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Literature / Tower of the Swallow

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The sixth book in The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski, originally in Polish (original title: Wieża Jaskółki). An English translation, released in the United States under the slightly different title The Tower of Swallows was released in May 2016.

Searching for clues that might lead them towards Ciri's whereabouts, Geralt and company head deeper into Nilfgaardian territory. Try as they might, they can't avoid the attention of both Nilfgaardian officials and more sinister forces — the latter of which have gained an unexpected ace up their sleeves. Further to the south, things turn for the worse for the Rats, when the aristocrat father of one of their victims hires a bounty hunter to take them out. Leo Bonhart soon proves too much for the young outlaws, who are slaughtered wholesale — except for Ciri, whom he takes prisoner; although, she might have preferred otherwise. Realizing she is not a mere robber, Bonhart opts to find out the truth, which leads him into contact with other players in the game. As the war between the Northern Kingdoms and the Empire rages on, the sorceresses of the Lodge weave their plots.

Tropes found in the book:

  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Despite having boasted about torturing Yennefer and his plans to do the same to Ciri, when Ciri has Rience at her mercy, he desperately begs her to spare him. She doesn't.
  • Anachronic Order: Parts of the story are told in retrospect, in alternating narrations of Ciri herself, Dandelion's diaries, and an eyewitness account at a Nilfgaard tribunal.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: The mercs ambushed in the mist instantly form a cluster, even before any sign of attacker. It doesn't help them much.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: A subverted example. Cahir gets the party across a bridge closely guarded by the Nilfgaardians by pretending to be a Nilfgaardian officer and browbeating the sentry. The subversion is that Cahir is a Nilfgaardian officer. He's just one who deserted.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Generally averted in the series but most notably, in this book, Ciri ends up with an extremely messy scar after catching one of Stefan Skellen's orions (a shuriken) with her face. Said scar plagues her psychological well-being for the rest of the series (she's not particularly vain, but it's still a big shock for a fifteen-year old girl to deal with), and she starts wearing bangs to conceal it.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Esterhazy the sword-merchant, who parted with the best sword in his shop for free, because he realized something bigger is going on. Destiny is a big deal in this series, after all.
  • Blessed with Suck: For saving Queen Meve and her army from the Nilgaardians in the previous book, Geralt is officially knighted and everyone in his hanse are promised cushy positions in the Rivian military and court. Unfortunately, this has the effect of compromising their quest to find Ciri as they're now all expected to work for Rivia. The hanse has no choice but to steal whatever they can carry from the army storage and desert the ranks in the middle of the night, putting a black mark on their reputations in Rivia forever.
  • Bogeyman: Bonhart is this to Ciri. Even after killing almost all of Skellen's other men, she's still terrified of facing him in a one-on-one fight.
  • Bond One-Liner: Geralt, of all people, gets one. In the middle of a skirmish with a fisstech fiend of a bandit, the bandit stops suddenly to tweak out a bit, giving Geralt an opening to slice open his neck. Geralt then quips, "Well, who will tell me now that taking drugs isn't bad for your health?"
  • Bury Your Gays: Ciri and Mistle's relationship comes to a gruesome end here. Mistle is disfigured, Gutted Like a Fish by Bonhart, and slowly expires in front of Ciri. Then Bonhart saws off her head while Ciri is forced to watch.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Ciri finds a pair of ice skates while she goes through Vysogota's old things. They come in handy during the climax, where she lures Skellen's men onto a frozen lake and skates them to death in cloud of fog.
  • Chekhov's Skill: During Yennefer's time on Ard Skellig, Crach an Craite regales her with the story of how Ciri used to join the other children in a game of leaping over rocks on the frozen water. She leaps over a magically-created fissure in a lake's ice in the final act.
  • Cool Sword: The Gnomish gwyhyr. Bonhart initially believes it's a human-forged recreation, but Esterhazy tells him it's an original gwyhyr blade — the best sword in the world, sharp as a razor and perforated to lower the weight, not produced anymore — given the traditional decoration and carving, and an anti-slippery handle of ray's skin.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Bonhart delivers one himself to the Rats while only half-dressed. Despite their bravado, the Rats never stood a chance.
    • Ciri slaughters Skellen's men. Even she is surprised by how easy it was.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Leo Bonhart's obsession with Ciri is so great, he's prepared to fight the Wild Hunt for her.
