I think it’s easy for me to say that Once & Future was a great re-telling full of unique and diverse characters. I knew I had to pick it up not only because of the authors, but also because of the praise I kept hearing about.
I’ve been chased my whole life. As an illegal immigrant 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.
(Disclaimer: I received this free book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
There were so many elements about Once & Future that I really loved: the characters, theme of found family, and the sibling relationship between Ari and Kay. It’s one of those books you walk away from thinking, “I loved all the things Capetta and McCarthy did in this story: combining diverse characters, a gender bent King Arthur, and spaceships”. And so for these aspects alone it deserves these stars.
From the beginning, what really drew me to Once & Future were the characters. I knew to expect a super inclusive cast of characters and I wasn’t wrong! There were gender fluid, gay, pansexual, asexual, biracial, black, and brown characters. And just seeing them all populate this science fiction story, but also a gender bent King Arthur was beyond satisfying. What makes it more wonderful, was that Ari is adopted by Kay and his moms.
So even though I didn’t expect it, this element stole the show for me. I found her relationship with Kay to be tender and emotional. The way they are siblings, but also the small ways in which Ari still feels a little separate from them. Not only with Ari’s adoption, the theme of found family is incredibly important both in the notion of the round table, but also in her own family.
Merlin stresses that the round table is supposed to be about cooperation, but also the relationships they form with each other – a great example of a found family. And yes, while some of our family members can betray us, these relationship have the ability to make us stronger. This is mirrored in the fact that Ari’s biggest weakness is her connection to others, because they are used as pawns to manipulate her. But with these connections, also comes the ability to be able to have others you can rely on to help. Within the pages of Once & Future we see the highs and lows, the pros and cons, of all relationships.
An element I really appreciated in McCarthy and Capetta’s retelling is Merlin’s perspective. Yes I love Ari and she was the main hook for me to sink my teeth into. But I found Merlin’s depth, and perspective, important for giving the book more color. I don’t want to spoil too much of the reveal of Merlin, Arthur, and the other main character’s reveal, but it’s really fun to see how they play into (and out of) their roles.
At the end of the day, what are we willing to sacrifice for our friends, love, our people, the future? Can we really atone for our mistakes in the past? And are we really able to break from our stories, from our fate, to achieve something more?
If you’re searching for a diverse and fun gender bent retelling, Once & Future is definitely for you. There are plenty of pop culture references and you’ll switch from laughing to tearing up. It is full of surprises and the end will probably make you emotional for all sorts of reasons. At the same time, an element that I hope is further developed in book two, is the element of Mercer and the corruption. Ari and her friends have a quest, like all good heroes, and in her case the powers at be are a lot more technologically advanced and terrifying than you might expect.