The Tower of Fools (Hussite Trilogy, 1)

Written by Andrzej Sapkowski David A. French (trans.)
Review by Ann Chamberlin

This is the first book of a fantasy/historical trilogy set in Silesia during the 15th century when the followers of early Protestant Czech Jan Hus, burned for heresy in 1415, held sway in next-door Bohemia. Jan Zizka is also dead, so the year may be 1425—nothing more precise is necessary.

Our hero is young Reinmar of Bielawa, who instantly wins the hatred of the Stercza clan by having intimate relations with the young wife of their brother, absent on an anti-Hussite crusade. The plot is instantly recognized as the ever-popular episodic fantasy with Reinmar gaining more adversaries but also fascinating allies on every page of derring-do, pitched battles at crossroads, narrow escapes from towers and shadowy mages. The magic is actually surprisingly limited, but the action is wonderfully done. Also a delight is the subtle humor that can only come from a knowledge of the time period and territory frontwards and back, its theological entanglements as well as anachronisms, forgiven for the jesting, knowledgeable way they are incorporated.

The author has also gifted us with the very popular Witcher series, books and film, but I enjoyed the link to real history even more, even though that link is a bit tenuous—we recognize a young Nicolaus Copernicus who actually wasn’t born until 1473. All these Eastern European names may be daunting. Fortunately, Sapkowski has such a driving style and such well-controlled narrative that our ignorance is no hindrance to pleasure. If we need to know, we will be ushered in the correct direction. The translator, David French, also deserves praise.