  • Dramatic Irony: Dandelion spends a large part of the saga collecting together his notes and writing a personal diary, doing his very best to keep the tube with them safe and sound. Which, given this is Dandelion we are talking about, is an achievement all by itself. The tube miraculously survives and centuries later is found by future archeologists, all excited to get their hands on such a treasure... only for it to be stolen by three illiterate diggers and soon after burned to ash.
    • While tracking Ciri through a frozen landscape, Rience bitterly muses how Schirrú is probably "nice and warm". Schirrú was burned alive.
  • Drunken Master: Played with; Bonhart forces Ciri to do a hit of fisstech (cocaine) before he turns her loose in the arena the first time. Since she's done it before, the actual high wears off fairly quickly, but the remainder of the drug in her bloodstream heightens her senses and reaction time temporarily. Which isn't good for the people who attack her.
  • The Easy Way or the Hard Way: Ciri initially refuses to take the fisstech Bonhart tries to force on her, only relenting when he threatens to strip her and apply the drug to some of her other "mucous membranes".
  • Elite Mooks: The band Skellen hires to hunt down Ciri isn't some random bunch of cut-throats, but people with a reputation in their trade, along with a handful of world-class specialists. They come with names, personalities and pretty extensive presence in the book, and some of them are even in the rest of the saga. Yet their main role is still to get brutally slaughtered when the girl finally stops running and fights back on her own terms.
  • The Empath: Introduced here with Joanna "Kenna" Selborne, and like many other elements, retroactively added to the setting. She is not an actual magician, but she did receive formal training in her in-born powers. She mostly uses them for mind-reading, minor suggestions and alike, which makes her one of the best interrogators one can hire. Psychic Nosebleed is the good result when she pushes it too hard. In her specific case, she can also be a seer, too, but only when induced into a trans by someone else first, but that skill is considered rare and she has very poor control over it.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Bonhart is a sadistic Psycho for Hire who has no qualms about drugging as well as physically and psychologically abusing Ciri whenever she displeases him, but even he is disgusted by a minor noblewoman lamenting that she can't easily find any children to 'play' with anymore.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: The Rats no longer exist after the beginning of the book, with Ciri as the Sole Survivor.
  • Fantastic Drug: Fisstech (effectively, cocaine) is first introduced in this book and then retroactively spread across the world.
  • Fighting Fingerprint: This is Bonhart's final clue to Ciri's identity. He realized right at the beginning that the girl is more than just a common brigand with a mark on her head, which led him to renege on the contract and keep her alive rather than bringing her head in and reaping the reward, but couldn't quite figure it out until finally he sent her to fight in Claremont arena. As a competent swordsman himself, he noticed that her deadly fencing is essentially improvisational, which was a hallmark of witchers' fencing. Given that witcher-trained girls were, shall we say, uncommon, the rest was more or less a formality.
  • Fighting the Lancer: Geralt and Cahir get into a fight after some bad news causes the former to accuse the latter of betrayal and the latter getting fed up with the constant mistrust. Bonus points for Milva whipping them both to separate them.
  • Fingore:
    • Whatever Rience and Vilgefortz do to Yennefer's fingers, Ciri later describes her hands as a formless mass of clotted blood. Yennefer can use them again in book seven but only thanks to her sheer stubbornness.
    • Ironically, Ciri doesn't know what Rience does to her adoptive mother. Her cutting off all of Rience's fingers is because he threatened to use those fingers to torture her.
  • Fish Eyes: Bonhart is described as having eyes devoid of any emotions, just like a fish.
  • Forced to Watch: Bonhart does that to Ciri when killing Mistle.
    • Not content with that, he then has men hold her head up and her eyes open, so she has to watch him cut off all the Rats heads.
  • Gladiator Games: Bonhart — implicitly a fan and occasional participant — forces Ciri to take part in arena fighting. It includes a protester who finds animal fights immoral, but human against human a fair game.
  • Geo Effects: Only natural to skate if you fight your battle on a frozen lake.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The sound made by the ice-skates really unnerves the people fighting Ciri because they can't see her or tell from which direction the sounds are coming from.
    Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Fast. Rhythmically. More and more. Increasingly clear...
  • Hermit Guru: Vysogota of Corvo, a philosopher who was exiled for his views and had to settle down incognito on a swamp.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The final battle was still somewhat manageable, until Rience decided to cast a spell. His fingers were too stiff from the cold to do that properly, ending with the ice breaking in a random pattern instead of a straight line.
  • How We Got Here: The novel begins with an old hermit discovering an injured and scarred girl and nursing her back to health before it's revealed that she's Ciri. The rest of the book then goes on to detail everything that happened to her since the events of Baptism of Fire.
