TIME OF CONTEMPT, A NOVEL BY A. SAPKOWSKI, WITCHER #4 (BOOK REVIEW AND RECOMMENDATION)
Hello there! Happy Autumn! In this post, I shall review Time of Contempt, the second novel and the forth book in the Witcher saga, created by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski. The first two books in the Witcher series being collections of short stories ( Last Wish and Sword of Destiny) , Time of Contempt is a direct sequel to Blood of Elves. Honestly, at first I hardly noticed the transition from one novel to another. The first part of Time of Contempt might as well be included in Blood of Elves as it almost feels like the same novel. In addition, I was able to read the novels one after the other so the transition was especially smooth. However, as Time of Contempt develops, some differences between the two novels can be spotted. I shall elaborate!
“You can’t afford the luxury of spurning contempt. A time of contempt is approaching, Witcher, my friend, a time of great and utter contempt. You have to adapt.”
Published in 1995, Time of Contempt takes off where Blood of Elves ended, but it feels more fast paced than its prequel. If you have read my review for Blood of Elves, you would have known that I found it slower paced than the Sword of Destiny but also very interesting in its own right, as it explains a great deal about the Witcher world. Blood of Elves is all about world-building, particularly in the sense of explaining the politics of this fantasy world. Time of Contempt adds more action and in that sense feels more true to the first two books in the series.
Time of Contempt continues to focus on the Ciri. The small family that was developing in Blood of Elves continues to stick together. Ciri, Gerald, Yennefer and Dandelion are once again the main characters. Like in the previous novel, as readers we get to learn more about Yennefer, Gerlad and Dandelion. We witness their character development. However, the plot is all about Ciri. As I mentioned in my last review, one might even argue that the novels are ultimately about Ciri and that she is their real protagonist.
Geralt . . . Listen to me—’ ‘Listen to what?’ shouted the Witcher, before his voice suddenly faltered. ‘I can’t leave— I can’t just leave her to her fate. She’s completely alone . . . She cannot be left alone, Dandelion. You’ll never understand that. No one will ever understand that, but I know. If she remains alone, the same thing will happen to her as once happened to me . . . You’ll never understand that . .
Gerald was undoubtedly the main protagonist in the short stories collections, but once Ciri steps to the scene, she seems to take over. Moreover, the ultimate plot of the novels seems to be about Ciri. In Blood of Elves, we learned more about Ciri, this girl whose personality is a strange mix of cheerful and sad, happy and tragic. Now, as readers we shall witness Ciri growing up into a young woman.
“To say I knew her would be an exaggeration. I think that, apart from the Witcher and the enchantress, no one really knew her. When I saw her for the first time she did not make a great impression on me at all, even in spite of the quite extraordinary accompanying circumstances. I have known people who said that, right away, from the very first encounter, they sensed the foretaste of death striding behind the girl. To me she seemed utterly ordinary, though I knew that ordinary she was not; for which reason I tried to discern, discover–sense–the singularity in her. But I noticed nothing and sensed nothing. Nothing that could have been a signal, a presentiment or a harbinger of those subsequent, tragic events. Events caused by her very existence. And those she caused by her actions. Dandelion, Half a Century of Poetry”
I'll tell you all about it in my review, so scroll down.
TIME OF CONTEMPT, A NOVEL BY ANDRZEJ SAPKOWSKI 5/5
THE COLD WAR BETWEEN THE NORTHERN KINGDOMS AND NILFGAARD IS STILL ON AND ONCE AGAIN IT IS HARD TO TELL WHO IS THE ULTIMATE BAD GUY
As it was already stressed, this novel is very much a direct sequel. The alliance of the Northern kingdoms is still on. However, as the northern kings plot against the emperor of Nilgaard, the emperor seems to always be one step ahead of them. The cruelty of Nilfgaard Empire and its ruler is elaborated on in the books, making its emperor seem like the key villain on the first glance. However, is it really so? The claim that he is the main villain can be disputed. There is a constant implication that everyone playing the game of thrones is rotten to the core, hence Gerald's insistence on neutrality.
