Once & Future – Book Review
2019 has been a great year for retellings. From fairy tales to classic legends, there really is something for everyone. Once & Future is one of my most anticipated releases this year because the synopsis made me drool! A queer, feminist, gender-bending retelling of King Arthur, set in space, that is perfect for fans of Becky Chambers. Could there be a more perfect book for me?! I was lucky enough to be gifted an advanced reader copy from the publisher and have been holding this back for SO long that it has been killing me. Why hold it back? I didn’t want this one to get lost in the sea of book reviews as it is too important. I wanted publication day to be so close you could taste it.
Once & Future
Once & Future is a very special book on multiple levels. Perhaps I am not as well read as I think I am but in YA I have not come across a science-fiction retelling of a classic legend like this before. The premise is that Merlin is awakened when the new King Arthur is called by Excalibur. No reincarnation is the same but this time something is very different. This time Arthur is a girl!
Once & Future has an immensely diverse set of characters. Ari, the 42nd reincarnation of King Arthur, is an illegal immigrant who is adopted by her two Mothers after they find her floating in space. She is intelligent, quick witted and impulsive. Most of the characters in the novel develop really well but Ari’s development is particularly important as she shows that gender does not matter. She can fill the shoes of any king.
Merlin has to be my favourite character in the whole book. He had me laughing from the first chapter. Merlin is hilarious and definitely reminds me of the Disney incarnation. Merlin’s character is particularly important to the themes of book. He is utilised really well to juxtapose the inequalities and marginalisation we face in our 21st Century society against a potential future world where people are accepted for who they are.
There are many other important characters including Gwen and the knights of the round table. Although, I promise that they are all very different to how you remember them!
Style & World Building
Once & Future is very fast paced, which is fantastic as it really holds your attention. I have had to re-read a couple of parts when I haven’t fully absorbed what is happening, particularly when it cuts in to an ‘earlier in the day’ moment. That said it feels like a very light read, almost a little fluffy but in a good way.
I love some of the settings in the novel. The planet of Lionel is one of my favourites as the idea of a medieval themed planet is awesome! Each of the different settings have their own personalities and there is a really refreshing variety of places.
The overarching theme of Once & Future is equality in all forms. The diversity of characters is not something that has been added as an afterthought but instead forms the very building blocks of the novel. It explores important issues with humour and a lightness that is rarely found when covering such topics.
There is an unprecedented amount of representation throughout the novel, particularly on the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum. I really enjoyed all of the different love interests in the book but I was really happy to see the F + F and M + M relationships develop. I won’t say between who as I think you need to find out for yourself! There are characters who are bisexual, gay, straight, ace, non-binary, gender fluid and of many different ethnicities. This book should be an automatic read just for the representation alone.
Commercialism, Patriarchy & Culture
The evil Mercer Corporation is taking over the galaxy and they add a dystopian element to the book. Mercer is run by a middle-aged white male who you can’t help but accept is a symbol of the privileged patriarchy that must be stopped by the female hero. Some planets no longer have skies but instead have adverts wherever you choose to look up. The novel really strikes at capitalist culture and demonstrates the damage that it can do to individuals as well as other cultures.
I thoroughly enjoyed Once & Future and I cannot wait for the second installment. Believe me, you will understand when you get to the end of the book! This is not only a novel that I wanted to read but it is a book that I think was needed. We need more books with wide representation and inclusiveness, so it is really important that we all support own voices authors. The LGBTQIAP+ representation is particularly close to my heart. It is so refreshing that the F+F and M+M relationships are just a normal part of the story like any other romance. If you love diverse books or the legend of King Arthur then you need to read Once & Future.
What are your favourite books with LGBTQIAP+ representation?
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