  • I'm Not Afraid of You: Just in case you ever wondered, Bonhart has balls made of pure brass - not even the Wild Hunt directly threatening him made any impression on him. It's his horse that turns away panicked, while the guy was clear he will fight against a whole group of what is considered an Eldritch Abomination of the verse. Though it seems more a case of Too Dumb to Live than anything, reflecting how psychotic and delusional Leo is, and he would have almost certainly been slaughtered if his horse hadn't panicked in time.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Ciri, despite her fighting prowess, lacks the sheer power of will to end her own life, much to Bonhart's amusement.
  • Implacable Man: Leo Bonhart is a bounty hunter, and it is very difficult for bounties to escape him.
  • Intimate Marks: Mistle has a tattooist give her a rose tattoo near her vulva. Ciri leans in real close to examine it, and then decides to get one in the same place.
  • Just One Man:
    Stefan Skellen: Pull yourself together, men! It's only a girl! Only a little girl!
  • Karmic Death:
    • Rience is fond of threatening people about the pain he will cause "With these hands/fingers". Ciri slices off his fingers, causing him to sink into a frozen lake and drown. For bonus points, Rience had previously mutilated Yennifer's fingers, and was the one to cause the ice to break open.
    • Schirrú had previously went out of his way to burn Fenn alive, something he taunts Geralt over. Here, he gets burned alive.
    • Bonhart, a sadistic bounty hunter, really enjoys killing off the Rats, a bunch of highwaymen who think of themselves as lovable rogues. In contrast to earlier books, Sapkowski really goes out of his way to paint the Rats in a negative light here. Ciri still genuinely mourns them and Bonhart is even more of a monster, but he hammers home that they were not nice people.
  • Kick the Dog: Everything Bonhart does to Ciri.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Rience's weapon of choice was his fingers to magically torture people. Ciri kills him by slicing off said fingers with her ice skates, leaving him unable to cling onto the ice that his own misfired spell broke, causing him to drown.
  • Little Miss Badass: In the last chapter, Ciri finally shows what she's made of - no more killing on pure reflex, no more running, no more trembling with fear. No, now she's rationally decided that the people pursuing her have to die, and sets about killing them deliberately, and she does so with great efficiency.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: Skellen's band of mercenaries consists of people with reputation in their trades. That, however, doesn't mean they are all heartless monsters. Many of them are clearly disturbed by the sort of job they've got tangled up in, but their reputation is at stake, so they just stick around.
  • Mook Horror Show: Twice
    • Picture you are a squad of thugs stationed off in some backwater inn in case your mark passes through. It's fantasy-Halloween, and you just spent half a night listening to an old storyteller's ghost stories. Then, against all logic, she turns up, on a witch's black horse, in warpaint, sword in hand, looking like a demon. Stone cold, she announces she's out for your blood.
    • Picture having chased a girl onto a frozen lake. The fog gets thicker and thicker and you can barely see what's ahead. You hear skates scraping against the ice. Suddenly, you remember she's wickedly good at killing. The whole fight on the frozen lake is written from the mooks' perspective. In no time the squad of hardened mercs looses their cool and is completely terrified of that little girl hiding somewhere in the thick mist, only hearing her ice-skates and screams of suddenly slain comrades.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: If you are a descendant of a long line of Elven eugenic experiments, it's only natural that magical powers bubble up unexpectedly.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain:
    • Out of sheer curiosity and to make absolutely sure they've got the right person, Joanna Selborne decides to just take a peak into Ciri's mind. Instead, she gets knocked unconscious by a reflex defense, while her tiny poke causes all the suppressed magic powers of the girl to reawake in full force, allowing Ciri to escape and giving her a badly needed edge for the incoming events of Lady of the Lake.
    • During Ciri's attack on his forces, Rience tries to stop her by shattering the ice with a fire spell. The spell misfires, damaging the ice in a way more detrimental to Rience and his men than Ciri, and sets in motion the chain of events that leads to Rience's death.
  • No Dead Body Poops: Averted. The ground is said to covered in shit and piss after Bonhart kills the Rats.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: After mowing down half of her pursuers and constantly circling around the rest on her skates, Ciri suddenly stops, hidden in the mist, leaving only silence. The mooks promptly start to truly panic.
  • Not So Above It All: Dandelion recounts that after being knighted, Geralt actually breaks away from his 'tortured loner' persona, making friends and palling around with his new comrades-in-arms as he finds himself accepted wholeheartedly for what is possibly the first time in decades. It doesn't last, but is a brief moment of contentment for him.
