Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved this book. To me, this was such a perfect YA story. Honestly, there’s so much to unpack.
I’m always a bit wary of YA because sometimes they feel so young. I was not disappointed in this story. While everyone was a teen, on the cusp, or just past being teen, everything was very raw and real. It did not sugarcoat the real issues we all go through at a young adult age. Sex, love, loss, etc. All are handled in a very real way that had me really feeling for all of these characters.
I enjoyed all the characters a great deal and cared what happened to each of them individually.
I am not an expert on Arthurian lore, so I can’t comment on how loosely things may have been handled for this retelling, but I do have some knowledge and loved how this retelling worked.
The representation hit so many facets of the spectrum and handled each beautifully in my opinion.
My only issue I had was that the time jumps left me feeling a little pulled out of the moment. They happened much more often near the end of the story and it was just a little jarring.
Full Review with Spoilers
The easiest way to explain this book is “a futuristic queer Arthurian legend retelling with a female protagonist.” Excalibur has been surviving through thousands of years waiting to be found by the next incarnation of King Arthur. After 42 cycles of failed Arthurs we come to Ari, the first female Arthur to find the sword.
There is quite a lot to unpack in this book. I loved Ari. She is a kick-ass female lead with a lot of baggage to figure out. In addition to Ari, the rest of the cast is unique and entertaining. While nearly everyone in her life is a reincarnation of an important person in the Arthurian legend, they all behave very differently from what you would expect. The cast of supporting characters all fall in various places on the LGBT+ spectrum. Non-binary, gay, ace, etc. The inclusivity is vast and perfect for a YA book of this caliber.
I don’t have a great deal of experience with YA or Teen books specifically, but I feel this book really hit the mark. There is a small range of ages, but the underlining themes speak to issues faced by youths today. Things like death and loss, love and desire. These things are not just struggles adults face and this book does a great job of showing it.
The story was a really well balanced blend of drama, humor, action and emotions. I found myself laughing in various place and even tearing up in a few. The dynamic between Ari and her love interest Gwen throughout the story was a particularly interesting part of the book. There was so much emotion and struggle involving them. For me personally, this is what really drew me into the story. I loved the action and myth surrounding everything, but the relationship between these two was a highlight.
My only issue I had was that in the second half of the story I felt time jumps started happening a bit too frequently. I was completely behind the idea of Ari essentially being stuck on her home world alone for a year (with the exception of Morgana who is incorporeal and the dragon like creatures that inhabit the planet). It was understandable and an interesting way to sort of push some development along without the need to get into too much detail that would have slowed the pacing. A couple of times after Ari is back with the core group of characters though I felt like we skipped a lot in order to get to “more interesting moments.” Again I get how it could have slowed down pacing, but because I really enjoyed the character interactions, I felt like I was missing out.
By the end of the book the major plot starts drawing to a close, but within the last couple of chapters, everything sort of blows open again as the evil corporation they have fought so hard against gives them an ultimatum: Give them Ari and Gwen’s unborn baby, or the people of the universe’s many planets are left starving, trying to learn to live without the goods the corporation can provide. I went into this book not knowing there would be a sequel. The idea that the core group of characters now has to travel back in time in order to find Arthur’s chalice is exciting and entirely unexpected.
I’m anxiously waiting for the conclusion in the next book.