Review: Once and Future (Once and Future, #1) by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

Find Arthur
Train Arthur
Nudge Arthur onto the nearest throne
Defeat the greatest evil in the world
Unite all of mankind
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ (A little disappointing, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.)

What’s This Book About?

Genre: Science-Fiction Fantasy Retelling

Synopsis: When Ari Helix, a interplanetary fugitive refugee, 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 Mercer, the cruel, oppressive corporate government and bring peace and equality to a united humankind.

What I Thought:

I really wanted to love this book. It had all the makings of a stellar (*ahem*) novel:
– Arthurian retelling
– queer af: gender-bent One True King (I actually really did like that Ari is still titled ‘King’ even though she’s female), with a sapphic ArWen romance and did I mention GAY MERLIN!
– set in SPACE

This gif encapsulates my anticipation for this book:
description

But, alas, the stars did not align for me and this book. (Sorry, I’ll stop.) Overall, it was entertaining, but I wasn’t emotionally invested, nor did I feel that its full narrative potential was exploited.

The only characters I cared about were Merlin and Morgana, one of whom had a criminally brutal, glossed-over Big Moment™ and they deserved BETTER – they’re both ancient, with complex personalities and motives woven through heavy history with all the Arthurs and each other. But you can’t rely on millennia of backstory for your character development! It’s meant to happen over the course of the book. I did see some with Ari (thank GOD because she’s the MAIN CHARACTER), but I struggled to get a handle on her character beyond: Impulsive. Stubborn. Super into Gweneviere (which was alternatingly cute and cringey). And that’s not enough for me to dispense emotional real-estate on this MC. Ari’s backstory had so much potential: it was suitably traumatic, mysterious and sets up her righteous vendetta against Mercer…maybe it’ll be expanded on in The Sword in the Stars.

This book does represent a wide range of ethnicities, sexual orientations and identities, which is definitely a point in its favour. I liked that on the medieval-themed holiday-planet Lionel, they recognised what aspects of medieval history were worth honouring and what should be left in the past, e.g. racism, sexism and homophobia. Ari is of Arab descent, there are plenty of openly gender-fluid, gay and asexual people around, and gay royal marriage is universally recognised. That was definitely a win.

description

However, despite all the LGBTQ+ victories, some issues plaguing humanity today haven’t yet been overcome: namely poverty and corporate greed – this time on an interstellar level. I liked that there was a realistic view of how the protagonists actions affect her environment, such as the intergalactic economy, and negotiations take place with the Big Bad, rather than a boom-rebellion-done-and-dusted scenario that’s meant to solve everything. There was also no shying away from the ugliest faces of civilisation.

The plot was rather disjointed and unevenly paced, with quite a lot of planet-hopping, fluctuating goals and either not a lot happening or everything at once. Speaking of everything happening at once – that climax alone brought my rating up an entire star. It was full of shocking twists…why do so many books (e.g. Three Dark Crowns, Shadow and Bone, Throne of Glass etc.) wait until the last 25% to really bring the thunder?!

All in all, this was a diverse, surprisingly original take on the Arthurian legend. Despite some reservations, I still got a few laughs out of this and I’ll probably have a look at The Sword in the Stars when it comes out. (Mostly to see how the Mordred vs Ari storyline plays out!)

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