Capetta, Amy Rose, and Cori McCarthy. Once & Future. “Advance reading copy.” Jimmy Patterson Books/Little, Brown and Company, release date March 29, 2019.  pages. $18.99. ISBN 9780316449274. Ages 14-up. P7 Q8
If Merlin lives backwards in time—growing younger as the years advance—but does not change when held in magical stasis, then how long will it be until he is unborn? Once & Future is the story of Ari, a adopted refugee fugitive from a planet interdicted by the almighty Mercer Corporation. Ari and her adopted brother Kai live in a space-going lifeboat, always evading capture and trying to find their two mothers imprisoned by Mercer. During one escape that crash lands the lifeboat on Old Earth, Ari pulls a sword from the trunk of an ancient oak tree, releasing a now teenaged Merlin, the vengeful spirit of Morgause, and becoming the 42nd and first female reincarnation of King Arthur.
This action packed space fantasy cloaks the familiar legends of the Once and Future King with the trappings of space travel and life on multiple planets. The familiar names—Arthur’s brother Kai, Guinevere, Merlin, Morgause, Percival—are familiar from the many retellings of Arthurian romances, but the characters who take on the action of the story vary. This reincarnation has a pansexual Arthur/Ari, a woman/woman political marriage between Ari and Guineivere, a young very gay Merlin, and knights who are variously queer, trans, and asexual. Many of the characters are people of color, including Ari whose homeworld, Ketch, was settled by Arab colonists.
The Mercer Corporation controls delivery of essential materials—water, for instance—to the various planets while working to take control of the known universe. (I found myself thinking of Mercer as the fictional incarnation of Amazon.com.) Ari’s history and her newfound allies soon come into conflict with the corporation and the battles begin.
Verdict: I have always enjoyed the Arthurian tales, from Thomas Malory to T.H. White’s Once and Future King to the Steinbeck Winchester translation and I just re-read Gerald Morris’s The Squire’s Tale series. The Arthurian themes running through Once & Future were easy to spot. Setting the story in space and giving the major characters a queer cast was brilliant. I enjoyed the tumbling action sequences, but found the instant romance between Ari and Guinevere to be unlikely. It would have made more sense to me if their earlier relationship had been mentioned before the wedding. I can hope that the authors and their editors will have a chance to revisit the story before it is actually published. Still, I think that young adult readers who like space operas will really enjoy this book and I, like they, will look forward to the sequel. Highly recommended for high school and public libraries.
March 2019 review by Jane Cothron.