The kings of Northern Kingdoms are perhaps not any better than the emperor of Nilfgaard. Blood of Elves informed us of the racism and the pogrom that elves, dwarves and other intelligent human species endure in the northern kingdoms. The rulers of northern kingdoms go so far as making the elves and the dwarves pay taxes for not being people but members of elder races. Historically, humans didn't treat elder races justly and so naturally there is much resentfulness and bitterness. I liked how Sapkowski created a world that isn't white or black, but where every race has its own challenges and disagreements. At times, this saga does seem pessimistic but if you like your fantasy to be realistic and naturalistic, its pessimism will probably appeal to you.
Geralt seems to understand there are two sides to every story. The more the reader finds out about the politics of the Witcher world, the more he understands the Geralt's neutrality. Geralt refuses to serve any ruler, because to him they are all the same. In the context of the present situation and the danger Ciri is in, Geralt has even more reasons to hate all the rulers, as they are all after Ciri.
“Geralt had discovered, many times, that all mechanisms are unreliable. They only worked when they ought not to work, and vice versa.”
He may not have all the details at that point, but Geralt understand politics well enough to know that Ciri's royal blood makes her a potential pawn for those in power and one very desired. In that sense, this emperor of Nilfgaard is no different than others in power, only more capable than most. The monarchs of the Northern Kingdoms all agreed to kill Ciri for political reasons. So, the reader doesn't exactly know whom to cheer for as they are about to start a war with Nilfgaard.
In the meantime, Geralt does all he can. He doesn't have all the information, but he has good instincts. One of themes of this fantasy series is the dark in all of us. It is often implied that the real monsters are not the ones that Gerald hunts but rather those in human form. As a witcher, Geralt lives by a moral code. Moreover, he has the wisdom of a person that has lived a long and eventful life. He is really quite a moral man once you get over his cold interior, his cynicism and his dark sense of humor. He even feels sorry for the monsters he kills.
Anyhow, Gerald travels to an urban settlement (i.e. a small town Dorian) to meet with a Machiavellian character i.e. the lawyer Codhringer. As I already mentioned in my last review, different parts of the Witcher world are at different stages of development. Some places are distinctly medieval, while other places (especially urban settlements) feel more like late medieval or even early Renaissance.
Anyhow, Geralt meets with the notorious Codringer to task him with finding mag Rience identity. The notorious lawyer slash detective was already informed of the mag's existence by Dandelion, who only escaped the mag with Yennefer's help.
“Don’t mock me, Witcher. The matter is becoming serious. It’s becoming ever less clear what this is all about, and when no one knows what something’s about it’s sure to be all about money.”
Why is the lawyer so notorious? Well, his firm is. Codringher and Fenn was quite a notorious law firm and detective agency founded by two men. Many falsely assumed there is only one but there are actually two, although one of them is rarely seen. Moreover, their legal assistance was described to be somewhat dubious i.e, murderous. In other words, they seem willing to do anything and kill anyone to get the job done. Well, perhaps not everyone.
Codringer seems to honestly like Geralt and sides with him by hiding information about Ciri even before Geralt tasks him with that job. Maybe he has other less noble motives? You'll find out if and when you read the book. What I can say is that I quote liked this episode. Geralt and Codringher meeting was impressive, as it not only presented a credible Machiavellian character but showed a more intelligent side of Geralt. The White Wolf is more that a fighting man. Geralt is more than capable of conducting his own investigations in a complex and dangerous world. I also like the dark humor in this episode:
Anyhow, while Geralt employs Codhringer in efforts to discover the identity of mage that is looking for Ciri, Yennefer is right by her side. Their mother daughter kind of bond seems only to deepen with time. In this novel we get to see a softer side to Yennefer, but she remains the ambitious and proud woman we know. Yennefer receives news of the impending conflict with Nilfgaard and decides Ciri needs to continue to study magic safely. The sorceress leaves Temple in Ellander with Ciri by her side. Her plans? Yennefer plans to take Ciri to Gors Velen and enroll her at the Aretuza school of magic on Thanedd Island. The always busy and proactive Yennefer also plans to attend a conference of mages there. The mages meet to discuss the current matters, such as the impending conflict.
