I requested a review copy of Once & Future from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was so thrilled when it showed up in my mailbox! The cover is seriously beautiful, and what’s between the covers is amazing too! I absolutely loved it, and I think it will speak to anyone looking for more LGBTQIAB+ characters in their reading.
So full disclosure, I don’t consider myself a huge fan of Arthurian Legend. My experience with King Arthur and his knights are the board game Shadows Over Camelot (which is amazing, highly recommend), the Disney film The Sword in the Stone, and of course Monty Python and the Holy Grail. As somewhat of an Arthurian novice, I didn’t find myself lost in the story at all. It does reference several events and characters from the original Legend, so I think having a deeper knowledge could add to the reading experience. I also think it will be possible to love the book with almost no knowledge of Arthur or his knights.
Let’s talk more about those knights. The Arthur character, Ari, quickly accrues a set of friends both intentionally and unintentionally to aid her on her quest. She is constantly pulled toward certain actions by unseen forces, which is both a boon and a burden for her. Her knights do have names in common with the knights from the original tale. You have Kay, Lamarack, Percival, & of course Gwen. At times I did find this a bit odd in a futuristic setting, but it also added to the air of frivolity in the book. There are more non-straight characters than not. I think there is 1 named straight character in the entire book. I didn’t feel like the authors were just checking boxes on a diversity check list, as I sometimes do. The gender and sexual identity of the characters felt like a pretty natural part of who they were. It was never used as a plot twist either, which is of course great.
The plot of Once & Future is so fast-paced and high action. Almost immediately, it is apparent that Ari & co. are not going to have an easy ride through space. The plotting was the only major aspect of the book I struggled with at all. Both Ari & Merlin have POV chapters and at times the POV shift between the two included huge shifts in time and/or space. It would take me a couple of pages to determine exactly where the story had flung me next, but it did serve to keep the story moving very quickly.
As with any Arthurian tale, there is a force of evil to overcome in Once & Future. In this case, it takes on the guise of an evil corporation who closely regulates the resources of many planets worth of people. They place unfair regulations on their citizens, yet insist that they are neither good nor evil. This flagrant monopoly leads to whole planets of people wanting for food, water, and the ability to care for their families. No one will rise up for fear of being carted to the nearest prison planet. Until Ari gives them a rallying point. You can’t help but see the current American political climate echoed in the oppression in this book. Whole planets of people are mistreated because they look different, or speak a different language. A central theme in the book is finding a way to unite humanity because of those differences, not in spite of them. It was really empowering to me, and I think a lot of readers will be inspired by this message.
There will be a sequel, which I did not know going into the book. I definitely plan on reading it, though you can almost read this as a standalone. The last few pages were a bit surprising to me.
I definitely recommend adding this one to your TBR, and picking up a copy on March 5th. If you need to laugh with characters that feel like old friends and some sci-fi hijinks, this is the book for you.