Once & Future (Once & Future #1), by Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy
Publish Date: March 26, 2019
Published by: Jimmy Patterson Books/Little, Brown and Company
Genre: YA Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Retelling
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)
**I received this as an egalley from the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.**
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.
So this book has been on my TBR since the moment I first heard about it. King Arthur retelling, space setting, and LGBTQ+ representation out the wazoo? It sounded perfect. And it almost was. While this book started off in a bit of a not-so-great spot and had me feeling iffy about going forward with it, by the time I finished it I had a million smiles on my face and a new gay puppy magician to love. Told in alternate point-of-views of Ari (King Arthur reincarnation #42) and Merlin (same one, younger body), this book is full of action, mildly steamy romance, diverse characters and a plot that takes you near and far in an adventure to mirror one of the many quests of King Arthur himself.
First of all, I loved Merlin. The take on him in this story was excellent and gave him such a new dynamic. I’ll admit, I only have a vague recollection of The Once and Future King by T. H. White from reading it in high school, so most of my impression of what Merlin is like is actually based on the TV show. So for this book, I did not really have much of a conception of his personality, and was thus treated to seeing him anew and discovering how he views himself and his own flaws. I greatly enjoyed getting to watch Merlin’s character growth as he discovered a group of Arthur-lings (the reincarnations of Arthur and the other important characters in his story that follow him in each incarnation) that he actually wants to hold onto and become a family with, while also seeing glimpse into his past and how much he has grown and changed since the first Arthur. With his bright personality juxtaposed by his own personal regrets and fears, this Merlin stood out on the page in more ways than one. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for his perspective chapters, I might have put this book down a lot earlier. He drew me in from the moment he appeared in this book, and captured my heart through to the end.
Ari, on the other hand, I had some major trouble with in the beginning. Her chapters were….blunt, to best put it. Things happened. She emoted. She did things without thinking it through. It was more than a little annoying. Gradually, I grew to understand her as more of her background was shown and she grew into herself and her role in the universe a bit more. I don’t know if I ever truly empathized with her as much as I did Merlin, but I appreciated her as a character by the end.
One of the things that stood out were the relationships in this book. My favorites had to have been Merlin and Ari’s relationship and Ari and Kay’s. Merlin and Ari just clicked so well from the start and I loved how much they cared for and relied on each other. It was just so sweet and enjoyable to read whenever Ari called him “my magician.” And then Ari and Kay’s siblingship was just simply wonderful. From the start their brother-sister relationship was strong and only grew stronger as the story progressed and more of their history was shown over the course of it. There were some moments that cause pain and hurt, of course, because no silbing relationship is perfect, but in the long run it was a relationship that was strong on the page and strong in the characters’ hearts.
On the flipside, the Gwen-Ari relationship was a bit of a dud for me. I had no clue what they were about for the longest time that it honestly angered me at times. Three chapters into the book and they are suddenly getting married? After a brief mention of having fought a lot when they were younger, the slight impression that they may have made out once before, the two of them decide to get married for political reasons (which is fair I suppose) but they act like they’ve been in love for ages. And it’s like this for the majority of the book – absolutely almost no background to their relationship whatsoever. There are a couple of more hints here and there, but the most that is given isn’t until the end, and even then I felt like it wasn’t enough. I wanted to know more, see more moments of Ari remembering a moment Gwen and she shared, or a fight they had, or just…something. At one moment Gwen says that she is in love with her and I just…why, why are you in love with her? How did you get to that point? I felt like I was told “well she’s the Gweneviere to her Arthur so yeah they’re in love. What else do you need?” Considering all the past-growth we got for Ari and Kay? A lot more than what was given.
Okay, enough of the characters. Now, the plot itself was really fun and kept me engaged for the whole story. In the beginning I felt a little confused here and there as the world was built up, but by the time I was a quarter of the way through I felt I understood things fairly well. The Big Bad was a decent construct, one that has merit in its origins and in the way it controls the population of the universe. I felt that things happened a little fast at first, moving from one local to another almost instantly, and then things escalating fairly quickly as well (see Gwen and Ari’s marriage), but in the over-arcing storyline it definitely kept the pace moving and the action flowing.
I think the only thing I was a little iffy about was the concept of Lionel and their era-inspired planet. Everything there is based on medieval life, including their “knight camp” which Ari and her friends attended when they were younger and as far as I could tell was kind of an obnoxious way to have them already sort of be knights with some actual sword training despite the fact that they live in the future and fly spaceships everywhere. It just seemed a little…easy, I guess is the only word I can think of right now.
In the end though, I really did end up enjoying it, and I am glad I continued reading it for Merlin’s sake. If it hadn’t been for him I wouldn’t have discovered that I did actually enjoy the rest of the characters and their relationships with one another, watching romances bloom and friendships grow stronger. I am still bitter about the lack of history for Gwen and Ari’s relationship, though, and even what I was given didn’t feel like enough for me. And there were some issues in the beginning that had me a little wary of the story in the long-run. But once past those problems, the story is fun and enjoyable, with a great cast of diverse characters, lots of action and angst, and of course, magic. Definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.