a pity more authors don’t explore it.
KYLE: I can see it as something worth addressing, but not in the main Saga. To me, The Witcher is a story about Yennefer, Geralt, and Ciri. The only deity I cared about was Freya because of the metaphor connected to Yen.
The Witcher And Dune
KYLE: What is your opinion on the reveal about Lara Dorren, and how it affects Ciri as the chosen one? And what do you think of Ciri embracing becoming a witcher right as Geralt turns away from it?
CLAUDIA: I think you should read Dune. Because Ciri, and eugenics, is almost identical to Paul’s existence in Dune. I adore when things riff Dune. because Dune is a bible of ideas and motifs and themes and it does what it does well. And it is also so extreme and out there that it’s almost more an encyclopedia of storytelling. Dune takes the chosen one and runs with it in every direction it can. Chosen by choice, chance, god, genetic engineering, accident, family and familial ties, how it affects other people.
Ciri’s situation is not at all surprising to me and I am enjoying the ride for what it is. You really can’t get more original than Dune, so I doubt anything will come out of left field. But. Ciri is a girl. Of all the things Dune addresses, Paul is not a girl. There’s a lot of emphasis on gender in those books. For Ciri to be a girl is very interesting.
Paul’s fate was semi-engineered by secretly operating magical women. But Paul’s a boy. And Dune is a sexist world. So, Sapkowski has a gender card. I’m a little worried he will waste it, because even in Dune, the most original and creative chosen one book, the chosen one is a dude.
It was disappointing that Ciri is the mother of, and not the chosen one. But we’re not done yet. Right now, Ciri has power. She might have powerful children someday, but she is not excluded from the chosen one term. Hopefully, we’ll see some acknowledgement of that.
Ciri’s Morality In The Witcher Saga
CLAUDIA: How do you feel about Ciri and morality? I know I’ve poked fun at you before for the whole alignment thing when it comes to the characters in The Witcher.
KYLE: She’s become the punisher now and it’s awesome. Where Geralt had death at his footsteps, Ciri has become death. She thinks everyone she cares for has abandoned her or is murdered. Now she’s going to do whatever it takes to make the world she wants happen. At the beginning of this book, we get a deal between her and a fortune teller. She says no to all that is offered except for a long happy life. She says give me a horse that will never stop running and sword to stop all evil. With that in mind, you have a character done with all pretense, done with what she’s been told. It’s no longer about what other people want but what she wants, which is a happy life and not have to deal with people.
CLAUDIA: I am honestly happy with her progression. I think I assign less morality to her actions, but this was definitely where she was meant to be at the end of the day.
Ciri, Bonhart, And Identity
KYLE: We had a discussion about where characters were on the morality chart. This is a move from Chaotic Evil to Neutral. This is the moment where she heads to True Neutral. It is no longer about anyone but here she wants to live a nice life screw everyone else.
CLAUDIA: She’s earned that
KYLE: I think you could say she’s Good by next book but she’s working through a lot of trauma right now. Stockholm Syndrome, abuse, watching her friends die in front of her. And as a character you know even her identity is put under scrutiny. Bonhart put her in the ring to see if she was a witcher.
CLAUDIA: And he honestly, he turned her into one, because she wasn’t a witcher when he threw her in there, but she definitely was when she came out. Which is one of the cool things about it. You know you made your bed, now lie in it.
KYLE: Speaking of which, what did you think of the gruesome death of Rience. It speaks to The Punisher aspect of her character with the absurd violence, cutting off his fingers with ice skates.
CLAUDIA: I felt it was justified. There’s an element of exaggeration but it’s good to see. She’s definitely not been like Geralt, but now she is. He would do something like that. And while these are people, they are monsters. It’s fitting, somehow, that she treats them that way.
Triss Merigold, Kyle’s Most Hated Character In The Witcher
CLAUDIA: Let’s talk about Triss. I know she’s your least favorite character generally speaking.
KYLE: I loathe Triss. I played in defense of the Jarre passage as her talking him up. It isn’t her portraying herself as weak but as her giving him something to do. As a shy person and someone quite cowardly, oftentimes, I freak out. I don’t like stress or confrontation. She’s saying people here are counting on you to calm down.
CLAUDIA: I thought she was being absurd. But I understand.
KYLE: She’s not pining anymore, which was super annoying. I hate love triangles. I’ve explained Triss this way: nice guy trope but applied to a woman.
