Title: The Witcher: Time of Contempt
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Published by: Gollancz
Publication date: 24th June 2013
Source: Private Collection
Series: The Witcher
The kings and armies are manoeuvring for position, each fearing invasion from across the river, each fearing their neighbours more. Intrigue, dissent and rebellion fester on all sides.
After decades of oppression, the elves and other races are fighting each other and attacking the humans – and with growing numbers preparing for battle, the threat of all-out war looms ever greater.
Against this backdrop of fear, Geralt and Yennefer must protect Ciri, the orphaned heir who is sought by all sides. For the child of prophecy has the power to change the world – if she lives to use it.
Translated by David French.
The Witcher: Time of Contempt is the second book in the main event of the series. There are other books before this one, but the whole affair of book order is pretty confusing and seeing as this one has a big number two on the spine, I’ll go with that! The story carries on directly from the previous book in the series; Blood of Elves. Political alliances shift grandly, to the point that the council and chapter of sorcerers call a convention in which to discuss the invasions constructed by Nilfgaard. This goes horribly wrong and tears our main three characters, Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri apart. Geralt is seriously wounded, Yennefer goes missing and Ciri doesn’t know where she ends up.
Despite the fact that I powered through this book in only a couple of days, I don’t know how much I really enjoyed the experience. There are certain aspects of the story and characters within that were more enjoyable compared to others. It feels like I have said this a lot about books lately, but I got terribly confused over parts of it for a couple of reasons.
When it comes to the main characters, Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri, are solid elements of the series. Reading about the events that unfold and impact them is what compels me as a reader to keep turning the pages. At one point a major turning point in their life surrounds them; the conclave of sorcerers imploding and there is a genuine concern for the characters safety; even for Yennefer who at this point I have seen as very little other than a foot-stamping toddler. The fact that her story isn’t resolved in this book makes me eager to read the next novel just to find out where she has ended up.
Geralt, despite being a Witcher, is still somehow the most normal of the characters. He admits when he doesn’t know something and it is through other characters’ elaborations of their schemings and enlightening Geralt to their goals and introducing him to other characters that most of the plot is presented; albeit in a broken narrative format. The writing style of these books does take a bit of getting used to, as they job rapidly from pillar to post with little time to reflect and catch-up. I’d have liked to see a bit more action from The Witcher himself, maybe throw in a side-tale of him slaying some monsters, but alas, the political intrigue game and being wrapped up in Nilfgaards plans seem to have put a stop to that aspect of his character. I am also somewhat relieved as the fighting sequences seem to be a bit of a stumbling block for the author, who tends to get a bit repetitive with his use of the word pirouette when describing sword-play. It was great to see his morals being challenges and his character developing in ways that go against all he has stood for in terms of neutrality prior to the events unfolding within Time of Contempt. As with many of the other elements of the book, I am eager to find out how it all resolves in future instalments of the series.
I also felt that Ciri is developing into a much more rounded character, rather than just another plot device, ready to be exploited. Towards the end of the novel; where she joins a band of miscreants, she really comes into her own. Shaking off the directions pulling at her from both Yennefer and Geralt, Ciri is becoming her own person. We’re also told a lot more about her heritage and how that may play a major part in what is yet to come.
Alongside the main three are some return favourites, Dandelion, Triss and Djikstra being the ones that have stood out from previous novels. They all offer their own inputs into the plot and help to cap the holes in Geralt’s dubious lack of knowledge.
One of the issues I had with the other instalments of The Witcher series carries on in this novel too. There’s just so much content in terms of characters and political intrigue. I found it next to impossible to keep up with who was allied with who, especially when some characters seemed to flippantly change sides or be unclear with who they supported. To many regions and names passed me by that I felt rather lost. Especially during the sorcerer meeting that goes horribly wrong. I felt a glossary of characters, or even a map of the world being included in the book would have given me a point of reference and made this very important part of the book have more grounding. The info-dump section of the meet and greet banquet that introduced all the characters was a bit of a slog to get through, and when it was topped off in confusion, I figured it was better to just get on with it and hope for the best. I do hope, with less characters involved, that the rest of the novels are a bit clear in terms of whose who and who is on whose side.
The other aspect I had a problem with was the use of the Elder Speech. Sure, the Elves need their own language to set them apart from their human counterparts, but alongside a huge plethora of names, places and general confusion, there is another layer of bewilderment on top when some of the characters start spouting off in a language that I have no hope to understand. I felt irritated that vital information could have been concealed from me and yet, the characters that are being spoken to have clear comprehension. I very much dislike being kept in the dark!
These books don’t read well as stand-alone novels, the entire plot feels like a snippet of a larger whole and I imagine the next book will continue directly from this one. There’s no satisfying ending, there are many questions left unanswered but I have faith that they’ll be answered in the next instalment – as this is feeling more and more like a series that relies on cliff-hanger endings.
Although there is a very confusing element to this book in terms of characters and their allegiances it’s still an enjoyable read. The characters are developing in their individual directions and it’ll be wonderful to see where and how they end up. The Elder Speech is a bit of an irritant that kept me in the dark.
I am mostly left eager for more resolution that will, hopefully, come in the next book; Baptism of Fire.
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