I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.
Now I’m done hiding.
My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.
When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.
**** Huge thank you to Jimmy Patterson Books / Little Brown Books For Young Readers for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! ****
**** Trigger Warnings: Mentioned Sexual Assault, Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, & Misgendering. ALL challenged and corrected on page! ****
“You are one with King Arthur, and your destiny awaits.”
I have a lot of mixed feelings about “Once & Future”, it’s a good book and definitely gets a ton of points for all of the diversity. But at the same time it just wasn’t quite interesting enough, something was missing for me. However, I definitely think it’s worth checking out but just not quite what I was expecting.
This is a YA sci-fi genderbent retelling of the Arthurian legend (ahem, King Arthur) and it does a fantastic job of making it feel really unique and fun. Merlin is tasked with finding and training a new Arthur reincarnation each “cycle” to defeat the greatest evil and unite humankind, and all the while he ages backwards. It’s a really creative premise that’s for sure and it delivers it well. It was a lot of fun picking out all of the “Arthur” characters and references but it isn’t necessary to have prior knowledge at all since Merlin does a fantastic job of explaining it throughout the story.
There’s definitely plenty of action and a few twists that keep things interesting but overall it was hard to really “get into”. I felt that the pacing and timing were both really off, there were very inconsistent time jumps and gaps in the story that made things feel really rushed. This also made it hard to truly care about events and characters because it just jumped around through everything the entire time.
The writing was full of comedy and overall very fun feeling, however, I felt this was kind of odd considering a lot of the very heavy-hitting events. Granted you should have humor to lighten the mood but it felt strange that no matter what happened the writing continued in this tone. It made things feel less serious and impactful when they clearly should have felt this way and much less silly.
The characters were what made things more fun though, they were likable and very diverse! As I already mentioned in the trigger warnings above there are some scenes with homophobia, racism, and misgendering. However, every single one is challenged and corrected on page and it was done so in a very respectful manner. I have to say it was amazing to see such an inclusive cast of characters!
Ari, is our 42nd reincarnation of Arthur and the main character. She is of Arabic descent (called Ketchan in the space-y future), is pansexual, has two mothers, and enters a F/F romance in the story.
Merlin, our other main character, is precious and tons of fun. He’s easily my favorite character and he’s gay!
Kay is Ari’s adoptive big brother and as far as I can tell is a cis white male.
Gwen (Guinevere) is Ari’s love interest, queen of a planet, and she is either pansexual or bisexual (it’s never stated which).
Lam (Lamarack) is one of Ari’s “knights”/friends and is described as having dark skin and is genderfluid.
Val (Percival) is Lam’s brother, also has dark skin, and he is either pansexual or bisexual (it’s never stated which but he is Merlin’s love interest).
Jordan (I’m not stating which knight she is to avoid spoilers) is one of Gwen’s trusted knights, is a total badass, and she is also asexual.
Morgana, like Merlin, is very similar to her Arthurian legend counterpart but she’s pretty awesome.
Overall my only problem with the characters was that I felt I didn’t really get to know any of them on more than a superficial level. This was related to the pacing and time jump issue, there just wasn’t enough depth with each character for me to truly feel connected or to really care about what happened to them. They were fun and they were diverse but they just weren’t complex enough for my tastes.
There is quite a bit of romance in this book but it never overshadows the plot and while it’s important to the story it didn’t feel overbearing at any point. Ari and Gwen are love interests as well as Merlin and Val. So we get two queer romances! Well, three if you’d like to count Ari and Kay’s two mothers which I mean yes we will count them too even though we don’t see much of them. So three queer romances! That’s awesome!
No insta-love but I wouldn’t say they were slow burn either, they’re just sort of in the middle. Both romances were pretty adorable but I wouldn’t say I was super invested in them either, which is probably because I didn’t feel attached to the characters in the first place. I will say there is one particular trope involving Ari and Gwen’s romance that I really strongly disliked but I want to avoid spoilers so I will not state exactly what it was. I just really hate the trope and wish they hadn’t written it in at all. I understand why it was written in but they easily could have went about it a different way and not included this particular trope….
What I Loved:
- Diverse cast of characters featuring POC and LGTBQ+ characters
- It’s a sci-fi genderbent King Arthur retelling, it’s super unique and delivers it well
- So many queer romances! (Two F/F and one M/M) that didn’t overshadow the main story
- Overall a very fun story, with plenty of comedy and light-hearted moments
- Homophobia, racism, sexism, and misgendering all challenged and corrected on page
What I Didn’t Love:
- Pacing wasn’t very even
- There are a lot of gaps in the timeline of the story which left things feeling a bit messy and confusing at times
- While I did enjoy how fun the writing was there were times where it didn’t really feel appropriate for the more serious situations
- Characters could have used a lot more depth and complexity
- That one dang romance trope that I won’t be specific about because of spoilers!
Overall I’m very “in the middle” with my feelings about this book. It’s a fun read and it kept me entertained for the most part and I LOVED the inclusive cast of characters, it really can’t be said enough. It’s also a sci-fi genderbent Arthur retelling, so what’s not to love there? But there were some issues with the time gaps, pacing, and overall complexity and tone of the book. However, it’s still FUN! I definitely recommend checking this book out, just because it wasn’t a perfect book for me doesn’t mean it won’t be for you!
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Wonderful and balanced review, and I appreciate you explaining a bit about the premise of the retelling because I had no idea how they were going to approach this… the premise is really interesting! I am sorry it didn’t really work for you but it’s great that you found so much positive in the book. I’m looking forward to reading it eventually myself.
Great review! I’m so glad to see someone got to read it! I just added it to my TBR earlier today