Definitely my favourite of The Witcher books so far, TIME OF CONTEMPT contains enough of the stuff I love in fantasy for me to enjoy it, even if I still think this is one of the most over-rated series of all time. And hey, you know what, sometimes the books we read don’t have to masterworks; in my humble opinion Andrjej Sapkowski is a bit of a hack haha. And I don’t really mean that in a pejorative way either (for the most part), it’s just these books aren’t very original or well-written and yet for all that, they’re still enjoyable. I realise I’m probably not selling anyone on this series right now, but I actually enjoyed this book, and here’s why.
For starters, this is where things finally kick off! BLOOD OF ELVES was a decent book, but for the most part was a set-up novel, where Sapkowski moved all the pieces on the chess board into place. This was enjoyable in its own right and I had a blast with the unscrupulous kings and their spies lurking in the shadows, working to advance the interests of the various kingdoms and factions in shady and nefarious ways. But now tensions begin to boil to a head, and these nefarious characters and organisations have plans to put into action.
What really keeps me invested in these books is all the delicious scheming. The scheming that everyone knows is going on, but up until the second half of this book have been unable to acknowledge in the open. There’s a great protracted scene where Geralt attends a banquet/piss-up at the mage college of Aretuza and gets caught up in a diplomatic merry-go-round, where the attendees are trying to variously recruit him, squeeze him for information or just insult him with a thin veneer of respectable politeness. I also just found this scene hilarious, because all the female mages are smoking hot and literally all of them want to bang Geralt; Sapkowski was definitely hunched over a very uncomfortable boner while writing this painfully obvious wish fulfilment scene haha.
That said, I feel like his writing of women has improved overall at this point in the series. The short story collections were atrocious in this respect, but I think Time of Contempt does well to give us female characters with power and agency, without reducing them to simply and only objects of desire (which a lot of them definitely are, but that’s fine so long as that’s not all they are). I have complicated feelings about the representation of women in this series and I’d really love to read something about it by someone more intelligent and articulate than I am.
Some of the other stuff I liked about this book in particular is probably quite niche, but I loved the scene with Yennefer and her dwarven banker. Give me more finance in fantasy. Merchants and trade, banking and lines of credit, shipping lanes and tariffs. I thrive on that shit, absolutely lap it up, can’t get enough of it. My favourite parts of games like Civ and Europa Universalis are the trade mechanics and one my favourite parts of Skyrim was the existence of the East Empire Company. What I like about The Witcher books is that trade is inextricably linked with empire and imperialism. Trade is political. The merchants have class interests that don’t line up with the nobility and there are complicated webs of alliances that form within the various nations that are lining up for war. This is the kind of stuff that gets my heart rate spiking.
I’m still enjoying the development of Geralt and Yennefer’s weird ass relationship, though I have generally been disappointed with Geralt as a character overall. There’s just not that much to him ya know? Other than being the strong, emotionally unavailable and damaged monster killer, he just comes across a bit meh. This book took some small steps to rectify that, I just feel at this point in the series I should have some strong feelings about our titular hero, and I just don’t. Yennefer, on the other hand, is a baller and Ciri got a bunch more interesting in this book, especially towards the end where some crazy stuff happens that makes me think I’m gonna enjoy her arc going forward.
I feel like my intro was much more of a downer on this book than I ended up writing about, but I did say I actually enjoyed it, so there you go. Definitely not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but an enjoyable fantasy romp with some cool action, monster fighting and a plot that throws the chessboard to the ground when it comes to the proverbial shit hitting the fan. Looking forward to the next one.
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