YENNEFER MEETS UP WITH HER DWARVEN BANKER IN GORS VELEN AND MAKES BANK TRANSACTIONS TO PAY FOR CIRI'S EDUCATION
Yenner and Ciri make a stop in a city where Yennefer visits a bank and meets up with her banker, the owner of Giancardi bank, who informs her of attempts to access her bank account in Novigrad. While they discuss the economic situation, it is again implied that the northern kings are preparing for war. I quite liked this detail. By including discussions about the finance world, Sapkowski made his fantasy world politics seem more credible and tangible. Molnar Gincardi, the dwarven banker was an interesting character as well, even if we don't learn that much about him. As the owner of the bank, he is in the know. Yennefer helped to save Molnar's live during the pogroms against non-humans, so he seems eager to return the favour. Molnar therefore informs Yennefer about the preparations for the war. Yennefer is already aware of this, but surely appreciates the additional information. Yennefer then proceeds to send money to the Temples to pay for Ciri's future studies. I quite enjoyed this episode, especially the part where Ciri gets to wonder the town.
CIRI FINALLY GETS THE OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW OFF HER FIGHTING SKILLS
Yennefer needs to talk more business with the banker in private, so she asks for one of the banker's young employees to show Ciri the town. Ciri is quite happy to take her on her offer and wonder the town of Gors Velen. Ciri and the boy happen upon a monster, a caged monster that is being shown as in a zoo or menagerie. The monster manages to break free and this is where Ciri has the opportunity to put her witcher training to the test. She manages not only to fight the monster, but to make it look like someone else did it. A young man who faints gets to be the hero of the day and Ciri assures him that he indeed fought the monster even if he doesn't remember it. Since everybody fled as soon as the monster appeared, Ciri is the only witness of her own courage. Even though it was Ciri who unintentionally provoked a disturbance, we see she acted correctly.
Ciri seems to be both brave, intelligent and resourceful young girl. Her cheerful nature is often contrasted with her tragic past, revealing a sense of sadness about the girl. This episode, as generally light as it is, also foreshadows future fighting and suffering in the novel. Ciri does kill the monster, so here is foreshadowing of death. When Ciri escapes using a magic amulet Yennefer instructed Ciri to use if needed, mages Tissaia de Vries and Margarita Laux-Antille take notice. The former and current headmistresses of Aretuza, assume that Ciri must be one of their magic students ditching classes so they capture her and put her under the spell. Unbeknownst to them, Ciri is about to become a student of theirs. So, the two women really found what they were looking for: a student of magic. This little fun action episode not only ends well, but introduces new characters in the novel. It's also consistent with the character of Ciri, who seems to be talented in making a dramatic entrance, even when she doesn't mean to. Ciri is the child of surprise after all, appearing in unexpected ways.
WE GET TO MEET MORE OF YENNIFER SORCERESSES FRIENDS
After reuniting with her friends and introducing Ciri to them, Yennefer discusses Ciri's fuure education. Tissaia and Margarita make a lot of jokes while with Yennefer, but when it comes to discussing Ciri's education at Aretuza, they are serious. Yennefer seems to be at ease with her two friends and it's interesting to follow their dialogues and learn more about the dynamics of mag friendships. Like witchers, mags are somewhat feared by the general population, so they probably feel isolated among regular people. In addition, sorceresses live long lives and this possibly makes them feel closer to their own kind. Birds of feather flock together and all that. Ciri, however, might feel left out. Ciri might feel that Yennefer treats her like a child, deciding everything for her. When Ciri hears that Gerald is around, she feels even more imprisoned. Knowing that once she is really under supervision at school, she won't be able to leave without permission, Ciri takes to action.
“But you should act, be brave, seize life by the scruff of the neck. Believe me, little one, you should only regret inactivity, indecisiveness, hesitation. You shouldn’t regret actions or decisions, even if they occasionally end in sadness and regret.”