CLAUDIA: I don’t find her as needy or complain-y. Sleeping with Philippa is weird though because I didn’t see that happening. It felt weird. Like, it’s kind of pointed out she was traitor and hiding something, but to do it by sleeping with a woman doesn’t look super great. That is something worth addressing at some point, but we will be revisiting these ideas when we hit the games.
KYLE: We do not address Triss’ bisexuality in the games.
CLAUDIA: Sexual choice will become a bigger issue with characters in a game instead of words on a page, is really what I mean.
Philippa Eilhart’s Morality Throughout The Witcher
KYLE: I don’t think the LGBTQ+ representation was intentionally evil. I’ll play defense for Philippa. She isn’t evil, purely neutral. She is a lady Shiva character. The thing is that Shiva is always on her side and no one else’s. By virtue of that, Phillipa is like Lady Shiva. You never know what way she will swing in any part beyond the fact it will aid her in some way.
CLAUDIA: My comparison was Cersei. And you can be out for yourself and only yourself but if I don’t understand why I don’t find the character interesting. I definitely see a lot of Cersei in her in some ways, but I found Cersei’s motivations far more obvious and relatable. In some ways, I think it could have been pulled off better if given more time to explore the character.
KYLE: I understand her motivation, but that may just be me.
Straight Writers Writing LBGTQ+ Characters
KYLE: I bring this all up because as a straight white guy who happens to be a writer when I was at uni I had a metafiction class. We had to write a story from an alternative perspective of a character in a type of genre fiction we liked. So, I thought, what if I made a story from the perspective of a redshirt?
So, I wrote a gay character who happened to be a redshirt and happened to die at the end of the story. And a bunch of people basically told me “you’re burying your gays”. And they explained it to me, and I asked if I could fix this while still keeping the integrity of the story. I had to cut scenes, and add scenes, and lengthen the story altogether and build up the relationship between the main character and her wife. You have to be careful, and I, of course, didn’t know any better at the time.
These being from the late 80s and early 90s he probably wasn’t thinking of it. Most people don’t, when unconnected to it.
CLAUDIA: I also don’t think he was being malicious. No hard feelings, but it’s something that has to get pointed out because that’s the world we’re moving through.
KYLE: He didn’t have exposure or resources so it wouldn’t have been something he could address.
The Kovir history that we find out about in Dijkstra’s chapter, has interesting historical parallels to US and Venice? What do you think about it?
CLAUDIA: I love all the little history bits in this book actually. The Kovir portion is one of the better world-building pieces overall in the Saga. I think being late in the game sets up a better context for it. Instead of trying to track who was who, I was learning a new little fun fact about a place I already know. It was very different. Money has also been a huge component since the beginning, such as when Yennefer goes to the bank and has to reroute her funds early on because Geralt can’t pay his bills. There’s an element of following the money in terms of predicting war and politics that I quite like. It fits in very nice overall with the world and it’s not surprising, but it is super fun to read. Almost short story-esque.
This was one of the few political asides I enjoyed. I liked it better than the sorcerer get together.
KYLE: The Conclave.
CLAUDIA: That. But this was incredibly precise and compelling if a little on the nose. I’m still partial to the previous book but I really liked this one. And this was part of the reason why.
Kovir’s Connection To Real History
CLAUDIA: In terms of comparison, it’s in an interesting place. Depending on the war, technically there is some US in there, but the US ultimately was heavily involved in both World Wars, first as an arms dealer, but later as a military power. But on the other hand, the size of Kovir is more Venice-y. The money is very the US, but the size also is important to US culture. Religiousness is both US and areas of Europe I think equally. Especially when you consider Italy’s old connection to the papacy, but I’ll admit Kovir has protestant vibes.
And neutrality aswell. The US got involved eventually every time. Switzerland stayed neutral and is incredibly rich and fortified. So, you could always throw that in there. And these countries have a lot of lost history that I think it needs to be thought of. Going back to themes of miscommunication, you have to imagine how much art and history and just straight up construction was lost to war. First to trenches, then Nazis, then Communists.
KYLE: Telling prisoners to go fight on Kovir’s behalf is very Bay of Pigs.
CLAUDIA: Which would be very relevant to the time he grew up in.
KYLE: These start getting published around when the wall comes down. So, it makes sense.
This Conclave Is Adjourned But The Witcher Saga Continues On
And that’s the end of this month’s part of The Witcher Saga retrospective. Next month, Kyle and Claudia will be covering The Lady of the Lake and the alternative ending short story, Something Ends, Something Begins. While this is the technical ending of The Witcher Saga, it is not the end of the book segment of this retrospective. As stated previously, the prequel novel, Season of Storms will be covered before they cover the games.