NOTE: This book has not yet been released. I was given an advance reading copy by the Hachette Book Group in exchange for an honest review. This book will be out March 2019. If you wish to send me an ARC, check out this page.
AUTHOR: Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy
GENRE: science fiction / fantasy
PLOT SUMMARY: For centuries, Merlin has been caught in a cycle. He finds this cycle's King Arthur, trains him to defeat whatever evil is plaguing the world... and, inevitably, Arthur fails, dies, and leaves his knights in turmoil. As he ages backwards, Merlin sees no way this cycle can end well, but he's determined to try anyway. This cycle brings him Arthur #42 -- Ari Helix, an illegal immigrant on the run. Her galaxy is controlled by an evil corporation, Mercer, and she's spent every second of her life in hiding and in danger. But not anymore. Now, she has Merlin and his magical powers, and a sword called Excalibur... and, now, a revolution to start.
FIRST THOUGHTS: I was super-hyped when I was contacted to review this book -- I mean, it's King Arthur in SPAAAAAAAAAAAAACE. How could anyone say no to that? I have a semi-casual knowledge of the Arthurian legend (I know the usual stories and have Strong Opinions about Morgana, basically), and you all know by now that I'm trash for a good retelling. This book is a good start to what I hope will be a great series -- and a damn good reimagining of the Arthur story, too. Also, this whole book just makes me think of the "sword lesbian" meme and honestly, I love it.
THOUGHTS ON PLOT: Like I said, I only have a casual understanding of the original story, but from what I do know, this is a retelling that was clearly written by people who really, really love the King Arthur legend. And that definitely works in its favor -- it's great to see where the authors updated some aspects of the story, where they kept some things more-or-less the same, and where they were like "nah" and did their own thing. Even when separated from the Arthurian legend, it's still a good story about a ragtag bunch of misfits fighting against an evil empire -- with a bit of magic on their side, to boot. My only real complaint is that so much happens in this book, and in some parts, it goes by really, really fast. There were a few times when I was like, "...Wait, what just happened?" because the huge plot development happened so rapidly that I wasn't sure I just read what I thought I read. But, overall, this is a good opener for the series, and I look forward to seeing how it progresses in the sequels.
7 / 10
THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: Merlin and Ari are two of the most compelling and interesting protagonists I've read this year. I loved both of their character arcs, especially Merlin's. (And the fact that he's aged backwards into a grouchy teenager is just inherently hilarious to me.) Ari was hilarious, and extremely layered -- she's an impulsive teenager and focused mainly on surviving, but she's also a noble and true heroine, through-and-through. A lot of the side characters were great, though I do wish more was done with Nimue and Morgana -- especially the latter. Nimue, we didn't see much of (at least not in this installment), but Morgana, I saw just enough that I was intrigued by her as an antagonist and as a character in general, so I was disappointed when her arc wasn't played out as fully or as three-dimensionally as it could've been.
7 / 10
THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: This has some laugh-out-loud hilarious narration, both in chapters following Ari and chapters following Merlin. And, as noted above, I got extremely attached to all the characters very quickly. I haven't read anything else from either of these authors, but I'm definitely interested in reading more of their work now. My biggest complaint with the writing is the pacing. As much as I liked this book and enjoyed the plot, I will admit that the pacing is sort of a mess. A lot of the action goes by far too quickly, and a lot of dramatic moments either happen offscreen or are glossed over, which makes it hard for them to have an emotional impact. I feel like this book could've used another round of edits to make it the best it could've been.
7 / 10
THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: What drew me to this book in the first place were the words "King Arthur as a queer teenage girl." And let me tell you, the politics in this book is a gift that just keeps on giving. We have so much representation for queer identities and people of color, and as a bonus, the entire plot can be summed up as "King Arthur kills capitalism with a sword." All the minorities are nuanced and respectfully portrayed, and there's even a discussion on cissexism and how stupid it is. Other authors should take notes -- this is the sort of representation I want to see.
10 / 10
FINAL THOUGHTS: I'm so glad I was able to close my 2018 reading with such a good one! Once this hits the shelves, I don't doubt that it'll find its fanbase very quickly. I, for one, will be waiting eagerly for the second book. Whether you're familiar with the Arthurian legend or not, I think you'll enjoy this fun, fantastical space adventure. (And, authors, if you're reading this -- I certainly would not say no to an ARC of book the second.)
FINAL GRADE: 7.5 / 10
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If you've read or are planning to read Once & Future, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
A special thanks to Diana from the Hachette Book Group for reaching out to me and sending me this ARC! As my review above shows, I really enjoyed it.