Title: Time of Contempt
Series: # 4 in The Witcher Saga
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Published: 1995 (English translation from 2013)
For more information about The Witcher Series, and my review of previous titles in the series, you can find my introductory post HERE.
And the tale of godawful blurbs continues… This time, it manages to spoil the major plot twist in the middle of the book! Awesome. Seriously though, they’re so bad. Do not read them.
Time of Contempt is the fourth book in the Witcher series and picks up directly after the end of Blood of Elves.
Emboldened by their victory at Sodden Hill, the Northern Kingdoms secretly plan to provoke the Empire of Nilfgaard into another war.
Unbeknown to them, the Nilfgaardian Emperor, Emhyr Van Emheris, Deithwen Addan yn Carn aep Morvudd (The White Flame Dancing on the Barrows of his Enemies) is aware of their schemes and has secret plans of his own.
Plans that will, not only, play out on the battlefield, but affect one of the more powerful groups on the Continent, The Chapter of Mages. A group that has played an invaluable role in the military success of the Northern Kingdoms.
Meanwhile, Geralt, Yennifer, and Ciri are making their way to Thanedd Island, home to the Aretuza School of Magic where Yennifer plans to enroll Ciri to continue her education.
Aretuza will also be the place of a large political gathering, The Mages Conference, where most of the more powerful and influential sorcerers and sorceresses will gather. What occurs there will have harsh, long-lasting consequences and set the main characters on paths that will last throughout the series.
If you, up until now, have been under the impression that this is a book series centered around Geralt of Rivia running around being badass and awesomely sarcastic while killing monsters, I’m terribly sorry to disappoint you. It’s not.
If you, in the previous book, casually skimmed though the complicated political intrigue and lengthy philosophical dialogue, I suggest you go back and reread the short-stories or maybe play the video games. You will not like this book or the coming ones.
As a whole, this is a series centered around war, political intrigue, and several competing fractions being absolute bastards towards one another, with Geralt unwillingly trapped in the middle. The political intrigue will only get more convoluted, the players more numerous and the philosophical, wordy dialog will get deeper and even more longwinded.
The Witcher Series has fantastic action, satisfying relationships, humor, irony, sarcasm, and enough twists and turns to always keep you on your toes. But, at its core, it will always bee a slow, dialogue-heavy story, driven forward by complicated political intrigue.
If you, like me, enjoy this type of storytelling, Time of Contempt is fantastic. If you don’t, it will not get better, and this series is not for you. It’s sad, but it’s the truth.
The first two short-story collections, The Last Wish & Sword of Destiny focused on world-building and the characters origins stories. The first novel, Blood of Elves, set the character relationships in place.
This book is the true beginning of the main characters, individual journeys and things are about to get dark. Really dark. This has never been a light-hearted series, but with Time of Contempt, things get grim. Both Geralt and Ciris character development in this book is brutal and sets the tone for their future actions and choices.
I love Geralts development and character growth, it’s painful to read, but it’s so good. As a character, he’s not really the main focus in this book. His POV is the shorter one, but despite that, the events that transpire affect his character immensely. Even though his “screentime” is not as substantial as in other books in the series, his character growth is huge.
Ciri’s POV takes up a big chunk of the book. What happens to her is both great storytelling, fantastic plot twists, and exciting character development. It’s also intensely disturbing.
Despite the mature themes, this is not a graphic, gory, or explicit series. That being said, Ciri will find herself in unpleasant situations where people will use her age and gender against her. I write more about how misogyny is portrayed in this series in my review of, Sword of Destiny.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it, The Witcher Universe is not sparkly fantasy filled with puppies and rainbows where the good guys are insanely overpowered and always manages to find some hidden power or reserve of strength when they need it.
Geralt has superhuman abilities and is an incredibly skilled fighter. Ciri has excellent magical potential, and Geralt has taught her to kick ass. But, there are other people in this world with either enhanced abilities of their own, or armies that do their bidding.
Which brings us onto the subject of antagonists. So far, in my reviews, I’ve not really touched on the subject.
Who is the bad guy?
Well, one of the series major antagonist is spectacularly and brutally introduced in this book. I say “one of” because there’s no one big bad, no antagonist with a capital A. This series has several and they shift, sway, and twirl thought this series until your eyes cross and you can’t remember which was bad, who was worse and who was the evilest of them all. You just know that you hate all of them, intensely.
What you have is several antagonists connected to individual characters, Geralt Ciri, Yennifer, they all have their own personal antagonists to battle. Meanwhile, the larger narrative that will eventually unfold into one last confrontation at the end of the series slowly, slowly unfolds, revealing loyalties, ties, and connections between the antagonists and then shatters them.
As a reader, you’re left perpetually unsure who is on who’s side and why which builds a sense of uncertainty that lasts almost until the last scene of the final book.
One aspect of this book that people seem to find frustrating or they dislike is the style of writing. Some describe it as “all over the place.” It’s not.
It’s definitely not a point A to point B narrative, but that’s a creative choice by the author. In my Introductory Post, I discuss Sapkowski’s style of writing and how he uses POV’s and interludes more thoroughly. But, in short, Sapkowski demands a lot of you as a reader. These books might not be the bricks of Robert Jordan or G.R.R Martin, but don’t mistake that for them, or the world they describe, being simplistic. The world is complicated, and the characters numerous.
Put differently, Sapkowski takes for granted that his readers are interested and invested enough to understand his world. It’s assumed that you’ve paid attention to all the groundwork done in previous installments. To be blunt, if you’ve skim-read though the “political” or “talkative” parts of the earlier books you’re screwed.
Finally, Time of Contempt also marks the beginning of a new faze in the series. Characters will be separated, loyalties put though the shredder and personal ideals, values, and beliefs will be thoroughly tested.
It’s one of the things I appreciate most about this series. You think the story is about one thing, then suddenly, it’s revealed it’s about something else, only to change again. It’s never repetitive or predictable. I love it.
In my opinion, Time of Contempt marks the beginning of the absolute peak of this series. A peak that will continue in the following two books, Baptism of Fire and The Tower of Swallows. They are amazing.
There’s no doubt that this is a complicated story but, circling back to the beginning of this review, it’s not difficult to understand or challenging to read if you enjoy this type of storytelling.
Most of the critical reviews of this book I’ve read usually goes along the line of, I love Witcher 3, all I want is for Geralt to be awesome, look pretty, and kill monsters. There’s too much politics, and everyone is mean to each other.
Listen, I hear you. I have a slightly unhealthy crush on Geralt of Rivia. Just the other day, I completed the main storyline in Witcher 3 for the third time. I’ve passed 400 hours, and that’s just the third game. I’ve played all of them several times. I understand where you’re coming from. But, if that’s what you want, restart the game and don’t bother with the books.
For a person who does enjoy this type of storytelling, this book is fantastic. Slow, complicated, intricate, talkative, and absolutely brilliant. It’s even better on the second read though.
This really is a fantastic book. There’s a reason 50-60% of reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads consists of five-star ratings. Personally, I’ve struggled between giving this a nine or a ten simply because I think Baptism of Fire and The Tower of Swallows are just a bit sharper. But, I’ve read this book twice in less than a year, and I already want to reread it.
So, for the first time in the history of this blog, we have a ten.
My Rating: 10/10
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