– Considero – respondió tranquilo – que hablas así por rabia. Considero que planeas una venganza por rabia. Y te exhorto calurosamente a que te tranquilices.
– Yo estoy tranquila. ¿Y la venganza? Respóndeme: ¿por qué no? ¿En nombre de qué? ¿De razones superiores? ¿Y qué mejor razón que un orden de las cosas en que los hechos malvados reciban castigo? Para tu filosofía y tu ética la venganza es un acto feo, censurable, falto de ética, al fin, ilicito. Y yo pregunto: ¿y dónde está el castigo para el mal? ¿Quién lo ha de confirmar, juzgar y medir? ¿Quién? ¿Los dioses en los que no crees? ¿El gran demiurgo creador con el que decidiste sustituir a los dioses? ¿O puede que la ley? ¿Quizá la justicia nilfgaardiana, los tribunales imperiales, los prefectos? ¡Viejo ingenuo!
– ¿Así que ojo por ojo, diente por diente? ¿Sangre por sangre? ¿Y por esta sangre, más sangre aún? ¿Un mar de sangre? ¿Quieres ahogar el mundo en sangre? ¿Ingenua y herida muchacha? ¿Así quieres luchar con el mal, brujilla? (p. 283)
"I think," he responded tranquilly, "that you speak so from anger. I think that you plan vengeance due to anger. And I warmly exhort you that you calm down."
"I am calm. And vengeance? Answer me: Why not? In what name? That of superior reasons? And what better reason than an order of things in which evil deeds receive punishment? To your philosophy and ethics vengeance is an ugly act, censurable, lacking ethics, finally, it is illicit. And I ask you: And where is the punishment for evil? Who gets to confirm, judge, and measure? Who? The gods in whom you do not believe? The great demiurge creator with whom you replace the gods? Or maybe the law? Perhaps Nilfgaardian justice, the imperial tribunals, the prefects? Naive old man!"
"So, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth? Blood for blood? And for this blood, more blood still? A sea of blood? Do you want to drown the world in blood? Naive and wounded girl? So you want to fight with evil, witcheress?"
The Swallow's Tower, the sixth and penultimate volume in Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher series, is perhaps the most challenging book in the series to date. When Baptism of Fire concluded, Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri were separated from each other. The struggle against the invading Nilfgaardian Empire was still occurring, with guerrilla warfare being waged by the non-human Squirrels against humans being a secondary theater of war. The stage was set for a full-blown rush toward a series of explosive confrontations. Yet The Swallow's Tower takes a different tack than what might be expected from those used to violence-laden, action-oriented approaches toward conflict.
The narrative is a bit more complex, with more external "intrusions" in the form of italicized quotations from works that seem to postdate the narrated events. In addition, Ciri's story, which dominates here, seems to be told through a series of flashbacks, as some interim of time has passed from her time with the Rats to her convalescence with the healer Vysogota. Yet by novel's end, most of Sapkowski's narrative choices are resolved to reader satisfaction. However, it does require a closer attention to detail from the reader in order to decipher the import of the various threads.
The Swallow's Tower is a darker, bitterer novel than the previous five. Ciri, Yennefer, and Geralt have suffered much, having passed through their own metaphorical (and in the case of Geralt, virtually literal) "baptisms of fire." Ciri's recounting of her time in the hands of the cruel bounty hunter Leo Bonhart is perhaps the most disturbing of the series, as he and his cohorts, including the renegade sorcerers Rience and Vilgefortz, attempt to exploit the prophecies surrounding Ciri and her "elder blood" for their own ends.
As he did in the earlier novels, Sapkowski eschews long, tedious "world building" descriptions of the settings in favor of developing his expanding cast of characters, often through the use of long dialogues. Bonhart in particular has his level of nastiness revealed through his conversations with Ciri (and of course, what he inflicts upon her), ultimately creating a truly nasty, evil character without the reader having to be "told" that he is an evil character. Sapkowski continues here to explore several thematic issues through his dialogues. In the excerpt quoted above (part of a larger conversation between Ciri and Vysogota), he focuses on the issue of revenge/vengeance and the insidiousness of it. Young 16 year-old Ciri, wounded grievously in various ways by Bonhart, is filled with rage, just as she is about to discover the source of her power. Vysogota's attempt to reason with her is tempered by the reader's realization that truisms such as his pale in comparison to the very real and immediate hurts that people have inflicted upon one another. There is no easy, pat answer to Ciri's questions, only the note that anger behind them can be a two-edged sword that wounds its wielder even more.
Focused as the narrative is on Ciri, not as much is revealed about Yennefer and Geralt's actions, although there is rarely the sense that Sapkowski has forgotten them; they just are secondary here to Ciri's tale. Yet by novel's end, events are poised on a razor's edge, as Ciri's nascent power could soothe the world's hurts or it could be used for nefarious ends. It's tricky to talk about these events, as English-speaking readers will not be familiar with events that occurred in the previous two novels to understand the true import of Ciri's involvement with the titular Swallow's Tower. Perhaps it will suffice to note that the action increases here and has a greater meaning to it due to the narrative succeeding in developing the themes introduced earlier in the series. In addition, the parallels between certain European myths and legends and the narrative events are strengthened here, in particular references to the Matter of Britain. Ultimately, The Swallow's Tower is a good addition to an excellent epic fantasy series that promises surprises for the final volume, The Lady of the Lake.