CIRI RUNS AWAY TO SEE GERALT AND THUS RECONNECTS HER ESTRANGED ADOPTIVE PARENTS
Madam Yennefer, Forgive me. I'm riding to Hirundum because I want to see Geralt. I want to see him before I start school. Forgive my disobedience, but I must. I know you'll punish me, but I don't want to regret my indecision and hesitation. If I'm to have regrets, let them be for deeds and actions. I'm an enchantress. I seize life by the scruff of the neck. I'll return when I can. - Ciri”
In accordance with her spontaneous character, Ciri decides to sneak off to see Geralt. She steals a horse and rides in search of Geralt. Yennefer is after her and manages to catch up with her. Ciri's escape proves lucky for her, as it means not only seeing Geralt, but seeing and understanding Geralt and Yennefer relationship. Moreover, Yennefer cannot be too angry at Ciri's escape, as it leads to her reunion and reconciliation with Geralt.
Dandelion is there as well, to put Geralt's and Yennefer feelings to words. As the poet observes what is basically Yennefer and Gerald's getting back together, he explains their relationship to Ciri in a honest but touching way. Indeed, Dandelion deserves to be considered a troubadour and a poet. Ciri perhaps doesn't understand it at the moment, but he is teaching her an important lesson about poetry.
“Hmm…’ Ciri bit her lower lip, then leaned over and put her eye closer to the hole.
‘Madam Yennefer is standing by a willow… She’s plucking leaves and playing with her star. She isn’t saying anything and isn’t even looking at Geralt… And Geralt’s standing beside her. He’s looking down and he’s saying something. No, he isn’t. Oh, he’s pulling a face… What a strange expression…’
‘Childishly simple,’ said Dandelion, finding an apple in the grass, wiping it on his trousers and examining it critically.
‘He’s asking her to forgive him for his various foolish words and deeds. He’s apologizing to her for his impatience, for his lack of faith and hope, for his obstinacy, doggedness. For his sulking and posing; which are unworthy of a man. He’s apologizing to her for things he didn’t understand and for things he hadn’t wanted to understand—’
‘That’s the falsest lie!’ said Ciri, straightening up and tossing the fringe away from her forehead with a sudden movement. ‘You’re making it all up!’
‘He’s apologizing for things he’s only now understood,’ said Dandelion, staring at the sky, and he began to speak with the rhythm of a balladeer. ‘For what he’d like to understand, but is afraid he won’t have time for… And for what he will never understand. He’s apologizing and asking for forgiveness…Hmm, hmm… Meaning, conscience, destiny? Everything’s so bloody banal…’
‘That’s not true!’ Ciri stamped.
‘Geralt isn’t saying anything like that! He’s not even speaking. I saw for myself. He’s standing with her and saying nothing…’
‘That’s the role of poetry, Ciri. To say what others cannot utter.’
‘It’s a stupid role. And you’re making everything up!’
‘That is also the role of poetry. Hey, I hear some raised voices coming from the pond. Have a quick look, and see what’s happening there.’
‘Geralt,’ said Ciri, putting her eye once more to the hole in the wall, ‘is standing with his head bowed. And Yennefer’s yelling at him. She’s screaming and waving her arms. Oh dear… What can it mean?’
‘It’s childishly simple.’ Dandelion stared at the clouds scudding across the sky. ‘Now she’s saying sorry to him.”
THE RECONCILIATION THAT WILL PROBABLY MAKE EVEN THE MOST DEMANDING HAPPY
The on and off thing seems to draw to a halt, as Geralt and Yennefer reconcile. What a reconciliation it is! I think it will make even the most demanding of readers satisfied. It's a tender, candid and loving reconciliation between two proud and at times quite difficult characters.
“He embraced her. And touched her. And found her. Yennefer, in some astonishing way hard and soft at the same time, sighed loudly. The words they had uttered broke off, perished among the sighs and quickened breaths, ceased to have any meaning and were dissipated. So they remained silent, and focused on the search for one another, on the search for the truth. They searched for a long time, lovingly and very thoroughly, fearful of needless haste, recklessness and nonchalance. They searched vigorously, intensively and passionately, fearful of needless self-doubt and indecision. They searched cautiously, fearful of needless tactlessness.”
