Quondam by Jayel Gibson (An Ancient Mirrors Tale)

Quondam - adjective - former; onetime

Quondam is the fourth and final instalment in Jayel Gibson's Ancient Mirrors fantasy series. The story centres on Cwen, who finds herself transported to another world, to become engulfed in a war to dethrone an evil queen and restore magick and peace to Quondam.

Quondam is, at heart, a love story set in a fantasy world. The two characters that take centre stage are Cwen and the dragonspawn, a beauty and a not-so-beastly beast. The book follows their destinies as they battle the evil queen Karid and the events cover many months and spans two worlds. The story started well, the reading was easy and the glossary and pronunciations (this was a nice touch) helped a great deal. The pace is quick, there are no dull moments and the energy of the book reminded me of David Farland's Runelords series. The plot is linear, other than the necessary prologue.

The main character is Cwen and I am sorry to say that I never warmed to her throughout the book. She behaved like a spoilt child and there was little to find likeable about her. Jayel Gibson does describe the characters well, maybe too well, as the author herself uses words like “selfish” and “pigheaded” when describing Cwen, pretty much mirroring my own opinions. The character of Cwen does changes massively midway through the book and my initial feelings towards her are tempered, as her ordeals are simply horrendous.

Quondam is written in the third person style and this worked well as the story features two pivotal leads and this style of narrative allows for the seamless switching between the characters. Quondam is set in the medieval style favoured in the fantasy genre, it was very easy to imagine and portrayed with attention to detail. Quondam is a decent story, good solid fantasy fare that does not get bogged down at any time; the narrative continually drives it along without any unnecessary preamble.

Cwen woke from her dream of the hooded man with a pounding headache and the coppery taste of blood in her mouth. She tried to rise, crying out at the blinding pain and gut-wrenching nausea that threatened to overwhelm her. Without lifting her head, she took quick, shallow breaths, swallowed the bitter taste of bile, and opened her eyes to find feet – grey, three-toed, and filthy – standing inches from her face.

From: Quondam: Chapter 3

The fantasy genre has long been bereft of strong female characters and Jayel Gibson likes to feature “strong female characters who do not hesitate to stand up for themselves”. This is something she has certainly achieved but I'm not sure if it has necessarily worked.  Steven Erikson, Robin Hobb, David Gemmell and Philip Pullman have also addressed the decades-long imbalance in the genre by providing remarkable and wonderful female characters but the major problem with Cwen, the central character here, is that she is impossible to like. Almost everything about her aggravates; Jayel Gibson seems to have taken all the bad points from the macho fantasy books of yesteryear and turned them upside down and we now have very strong female characters but one dimensional, often ridiculous males. The best, and most successful, fantasy books of recent times have created a perfect equality between the male and female characters and this is what the genre needed and has greatly benefited from.

If I had to compare Quondam to anything else I have read, other than David Farland's work, I would say David Gemmell as both authors have a love of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon cultures and this shows in their work. I would recommend Quondam to those looking for romantic fantasy with strong female characters.

7/10 A romantic fantasy with strong female characters.

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