‘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.
I’m a huge fan of retellings of myths and legends, and Once & Future is quite possibly the best that I’ve read in a long time, for the manner in which it approaches the story doesn’t just take characters and put them in a different era or setting, but threads its narrative all the way back to the original, using the idea of reincarnation (something else I love stories about) and ongoing ‘cycles’ of the story to explore different outcomes in different times, which have impacted important figures in the narrative and affect the decisions they make in the cycle that they find themselves in.
Ari is the 42nd reincarnation of King Arthur and from a planet that has been sealed away from the rest of the galaxy by the Mercer Company, who make it their business to make sure that people and planets are completely dependent on them for everything that they need and are unable to escape their influence without severe consequences, the concept of today’s consumer society expanded upon in a frightening and worryingly real manner. Ari has so far managed to stay under the radar, thanks firstly to her adoptive mothers and then largely to her brother, until her curiosity gets the better of her and leads to an incident in which she unwittingly finds Excalibur, awakening Merlin, who has more than a handful of his own troubles to deal with, among which numbers Morgana. And so begins the ‘cycle’, wherein it is Merlin’s job to ensure Ari’s safety, undertake her training and attempt to have her unite all peoples. Which happens to be exactly what Mercer does not want.
The society presented in Once & Future is one that accepts the spectrum of sexuality and gender without question, which, to my mind, is one of the strongest elements of the story and the universe created. More than one character is known to have had – or have – relationships with more than one gender, whether sexual or otherwise, and the inclusion of asexuality and gender fluidity is something that we don’t see enough of in YA fiction (or fiction in general). Ari and Gwen’s relationship is one of my favourites in all that I’ve read over the past few years and is something that I hope to see explored further in future instalments. I really want to say a lot about these two, but I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, so I’ll have to settle for saying that both of them are wonderfully clever, stubborn, flawed and fallible, and I adore them.
Once & Future has just enough exposition for the reader to quickly grasp the elements of the universe in which the story is set, particularly from Merlin’s side of things, without information overload or giving away too much. It strikes an effective balance between action and character development, never leaving any one character out of the narrative for so long that they become insignificant. There always seems to be something happening, which is good in terms of keeping a decent pace, though it also sometimes requires a little reading back to make sure all the threads of the narrative are clear. One of the many things that Once & Future does very well is make it easy to empathise with its characters and quickly grow to care for them. Though the universe that Ari and co live in has many elements that are much more ideal than our own, there is also much that’s identifiable about our own world, such as how the Mercer company chooses to treat and manipulate multiple peoples, its discriminatory and frankly abhorrent behaviour highlighting worrying truths about the world in which we live and how the future threatens to be.
I absolutely loved Once & Future and just couldn’t put it down, to the extent that I truly resented any interruptions to my reading! Thank you so much to Rock the Boat for sending me a copy! If you’d like to pick up a copy of Once & Future (and I highly recommend that you do), it hits the shelves in March this year!