Ari has lived her life on the run as an illegal immigrant from Ketch. She and her brother Kay have laid low after their moms were taken by the Mercer Corporation—a corporation that practically rules the entire galaxy.
But, when Ari and Kay land on Old Earth while on the run from Mercer and Ari pulls out Excalibur from a tree, their time laying low comes to an end as Ari, Kay, and more of their friends are dragged into a quest to start a revolution against Mercer and unite the galaxy.
CW: description of rape (happened in the King Arthur tale, not graphic but still about a paragraph’s length)
I came into Once & Future with as few expectations as possible. And I walked out with so many high expectations for the next novel (!!!).
Before starting this, I saw some mixed ratings floating around, and made the wise decision of scrolling past them on Goodreads as quickly as I could to stop that from harming my reading experience. (My mood is very impressionable, unfortunately.)
And although I think Once & Future had its flaws—it was also pretty damn good. I had fun, and there was so much heart in this book and so much to love.
At its core, Once & Future has a lot of heart.
In both its characters and story, there’s just so much to love about this book.
I think something that I forget to think about with books is just how much they appeal to readers outside of pure entertainment. The cast of characters is so diverse—and in a futuristic space setting, it’s just a big bundle of inclusivity. (Except for the bad corporations, but even then, there’s not really discrimination based on sex/religion/race/etc., it’s “oh look people rebelling, let’s kill them.”)
And, frankly, it was a really refreshing read in the way that I didn’t have to watch people suffer based on who they were, we got to watch them suffer because they were fighting evil corporations. (Not to say that books that do show this are bad, but this was a nice moment where I could just bury myself under all the openly queer characters and accepting nature of everyone in the novel.)
Ari & Gwen are bi or pan, Lam is fluid, Merlin is gay, and Jordan is ace so we get to see a whole giant cast of queer characters, and no one suffering because of their queerness! It was wonderful and just really refreshing.
Because even further than their on-page rep was the fact that we got a few sexy scenes & talk of sex (nothing really explicit) and I love how Capetta & McCarthy are normalizing queer teens having sex. I think this is something that the YA lit out there needs given the sheer amount of straight sex (from the hinted to the SJM explicit-ness) in the category (especially in a non-fetishization way, which has historically happened with m/m).
Plus, besides the amount of diversity, this book had a lot of heart in the way that I cared about the characters & found them endearing. Merlin was my personal favorite (he’s like a grumpy grandpa) and even though he’s seen centuries, Merlin was still super relatable as an old-wizard who aged backwards to the point of being a teenager. I had fun and I liked reading Ari and Merlin’s points of view (third person, still).
I cared about them and their stories, which was really nice.
It’s definitely still quite entertaining.
Once & Future is definitely a hefty book, but it doesn’t fail to entertain.
Although there might have been a few moments when I felt like a scene could have been shortened, there wasn’t anything really noticeable like a lagging middle (aka my worst enemy). A lot was happening and the story and characters kept moving forward.
And I especially liked how even though the characters might not have known their goal at first, they eventually found it and still had mini short term goals that led them to this big, over-arching goal of the book and series. This is really what helped the story move along as when they tried to accomplish small things, it brought them closer to the large thing, even if they didn’t know what the large thing was.
Also, SPACE! King Arthur as a girl! Merlin as a teenage boy! The premise is very enticing, and the worldbuilding helped keep the reader entertained. It didn’t infodump, especially given how this isn’t like, too complicated of a futuristic world in space, so immersing the reader in the world ended up being helpful and not cumbersome.
I did feel like some of the relationships could have used more development on-page.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what made me not click 100% with Once & Future, but I think I’ve figured it out:
Some of the characters’ relationships were developed off-page, and I just wanted more on-page stuff.
It’s better if I explain with an example: A lot of Gwen and Ari’s chemistry ended up being largely influenced by their history as 14 year olds in summer camp. And Once & Future never shows us their time together as 14 year olds, but rather as older teens. So I wanted to see the chemistry happen on page, but ultimately it was something of the past and didn’t unfold I front of the reader.
This happens with some of the other backstories—honestly most of the characters have known each other for a while, so I just felt like we were missing out a bit.
I don’t know how Capetta and McCarthy would have made this work though, which is why I do feel a bit bad criticizing the book for this, but I just wanted to be shown more of the relationships developed rather than be told that they developed.
Overall, I think it’s worth a shot.
Once & Future is a well-written book featuring a very queer cast of characters and lots of action and space adventure. I’m a fan, and I’m excited to read what happens in the sequel next year!
Thank you so much to Jimmy Patterson Books for providing me with an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review!