  • Oh, Crap!: Everyone on Team Skellen, the moment the ice they're standing on starts to break.
  • Ominous Walk: Ciri takes her time when approaching what is left of the outfit chasing her. They can clearly hear her slow strolling with ice skates, but everyone is too affected by hypothermia at this point to even move.
  • Orifice Invasion: When Ciri initially refuses to take a hit of fisstech, Bonhart tells her she has three options: snort it, rub it into her gums, or he'll pull down her pants and apply it inside her vagina. She relents.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil:
    • Ciri to Rience. She deliberately drags out his death and makes it as painful as she can under the given circumstances, both because he'd threatened her and for his torture of Yennefer.
    • She also explicitly uses this as an argument for why the gang terrorizing Dun Dare deserve to die.
  • Punch-Clock Villain:
    • Boreas Mun, the tracker, who is a pretty decent guy hired by not-so-decent guys. That's the reason he is spared. His decency is reinforced in the next book, ultimately getting away alive from the whole mess. This is a really rare thing, because until that point numerous times it was shown that No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.
    • Kenna, too. She's one of the most emphatic characters in the book, and easily one of the nicest people in the whole saga. Yet she's on Skellen's payroll and just does her job. Similar to Mun, she is creepied by the sort of company she ends up in, and probing into Bonhart mind makes her literally puke.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Boreas Mun. He is somewhat famous for it in-universe and that's why he was hired for the job of tracking down Ciri.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Some of Skellen and Dacre’s men desert them right before the climax on the frozen lake, deciding that the risk vs. the reward (and the reward probably being offed since He Knows Too Much) just isn’t worth it. One of them is the POV character Kenna, which avoids an Posthumous Narration as well.
  • Shameful Strip: Bonhart forces Ciri to strip off her clothes after he captures her. He doesn't do so for any sexual reason, but to instead make sure that she's not hiding any weapons or magical items.
  • Skilled, but Naive: Ciri, kinda. Not so much naive as weak-willed, which Bonhart exploits: since the Witchers have drilled all their killing techniques into her, she kills others on pure reflex; however, when she has a chance of killing herself, she just can't. As Bonhart explains, killing oneself requires zero technique and a whole lot of willpower... which Ciri never had a reason to foster because she was already a perfect killing machine.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Bonhart tries to charge at the Wild Hunt to go after Ciri. Unfortunately, his horse is terrified of the wraiths and crashes through the ice, nearly killing Bonhart and giving Ciri enough time to vanish into the Tower of the Swallow.
  • Tired of Running: After half of a book worth of escaping from her captors (or the whole saga, including a few pre-Saga short stories till this point), Ciri finally snaps and turns the table on them, using all the advantages she can.
  • This Means Warpaint: Ciri applies paint to herself when she's about to head out for the Tower of the Swallow.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • The Rats, after being explicitly told they can receive amnesty if they keep their heads down and being aware of Leo Bonhart's reputation as someone who singlehandly wiped out entire gangs, decide to confront him in broad daylight. To be fair, six against one does sound like pretty good odds. Unfortunately for them, it was good odds for Leo.
    • Leo also gets one for attempting to charge the The Wild Hunt while pursuing Ciri, surviving only because his horse panics and flees.
  • Torture Is Ineffective: Since Ciri's powers mean that Vilgefortz can't locate her directly, he kidnaps Yennefer in the hopes of being able to use her emotional bond with Ciri to get a sense of where she is. When Yennefer naturally resists, he has Rience torture her. Unfortunately for them, Yennefer's love for Ciri is stronger than her sense of self-preservation, and all they get out of her is a vision of Geralt, who's of secondary importance to them.
  • Two Girls to a Team: Geralt's hanse includes Milva and Angouleme.
  • Traumatic Superpower Awakening: Downplayed, since there is no real trauma, but the final results are very dramatic. While probing captured Ciri's mind, Kenna triggers an instinctive, reflex response from the so far dormant powers the girl always possessed, but rejected during the events of The Time of Contempt. The result is Kenna being send flying to the wall and knocked out, while her companion Ceka Mind Raped by Ciri into freeing her, killing few of other mercenaries in the process. Plus, this is reawakening. From this point on, Ciri starts to experiment with her powers, rather than suppressing them.
  • Villain Team-Up: Involving Imperial black ops specialist gone rogue Stefan Skellen, bounty hunter Leo Bonhart, and wizard Vilgefortz acting through his agent Rience.