Review by Win Wiacek
Critics and creative writing lecturers would have you believe all of drama can be reduced to Seven Basic Plots, and all else is mere garnish. What certainly happens a lot is that vastly popular and memorable myths, stories and legends are continually reinterpreted and remodelled for new generations.
One of the most comforting and potent of these recurring themes is that of a great king or hero waiting to return and redeem us, most often in riffs on King Arthur, which are everywhere. If you like such works as Alan Garner’s Brisingamen trilogy, newspaper strip Buck Rogers, TV’s Adam Adamant and even Camelot 3000, you’ll probably also love this wry, witty and sublimely inclusive spin on the old standard.
Crafted by writers Adam P. Knave and D. J. Kirkbride and illustrated by Nick Brokenshire (the team behind the magical Amelia Cole adventures), The Once and Future Queen features a mixed race, bisexual girl revealed as destiny’s child and rightful sovereign of England as well as foreordained saviour of the world. No pressure, then…
It begins in Portland Oregon, where youthful chess prodigy Rani Arturus is panicking over her imminent flight to Cornwall in the UK for an important tournament. For her dad it’s a trip to the “old country” and mum Durga is American by way of India, so it counts as her and her daughter’s roots, too. The tournament is a disaster. All planning and strategising goes out the window when Rani is distracted by – and fatally attracted to – a pretty blonde girl in the audience. It’s not just her clearly reciprocated attentions because the chess master is convinced she somehow knows her. Rani doesn’t make it past the first round, and ashamed and furious at the waste of time, money, failure and her own previously unsuspected feelings, walks a scenic Cornish clifftop when a misstep sends her over the edge and into a hidden cave.
Meanwhile, on the clifftop she just disastrously vacated, the subject of Rani’s ruminations is absent-mindedly tracing her footsteps. Gwen was irresistibly fascinated by the American contestant, but is used to having instant crushes on girls by now. What is new is how familiar this one seemed, so when she spots the object of her desires entering a cave with glowing light coming from it, she follows. Rani is beguiled. The cave is an obvious tourist trap and contains a sword stuck in a stone anvil, but she finds herself compelled to tug on it anyhow. As Gwen watches, a flash of light transforms the American into an armoured vision and an old geezer in a space suit appears.
Merlin is time adrift and pretty confusing, but adamantly insists Rani is the long-awaited “Arthur foretold”: the Once and Future Queen (Ruler?) destined to unite the world. It’s just in time too, as long-exiled magical monster race the Fae are running out of room and resources and are ready eager to return and conquer Earth. Rani is not convinced. She knows all the stories about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and knows what a hero should be. However, according to the wizard, lots of things got lost in translation and that guy was simply a well-meaning fraud: a place holder dragged in to cope with a momentary crisis in lieu of the big event kicking off just about now.
Fast-paced, action-packed, bright, breezy and slyly funny, The Once and Future Queen: Opening Moves is a delight. If you’re in the mood for something familiar that enticingly fresh and new, your quest ends and begins here. Unfortunately, that’s also the case for the series, as there was no sequel.