Time of Contempt is the second novel in the Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski. I read the English translation by David French (not the playwright).
Finished on: 29.4.2022
[Here are my reviews of the other books in the series.]
Content Note: sexualized assault/rape
War is brewing, and Ciri is an important factor in it, by her existence alone. While Geralt is trying to figure out who sent Rience after them, Yennefer is taking Ciri to the Aretuza School of Magic on the Thanedd Island. Not only is she hoping that Ciri will be safely hidden at the school, but there is also a big conclave of sorcerers planned there that Yennefer wants to attend. But things are complicated indeed, and Ciri isn’t even sure she wants to go to school there. She’d rather catch up with Geralt.
Time of Contempt deepens the political intrigue, but also the old-white-manliness of the series that seems to get worse with each book. It’s still an entertaining read, but it makes me question the series a little (more).
The worst moment of the book comes right at the end when Ciri finally seems to find some shelter with the Rats, a group of outcast robbers. She is at first sexually assaulted by one young man of the group, but the assault is interrupted by a female member of the group – who then proceeds to assault Ciri herself. And the way it is written, Ciri says no multiple times, but really she is “just” a little ashamed and ultimately, she enjoys it and basically becomes an item with her assaulter, and holy rape culture, Batman! It’s not only the fact that sexualized violence is turned into romance and is argued with “she is really enjoying it”, but there is also a note of homomisia to it – because apparently a woman assaulting another woman (or girl, actually, Ciri is 13 or 14) is not a serious thing, probably because two women fucking isn’t “real sex” anyway. It’s an overall disastrous take on the scene.
But hey, at least Geralt doesn’t fuck a teenager in this one.
It’s exactly the kind of thing I was afraid I would get in the series, and it is frustrating to be proven right in that way.
The book does get things right, too, fortunately: Yennefer gets increasingly more humanized and less the mystic enchantress fantasy. Her reunion with Geralt was actually really nicely handled, and I very much enjoyed their dynamic this time around – contrary to the first time they were a couple.
I have to admit that I stopped closely following the politics at some point. I lost track of who was fighting for and with who, and felt a little adrift, but instead of trying to figure it, I just let the politic stuff wash over me. I was surprised by that turn of events because in the first novel, I thought that the politics were really interesting, but even though my disinterest this time round meant that I wasn’t always clear on who was making what choices, I quite liked that Geralt ultimately comes to the conclusion that there is no neutral position when it comes to war.
The best part for me, though, was Ciri’s story in general, especially in the end when she is separated from both Geralt and Yennefer (except the sexual assault). The unicorn was a great touch – and I am still very interested in where the story will take her next.
Summarizing: a good read, but there are some serious problems with it, too.