Tuesday, February 10, 2009

“Quondam” by Jayel Gibson

Title: “Quondam”
Author: Jayel Gibson
Series: Book 4, Ancient Mirror Tales series
Genre: Heroic Fantasy
Pages: 328
Publisher: Synergy Books

Summary: A murderous queen:
Bound in mortal flesh by an angry god, a once ethereal nymph murders Quondam’s king and seizes the throne. All who do not bow before her die in the agony that is dragons’ breath. But, there is threat of a challenger to this brutal reign, a legend’s promised savior. Fearful, Queen Karid has the suspect captured, condemned and sentenced to an eternity alone.

A condemned dragonspawn:
Born of man and magick, cursed at birth by his terrified mother, a young
Dragonspawn is branded a demon, a threat to Quondam’s queen, and sentenced to a millennium of solitude. His only freedom now found in dreams, he searches among a universe of sleepers for a woman born beneath the sign of the dragon, a woman believed to hold the key to his release.

And the woman thrust between them:
Her family and homeland destroyed by an otherworldly assassin’s fire, Cwen of Aaradan, niece of the Dragon Queen, escapes through a mysterious portal into Quondam. There, Cwen discovers her fate and an imprisoned dragonspawn’s are intertwined in ways that will drag her, heartbroken and vengeful, into the midst of a devastating war.

With the help of an elder wizard, and the sorceresses B’rma and N’dia, the dragonspawn and Cwen of Aaradan embark on an epic journey to undo the folly of a god, stop the mad nymph queen, and return peace and magick to a war torn world.

Classification & Literary Class: I never imagined I would read a novel from this subgenre of fantasy and it not be published before the transition towards urban fiction. Heroic Fantasy is simple enough, uses elements from High Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery genres, but within its simplicity lays the greatest trap. Have a protagonist of royal blood on a quest to save his land from an evil usurper sounds like easy enough to get right, but not few have managed to screw it up. My greatest concern was whether this would pull through or sink into cliché.

Thankfully it didn’t. But first there a couple of things I would like to mention. Even though “Quondam” is already a number four in this series, there is no cause for concern. It is self contained and can be read as a standalone. I find Heroic fantasy, because it translates direct life into a story. Fighting battle, purging evil, suffering defeats and then earning victories until you take the throne. It’s all an allusion of our life path until you find your own spot under the sun and come into your own right.

However it all works well in theory and can hardly be achieved these days. Again I say, thankfully Gibson manages to avoid the obvious tropes and clichés. The quest for justice is refreshed with slight moderations here and there, but keeping the spirit of the genre, so that fans can find the good old thrills as well as something new. Gibson pays attention to the ups and downs, shows euphoria at the victory over small foes and the crisis of heart, when nothing is certain as well as asking all those fundamental questions beneath the magic, magic creatures and battles with swords. The plot’s driving force instead of being the legends and prophecies falls on the characters, which lead to some interesting turns. The prose isn’t the best in the world, but it stays true to the tone of the genre and conveys the medieval feel. The strength here is that “Quondam” tells an adventurous story and the same time speaks to the reader through his/her own experiences.

Characters & Depth: I won’t get in great detail about characters here. I found all to my fancy. Some play greater part in the happening, some do not, but when you look at them, you can’t say that they are two dimensional. They interact between each other; they have their own goals and questions of their own to answer, prove something to themselves and set doubts to rest. There is diversity in tempers and worldviews, which also enhances the story and raises interest. Best of all like real people they make mistakes; they lie and do things before thinking driven by deep emotions. Of course each character stands for an idea and a human archetype. The protagonist D’raekn portrays the man on a crossroad, while Cwen is the woman with hollow heart, devastated by life. What’s not to like. Plus the authenticity is spot on. The line that stuck with me goes like this: “Why am I surrounded by the dimwitted?” You know the modern expression and you see how smoothly it is translated into the time and spirit of the novel.

Now I know that people are already fed up with love and romance being thrown everywhere, so to the people, who are already irritated not a single relationship in a novel these days looks real, I say “Here it is done decent.” Gibson does it the way it naturally happens. Two people meet and interact, become friends, then friends with benefits and before they know it and can admit to themselves they are in deep love. There is not a love at first sight or manic possessive behavior that leads to bickering. Love is a bumpy ride with no road map to show you the short cuts to happiness. I think “Quondam” does this idea justice.

Worldbuilding & Believability: Since this is a Heroic fantasy you will get a lot from the same tropes. I am talking about enchanted weapons, cryptic artifacts left with no apparent purpose, special gifts that must be gathered on a typical quest. You can’t escape from these things, even if you want to. But a lot more can be expected. Quondam as a world offers different magical races that play a vital part in the legend to free the land from evil. There are omens, curses and blessings that have set the turmoil in motion, which also tie every element to another. The world is organic and it interacts with the story, both remaining flexible. With one word, it’s not that bad.

The Verdict: The greatest compliment that can be said for “Quondam” is that it’s not predictable the way most books are. And I am not talking about the ending itself, I am talking about the way the characters will reach the ending. For there were some interesting turns and that is a good enough reason to recommend it. Other than this the pacing was right. It built steadily to the climax and the story had me totally oblivious to the technicalities and if there were small details that I didn’t like they faded in the bigger picture. The novel is worth the shot.

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