The time doesn't stop for anyone, so the three return to Thanedd Island together. There is a feeling of peace, though. Ciri is a little confused perhaps but possibly quite satisfied. Her adopted father and mother have got together again and that must be a good thing. This chapter really makes the trio seem like a family. In addition, it seemed like a conclusion of some sort, especially as the following charters introduce new characters and subplots. From this point, the novel moves more quickly and sometimes feels like a NEW book altogether.
YENNEFER INVITES GERALT TO A MAGE MEETING AND NEW IMPORTANT CHARACTERS ARE INTRODUCED
Yennefer wants to take Geralt as her date to the mage meeting she came to attend. We are informed that in the past, Geralt has always refused such invitations from Yennefer. Now, Geralt agrees to join her and surely they make a striking couple at an evening reception. Geralt is a bit uncomfortable there, as mage receptions are quite odd in some ways. However, Geralt is also happy to be Yennefer's date, because it makes them official. That's the impression I got anyway. The writer is perhaps implying they are for real now. Geralt is telling everyone to choke on their envy- at least in his thoughts.
“Yes, he answered in his thoughts, you’re not mistaken. There is only she, Yennefer, at my side, here and now, and only she matters. Here and now. And what she was long ago, where she was long ago and who she was with long ago doesn’t have any, doesn’t have the slightest, importance. Now she’s with me, here, among you all. With me, with no one else. That’s what I’m thinking right now, thinking only about her, thinking endlessly about her, smelling the scent of her perfume and the warmth of her body. And you can all choke on your envy.”
This is also a nice opportunity for the writer to introduce new characters and makes us see them through both Geralt's and Yennefer perspective. Geralt talks with and meets quite a few new mages. The sorceress seem to all flirt with Geralt for some reason. They are all quite glamorous and attractive, but Geralt still have eyes only for Yennefer. He does talk notice of the legendary beauty of some, for example the elven queen Francesca, said to be the most beautiful woman in the world.
Geralt also talks with the mage Vilgefortz. The two discuss neutrality, one of the key topics in Blood of Elves. The mage states Geralt won't be able to remain neutral, i.e., he will have to choose sides.
“And so,' smiled the Witcher, 'I have no choice? I have to enter into a pact with you, a pact which should someday become the subject of a painting, and become a sorcerer? Give me a break. I know a little about the theory of heredity. My father, as I discovered with no little difficulty, was a wanderer, a churl, a troublemaker and a swashbuckler. My genes on the spear side may be dominant over the genes on the distaff side. The fact that I can swash a buckler pretty well seems to confirm that.”
Vilgefortz tries to convenience Geralt to join his side, but Geralt refuses as he prefers neutrality. There are others who try to do the same. For example, Dijkstra, a master spy also tries to recruit Geralt, but is refused.
“It’s incredible,’ the Witcher smiled hideously, ‘how much my neutrality outrages everybody. How it makes me subject to offers of pacts and agreements, offers of collaboration, lectures about the necessity to make choices and join the right side.”
This Machiavellian reception was well written and entertaining, I enjoyed it a lot. The way Geralt and Yennefer seem to stick together and have each other back was really sweet.
AND THERE'S A COUP AND THEN ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE
Everything seems to be going well, almost too well for the witcher universe. However, if the books have taught us anything, it's that Geralt just cannot catch a break. Soon after Geralt wakes up, he stumbles on a bloody coup. Dijkstra and Philippa Eilhart are behind it. Philippa believes that some mages are traitors aided by Nalfgaard emperor. They have proof that mage Vilgefortz is one of the traitors working for Nalfgaard. Naturally, Emperor Emhyr wants to destroy the Chapter of Mages. He didn't forget that he lost the war primary because of the mages' aid. The Battle of Sodden hill where Yennefer and Triss fought so bravely, is what pretty much stopped Emhyr invasion. Philippa is a sorceress in Redania's court and has her ambitions, but her motivation here is to root out traitors. Like everyone, she believes her actions are justified. Philippa and the master spy have organized the coup, but who else in on it? Who are the traitors?
“But do you know when stories stop being stories? The moment someone begins to believe in them.”
Thank you for reading! Have a lovely day.