As the the adventures of Geralt head inexorably toward a bleaker place, some of what made the earlier books so fun seems missing from this book.
This second entry in the Witcher saga of novels continues to follow Sapkowski’s strange, connected-vignettes style of storytelling. The story is told in narrative fragments, overheard conversations between soldiers, across a multiplicity of viewpoints, some appearing once or twice and never again, some persistent and recurring, but all over the place. It can be somewhat difficult to follow.
Time of Contempt’s main plot development concerns the destruction of the Chapter of mages due to treachery and Nilfgaard’s wholesale invasion of the North thereafter, exploiting racial hatreds to incite guerilla units of non-humans to fight against the armies of the Northern Kingdoms. Geralt and Yennefer are present during this conflict and Ciri, also with them, is lost, escaping the chaos raging around them by jumping into a portal that spits her out in a godforsaken desert, only to ultimately join a crew of brigands out of desperation, abandonment and despair.
The world of the Witcher has by this point grown so large and unwieldy that much of the narrative doesn’t even feature Geralt, Yennefer or Ciri, which is a departure from the short stories in which every story featured Geralt in a leading role. More and more, it is no longer just Geralt’s story, but Ciri’s as well, and by extension, a story that will determine the fate of nations. Geralt, accustomed to facing monsters that he can see, now has to contend with being a pawn, strung along by unseen forces.
But with the separation of Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri, the book has little space for the emotional dynamics between those characters. By growing bigger, it chooses to sacrifice the intimacy of its smaller-scale predecessors. Only by reading on will I be able to find out whether the new characters that have been borne out of this turn of events will prove just as compelling as the ones already established.
The series retains its characteristic moments of brevity, such as the point where Dandelion fakes bravery as he walks into the dryad-controlled forest of Brokilon to find Geralt, knowing full well that its inhabitants are only too happy to riddle intruders with holes without warning. Or the banquet scene in which Geralt walks around eating hors d’oeuvres while exchanging sarcastic remarks with fascinated sorceresses. But the general tenor is somewhat more grim.
One more thing I’m preliminarily bothered about was how easily Ciri succumbed to the weird sexual wiles of the bandit Mistle, and proceeded to live a life of brigandry. It seems quite out of character for her, even for someone who feels like they’ve been abandoned. We’ll see how this pans out in Baptism of Fire.
I give this book: 3.5 out of 5 lizard eggs