Meet Ari Helix
Each new cycle, the infamous King Arthur is reincarnated yet with the same overwhelming quest, save the world and unite humanity. Like the forty one Arthur's that have gone before her, Ari is the latest reincarnated Arthur destined for greatness and the first female Arthur. I loved Ari, she's essentially an illegal refugee from a Middle Eastern society on a planet that was isolated from the galaxy and civilisation. A planet where Dragons haunt the nightmares of children. Ari remembers little of her young life before being rescued by now adoptive brother Kay and his mothers, now her mothers. Kay's family have hidden her from Mercer authorities until the point of their capture, now Kay and Ari are on the run with a prayer and a promise to keep his sister safe, despite her brash determination and dangerous bravery.
The side characters are bloody magnificent. Kay fluctuated between loving brother and a bit of a prick at times, which only added to the authenticity between the brother and sister relationship. Ari's futuristic Knights are all brilliantly developed. Siblings Lam and Val are wonderful. Lam is fluid using them and they pronouns while Val is gay and very much into Merlin. Merlin has been Arthur's sidekick and adviser for over forty cycles and although he begun the journey as an old, grumpy wizard, with each cycle failed, Merlin has been ageing in reverse. Now at seventeen, this is his last attempt to help the latest Arthur succeed before tapping out. On the plus side, Merlin will no longer be cursed but after decades of pining away for friendship and finding love, I'm stanning Merlin and Val.
If I had limited characters to describe Once & Future, it would be girl King Arthur and queers in space. That right there is enough to lure most readers in. In Ari's universe, love knows no bounds. People love who they choose, live as they choose and express their sexuality however they choose. Ari is pansexual. We have characters who are gay, bisexual, fluid, asexual and using them and they pronouns. Straight is no longer the default in a world without gender assumptions and it's bloody brilliant! Ari herself is an illegal refugee from the planet Ketch, founded by Arab settlement that has been isolated and segregated from the rest of humanity. I love authors that weave in a little salt throwing at western governments who treat asylum seekers like shit.
Once & Future is also an own voices novel. Amy Rose Capetta identifies as a queer demigirl and Cori McCarthy uses they and them pronouns, identifying as an Irish Lebanese American as well as a pansexual demi enby. While it's wonderful to promote diverse reads with main characters from marginalised backgrounds, supporting own voice authors is incredibly important.
It Was Really Good... But
The first half was adventurous, mysterious and sassy. Lots of character banter disguising the sexual tension between characters. Merlin and Ari begin to form a wonderful bond before they're again separated and then the storyline begun to feel disconnected. It did allow Ari to mature as a character during the time lapse chapters but overall, the second half felt a little lacklustre.
So What's The Verdict?
Give it a read. After a frantic beginning, Once & Future is shaping up to become a pretty epic series. Wonderfully diverse and character driven, it follows the original tale of King Arthur and Merlin but rather set in space, fighting against big corporation oppression and greed. There's mention of historical genocide, so tread carefully friends but overall, a sassy and spunky retelling of the legend that is King Arthur.