The OF Blog: Andrzej Sapkowski, Time of Contempt (Tiempo del odio)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Andrzej Sapkowski, Time of Contempt (Tiempo del odio)

Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski's The Witcher novels have been a huge international success, with millions of copies sold in over a half-dozen translations.  In 2009, his third book (and first novel) set in the Witcher universe, Blood of the Elves, won the inaugural David Gemmell Award for Best Novel.  Despite the numerous delays for the next book to appear in English translation, the fourth volume (although only the third in English translation, as both Gollancz and Orbit inexplicably have declined to publish the second book, The Sword of Destiny, despite that collection containing the backstories of several important characters and events that are explored in greater depth in books 3-7), Time of Contempt (although Time of Hatred might be a slightly more accurate rendering of the original title; it is the literal translation of the Spanish translation, which I just finished re-reading) continues the narrative and character arcs introduced in the three previous volumes.

Time of Contempt picks up shortly after the events of Blood of Elves.  The Nilfgaard Empire has continued its invasion of the northern kingdoms.  Yennefer, the sorceress who is the Witcher Geralt of Rivera's soulmate, has decided to take Ciri, the heiress to the Kingdom of Cintra and the Child of Surprise, to the island of Thanedd, which houses three academies devoted to training adepts how to utilize their magical gifts.  Geralt, intimately linked to Ciri through bonds of destiny (established in "The Sword of Destiny" and "Something More", both found in The Sword of Destiny), has been slowly making his way through the same region when he learns that Yennefer and Ciri are nearby.  It is in this reunion, foreshadowed perhaps in "Something More," where one of the key scenes of the book transpires:

- Di algo.

- No me gustaría perderte, Yen.
- Pero si me tienes.

- Esta noche tendrá final.

No, pensó Geralt.  No quiero que sea así.  Estoy cansado.  Demasiado cansado para aceptar la perspectiva de finales que son principios, tras los que hay que comenzar otra vez de nuevo.  Yo quisiera...

- No hables. - Con un rápido movimiento, Yennefer le puso un dedo en los labios -.  No me digas lo que quieres ni lo que anhelas.  Porque podría ser que no fuera a poder cumplir tus deseos y eso me causaría daño.

- ¿Y qué es lo que tú anhelas, Yen?  ¿Con qué sueñas?

- Sólo con cosas que se pueden alcanzar.

- ¿Y conmigo?

- A ti ya te tengo.

Guardó silencio durante largo rato.  Y esperó al momento en que ella interrumpió el silencio.

- ¿Geralt?

- ¿Mmm?

-Hazme el amor, por favor. (p. 127)
"Say something."

"I wouldn't like to lose you, Yen."

"But if you have me."

"This night will be the last."

No, thought Geralt.  I don't want it to be so.  I am tired.  Too tired to accept the perception of ends that are beginnings, after which they have to begin again anew.  I wanted...

"Don't speak."  With a rapid movement, Yennefer placed a finger on his lips.  "Don't tell me what you want nor what you yearn for.  Because it could be that you aren't able to complete your wishes and that would cause me harm."

"And what is it that you yearn for, Yen?  Of what do you dream?"

"Only of things that can be obtained."

"And with me?"

"You I already have."

He kept silent for a long while.  And he awaited the moment in which she broke the silence.



"Make love to me, please."
For those readers who have read "Something More" (and for those who haven't, I translated the key passage in my earlier review), this reunion contains a poignant power because of how well Sapkowski set up Yennefer and Geralt's shared past.  Not only does it provide a thematic mirror to the earlier story collection, but it also serves as a counterpoint to the darker tone that develops throughout this volume.  As Yennefer, Ciri, and Geralt are (temporarily) reunited, the kingdoms around them collapse.  The nefarious mastermind whom the assassin Rience served in Blood of Elves is revealed and from there, at roughly the halfway point of this 272 page novel, the novel explodes into a maelstrom of action as the Nilfgaardians advance; the elvish Squirrels, the dwarves, the gnomes, and refugee humans continue to distrust and poach the weak and unwary among the others; and Ciri discovers some of the elements of her terrible power, leading to a series of surprising events that conclude this volume.

Those readers who disliked the dialogue-heavy scenes in Blood of Elves probably will not find this book to their liking.  However, for those who want to read an imaginative and character-driven Sword and Sorcery-influenced novel, then Time of Contempt will be a pleasing read.  Sapkowski explores not just the external scenic trappings, but he delves into the complex "ecological" relationships between living beings and their surroundings.  He touches upon the traumas inflicted upon individuals, families, and nations in the name of "glorious" warfare.  The "time of contempt" (I much prefer "time of hatred," as that term contains more the sense of active antipathy than does mere contempt, but since the English translation likely will be entitled Time of Contempt, I'll reluctantly employ that phrase here) are seen throughout this novel, as betrayals pile up on top of previously-buried misgivings and distrust.  It adds up to a novel that contains a depth that might not be suspected at first.   Sapkowski's ability to mix in myth (both Eastern European and Anglo-French alike) creates a narrative that moves quickly but without sacrificing the keen wit and pathos that has been a hallmark of Sapkowski's earlier Witcher stories.  If Time of Contempt were definitely being released shortly, I would recommend strongly that readers rush and pick it up.  As it stands, the publishing delays mentioned at the beginning of this review are all the more frustrating because it feels that a great narrative arc is being denied English-language monolinguals.


Lasitaja said...

The only Slavic language I know is Russian, not Polish, but I disagree anyway. 'Hatred' isn't 'pogarda' in Polish, it's 'nienawiść'. Neither Russian (Час Презрения) nor Lithuanian (Paniekos metas), nor, I guess, French (Le temps du Mépris) translated title employ the word 'hatred'.

Larry said...

That is a problem I guess with the translations, as the Spanish "odio" contains exactly the sense of odiousness, or of hatred (they have separate words for "contempt" and "disdain"). Considering what transpires toward the end of the volume, with a reference (in translation) to "los tiempos del odio", it is something far more violent than mere disdain or contempt. Thought about translating that passage, but I think it would foreshadow too much what happens later in the series.

Ausir said...

The original title is definitely "disdain" or "contempt", not "hatred".

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