Earlier this week, I managed to finish the second novel in the Witcher series (the fourth book, confusingly!), Time of Contempt! And confusion is definitely the main order of the day, I think.
The book pretty much picks up directly from the first, and expands massively on one of the plot threads that emerged towards the end of Blood of Elves, as we have an element of politics coming into the fore with this one. The invasion by Nilfgaard has prompted many of the kings of the north to stop using their sorcerers and shift alliances, prompting a sorcerers convention on the isle of Thanedd to discuss the future. However, the convention ends in a bloodbath, as factional in-fighting takes over, during which Geralt is seriously wounded. He recovers in Brokilon, and misses out on the majority of the action, relying on Dandelion to fill him in. Yennefer appears to be missing, while Ciri escaped Thanedd through a magical portal that dumped her in the desert to the east, the so-called “frying pan”. Nilfgaard is desperate to find her and forge an alliance to legitimise their invasion of Cintra, and they almost get her, but she escapes and joins a band of highway robbers called the Rats.
It took me almost a fortnight to wade through this one, because a lot of the time I just couldn’t seem to bring myself to want to read it. Now, the story is actually really compelling, and I’m finding myself really intrigued by what is going on, etc, but I just struggled to follow it from around the second-third of the book onwards. I mentioned last time how I felt a bit lost by the references to political alliances and so forth, feeling the need for a map almost, and this feeling is expanded tenfold here. I think it doesn’t help that we’re introduced to what feels like 30 new characters who suddenly splinter into factions, and during the magical coup portion I was just really lost, trying to remember who is who, and who they’re allied to, etc. After a while, I just had to sit back and, to some extent, let it wash over me!
I have since googled a map of the Witcher world, which has been very helpful in working out where everything is in relation to other things.
I also had to google a synopsis of the book after I had finished, and it turns out that Philippa Eilhart, who we met in the last book as a powerful sorceress with questionable motives for helping then seemingly hindering Geralt’s pursuit of Rience, has instigated a coup against members of the Council of Mages for conspiring with Nilfgaard. Following the Battle of Sodden, where the kingdoms of the north were able to defeat the forces of Nilfgaard thanks to the devastating intervention of the mages, the Emperor Emhyr wants to neutralise the sorcerers. One of the senior enchantresses, Tissaia, causes further havoc, thinking Philippa to be a warmonger, and removes the magical protection of the conclave chamber, causing all hell to break loose. One of the mages, Vilgefortz, is indeed in the employ of Nilfgaard, and is responsible for wounding Geralt while Ciri escapes.
The final two chapters, which deal with the fate of Ciri, were almost traumatic, and I think the character of Ciri is firmly cemented in the firmament here. Up until now, she’s almost been relegated to a Macguffin, without any major purpose beyond how important it is to have her safe. Now, though, she becomes her own person, and I have definitely found myself caring more about her because of it. Over the course of the book, we learn that she is actually a descendant of the legendary witch Falka, and is prophesied to bring about the end of the old world, and the birth of the new. We see a bit of this, when Ciri awakens her magical ability in the desert through channelling the Power through fire, with disastrous consequences. Has she really now lost all magical ability? Surely if she is such a child of prophecy, she’ll get it back? Hm.
The chapters are still very long, and the book kinda suffers for this at times, because we’ve left the story almost in tatters, with no idea whether Yennefer in particular has survived, or what’s going on. It’s almost like people are being forgotten about while the spotlight is on someone else. But I’m sure the next book will help with this, so I suppose it’s not a massive problem.
I ended up giving this story 4 out of 5 on Goodreads, even though I don’t think I really enjoyed it at the time! I think it’s definitely a compelling tale, and I think I would like to re-read the main body of the novels again when I’ve finished them, to kinda gain a better understanding of what’s going on. After reading this book, for instance, I definitely think I need to re-read those passages from book one that were talking about the kings and the politics, etc.
So yeah, weird in that I felt like I was wading through treacle at the time, but now that I’ve finished, I think there’s a good story in there!