Review by Lauren Maguire
JIMMY Patterson Books, Little, Brown and Company, March 2019
368 pages, hardcover, $24.99 CAD, 978-0-316-44927-4
Ages 15-18, Grades 10-12
Young Adult, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance
“We’ll just have to fight off Mercer the old-fashioned way.” She leapt to standing on the stone wall and took a few practice stabs at the air. Light streamed along Excalibur’s blade and her long hair, which she’d freed from its ties. Even if she hadn’t been covered in golden rays, she would have looked heroic to Merlin. Arthur always looked most like a storybook hero before he had to face the true darkness of the cycle.
Space battles, sword fights, heroes, villains, epic quests, evil corporations, and magical fireworks: Once and Future has them all. Unknown to her, teenage Ari Helix is the forty-second reincarnation of King Arthur and, after finding Excalibur on the ruins of Old Earth, she is sought out by a backward-aging, teenage Merlin whose mission is to prepare her for the dangers to come. Ultimately, with Merlin’s help, and aide from her closest friends—her knights—Ari must take control of her destiny and defeat the greedy, capitalistic Mercer Corporation which controls most of the galaxy and prioritizes profits over human lives.
As opposed to a simple modernization of Arthurian legend, Once and Future helps the story evolve, drawing from the myths surrounding King Arthur in order to create something new and truly unique. In fact, much of the text is about adaptation and development, demonstrating how traditions can be celebrated without perpetuating harmful beliefs and practices. For example, the planet Lionel is a medieval-themed world with knights and jousts and codes of honour reminiscent of Camelot, but without the sexism, racism, and religious intolerance of medieval Europe. They fight with swords and ride cyborg horses, mixing old and new as they see fit because they are “only as period appropriate as [they] want to be.”
Once and Future is diverse and inclusive in its representation. The characters have moral complexity and, while many are flawed, they support each other as they work to overcome their personal challenges. Humour is used to great effect; the tone can be both cutting and absurd, and the quick, sarcastic quips are enjoyable, even if they sometimes undercut tension. That said, serious moments are still given weight; saving the universe comes at a cost.
It can, on occasion, be difficult to tell how familiar the characters are with the legends they re-enact. Also, many of the characters are preoccupied with sex and, though the descriptions are beautiful—the prose is heart-warming and practically overflowing with love—it can become frustrating when planets and people are endangered as a result. For those less interested in physical, sexual relationships, this aspect of the book could grow tiresome.
The novel is light on setting description; locations change frequently. This sparseness helps the action press forward at a compelling pace. Some readers might wish for more world building, but the details given are sufficient and stylistically consistent. Those who are fond of adaptation narratives will likely appreciate this novel, as will readers of romance. Knowledge of the novel’s source material is not required, but some familiarity with Arthurian legend could enhance the reading experience.
Lauren Maguire recently completed her master’s degree in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia. She currently works as a tutor and writing mentor for middle school and high school students.