WiC Reads: The Witcher Saga—Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Witcher season 3 - Netflix
The Witcher season 3 - Netflix /
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Author Andrzej Sapkowski began his Witcher saga back in 1986, when he wrote a short story about a professional monster hunter named Geralt of Rivia. Sapkowski wrote a slew more Witcher short stories which were eventually collected into two books — The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny — before moving onto “The Witcher saga,” a series of novels that take Geralt, Yennefer, Ciri and other characters on a grand adventure.

Time of Contempt is the second book in The Witcher saga. It’s also the book we’re about to see adapted on TV as season 3 of The Witcher on Netflix. New episodes drop on June 29. Before they drop, read through the book with us, chapter by chapter!

Is this a worthy addition to Sapkowski’s saga, and to your library? Find out, but beware SPOILERS below.

Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) glares at the camera.
Image: Netflix. Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher season 3. /

Chapter One

We begin Time of Contempt with Aplegatt, a royal mounted messenger whose job has largely been rendered useless since kings and queens can now send messages to each other with the aid of their sorcerers. However, Aplegatt is back in business now that there’s a war brewing and the rulers no longer trust thost sorcerers.

It’s a charming way to start what I’ve heard is the best of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher novels. I always like when an author fills out the margins of their invented worlds, and I like how Sapkowski is digging into the details of how things would actually work in semi-medieval times if sorcerers were around. What would be the use of mounted messengers if magicians can just wave their hands, say a spell and transmit words with no fuss? And how might that change if the sorcerers fell out of political favor with their bosses? Sapkowski has a good eye for detail.

Although that eye can sometimes linger too long on certain stuff. After we spend a little time with Aplegatt, we catch up with Geralt as he tries to hunt the men who are hunting Ciri, who is currently wanted by a large number of people for a large number of reasons, most of which aren’t yet clear. We learn a lot of the particulars at the offices of Codringher and Fenn, who offer their services as lawyers, detectives and researchers to anyone with gold to pay. Sapkowski has fun describing the results they get for their clients; it’s very medieval noir, very Philip Marlowe-goes-to-the-renaissance-faire.

It is also, in this particular scene, a massive exposition dump. Geralt, Codringher and Fenn spend a lot of time talking about who’s after Ciri, and why, and how, and how bad, and what they know, and what they don’t know, and so on. The info is important, but it highlights an issue I had with the last book: everyone in The Witcher universe sort of…talks the same? They’re all very analytical, they’re all very verbose, and they all use a lot of modern language that never sits quite right in this setting. Part of that might be the translation — I know these books were originally written in Polish — but it always throws me a bit, especially in these lengthy dialogue sections.

From there, we get an understated action scene where Geralt tracks down the thugs tracking Ciri (he kills them) and end with the hard-working Aplegatt returning from a successful delivery only to get shot down by a band of elven guerrilla fighters, called Squirrels, foreshadowing conflicts to come. The chapter is pretty long — almost 50 pages — and has a nice symmetry to it; even in his novels, it feels like Sapkowski is still writing short stories.

So one chapter into The Time of Contempt, I’m still enjoying it like I enjoyed the last couple books, but I have some of the same problems as well. Let’s see where Geralt and company go from here…