A new war is threatening to erupt between the Northern Kingdoms and the Empire of Nilfgaard. Sorcerers are gathering on the island of Thanedd to decide on their position. A young woman guarding a power she cannot control is in the care of a sorceress, whilst the Witcher, Geralt, is fighting off threats to her life. These are perilous times for the Continent.
Time of Contempt is the fourth book (and second full-length novel) in the Witcher series by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Following directly on from the events of Blood of Elves, the novel follows several storylines in close parallel. Numerous factions are still trying to capture or kill Ciri, the princess and only heir of fallen Cintra. Ciri is in the protection of the sorceress Yennefer, who is also trying to navigate the perils of both international and sorcerous politics. The situation also draws in Geralt, who has been trying to protect Ciri from afar, and puts all three of our protagonists in jeopardy when all-out chaos erupts.
Time of Contempt is an improvement over Blood of Elves, which felt like a very long prologue for the rest of the story. That story really gets underway in Time of Contempt, which mixes character development (particularly Ciri becoming less impetuous), international politics, war and action. If Blood of Elves didn't feel complete as a novel, Time of Contempt is more successful in that area, with a distinct battery of storylines and subplots which further the overall narrative.
There are some issues. In order for the chaos at Thanedd to really land, the reader should already be familiar with many of the wizards involved from their (oft-brief) appearances in the opening two short stories collections, The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny. In fact, several more events during the story only really landed with the appropriate emotional weight because I was familiar with the characters from their chronologically later appearances in The Witcher 3 video game. In the absence of that familiarity, I think the events of this storyline might be much less effective.
Once the book straightens itself out it does get more compelling, and the concluding section which is effectively a solo adventure for Ciri as she crosses a desert and finds a new band of companions feels like the opening of a bold new storyline for her, one that is cut short by the novel not so much concluding in a thematic or dramatically appropriate way, but just ending as if Sapkowski was working to a strict page count deadline. The storyline continues fairly directly into Baptism of Fire.
Time of Contempt (****) is an improvement over the previous Witcher novel and features some very good plot and character development. If it has a weakness, it's that it feels a bit too short and in fact I think the series may have benefited from being released as four fat omnibuses rather than eight shorter novels. Nevertheless, it is another solid installment in the series. It is available now in the UK and USA.