Once & Future by A.R. Capetta and Cori McCarthy

If you like the King Arthur legend, rebels against dictators, outer space adventures, or LGBTQ+ found families, you’ll probably like Once & Future by A.R. Capetta and Cori McCarthy, which reimagines King Arthur as a 17-year-old refugee girl, fighting a corporation’s stranglehold on the galaxy with the help of her brother, her maybe-girlfriend, their loyal friends, and a thousand-year-old backward-aging wizard.

Ari Helix has been on the run most of her life, ever since being forced to flee her home planet of Ketch. More recently, she and her adopted brother Kay have been trying to find a way to free their moms from a corporate prison planet, with no success. But then Ari meets Merlin – the actual Merlin of legend, who’s been aging backward for thousands of years as he tries to complete King Arthur’s story. Ari is the most recent reincarnation of the king, and it’s her destiny to wield Excalibur, defeat an ancient evil, and unite all humanity. Now-teenage Merlin sets out to train her for the coming battle, and tries to protect her from her smoldering passion for (who else) Queen Gwenivere. But their enemy, the Mercer Corporation, has a long reach and no mercy for rebellion…

This book has an absolutely breakneck pace and is extremely plot-driven – you never have to slog through angsty introspection or detailed scene descriptions, which makes for a breathtaking and addictive story where lots of things keep happening to hold your attention. But it can also feel a bit rushed, as in some places an event’s emotional consequences don’t feel fully explored because the plot’s too busy moving on. Luckily it’s also packed with humor and heart, keeping it light while engaging vital and heavy issues.

Queer inclusive and gender diverse, with strong chosen family bonds, the cast of characters will capture your heart and never let it go; alongside Ari’s romance with Gwen, Merlin himself finds a surprising attraction forming with Val, the Queen’s trusted adviser and brother of Ari’s old friend Lam, who uses they/them pronouns. It’s so refreshing to read a world where diversity and inclusion are the norm, with prejudice an unimaginable relic of long-forgotten systems.

Definitely check out this book if you like classic retellings with an inclusive, space-faring twist!

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