A fantasy rom com that finally answers the question, “What happens at the end of a quest?” F.T. Lukens has written a story for all of us that have debated the what reality might look like in the ever after.
Carry On meets Arthurian legend in this subversive, “delightfully original and whimsical” (Kirkus Reviews) young adult fantasy about what happens after the chosen one wins the kingdom and has to get married to keep it…and to stay alive.
Arek hadn’t thought much about what would happen after he completed the prophecy that said he was destined to save the Kingdom of Ere from its evil ruler. So now that he’s finally managed to (somewhat clumsily) behead the evil king (turns out magical swords yanked from bogs don’t come pre-sharpened), he and his rag-tag group of quest companions are at a bit of a loss for what to do next.
As a temporary safeguard, Arek’s best friend and mage, Matt, convinces him to assume the throne until the true heir can be rescued from her tower. Except that she’s dead. Now Arek is stuck as king, a role that comes with a magical catch: choose a spouse by your eighteenth birthday, or wither away into nothing.
With his eighteenth birthday only three months away, and only Matt in on the secret, Arek embarks on a desperate bid to find a spouse to save his life—starting with his quest companions. But his attempts at wooing his friends go painfully and hilariously wrong…until he discovers that love might have been in front of him all along. from Simon and Schuster
First of all, how many times have you gotten to the end of a romance story or adventure tale and thought to yourself, “Well, that (insert character trait) will not age well,” or, “I wonder how they are doing now that the spell is broken.” Please tell me that I’m not the only one sitting there, credits rolling, wondering how the ‘ever after’ part will go. I mean, are we really supposed to believe that Ariel will never bring up the Sea Witch when fighting with Eric? Similarly, I have a some serious questions for Claire about Jaime and the stuff that went down after she travelled back through time. Sometimes I love a story simply because it takes me away from reality but, clearly, I frequently sit and ponder how whatever made the story so wonderful would play out in everyday life. Thank goodness for F.T. Lukens who provided the escapism I love with a beautiful, believable reality I could easily imagine.
I am not exaggerating when I say that this book starts with the penultimate moment of the quest. The synopsis tells you that Arek beheads the evil king. The writing is sharp and funny and had me hooked from the get-go. The merry band of characters, Arek, Matt, Bethany Lila, Rion, and Sionna are such a solidified squad that I actually checked not once, but twice, to make sure this wasn’t a sequel.
Once Arek figures out that he needs to find a person to bond with before he disappears, the romantic comedy bubbles delightfully to the surface. Arek clearly has feelings for his childhood best friend, Matt the Mage. But Matt does not seem interested in Arek. Matt is willing to help, but that only further frustrates Arek who decides (as one does) that he may as well start his search with his immediate friends. Cue the misunderstandings, tension, and rising action as we all wait to see how close Arek will come to death before finding love.
This story is labelled as a retelling and certainly, there are familiar themes and tropes. I don’t know that I could pinpoint one specific fairy tale that echoes this book but perhaps that is because the story felt fresh and fun.
I think my favorite aspect is that the everyone, from the main characters to the smallest and barely mentioned characters, represent a true fantasy within a fantasy. This is a world where there is no heteronormative reality that forces characters to come to terms with their sexuality because the default is set. It felt like the attraction between people was honest and true and the gender did not matter at all. There was no false starting point, just attraction, affection, and love. Can you imagine if everyone could do this?!
Another facet of this story that felt unique was the author choice to highlight the impact of what living in fear for months can do to a person. Often, in fantasies, we reader may get a epilogue but it will be years and years later when the character is grey haired and has lived a good long life. This story is set in the subsequent weeks. No summer reset here, these characters are still pulling knives on each other.
My only negative thoughts were brief and easy to overlook. First of all, I was halfway through the story before I stopped pronouncing “Arek” as “air wreck” and “Rion” as “Re-Own.” Unique spellings are fun but I was embarrassed when I realized these characters were probably “Eric” and “Ryan.”
Similarly, the particular romance trope of this book not my go-to favorite. I don’t want to go into details for fear of spoiling the fun. Because, realistically, I obviously still thoroughly enjoy it. See? Two very easy things to overlook because they are really my fault.
This book grabbed ahold of me from the first page and left me with happy tears on the last. Who could ask for anything more?
Tell me, please! Which story do you love but you know would not work in reality?