Sunday, May 29, 2022

‘So This Is Ever After’ Review: What Happens When the Fairy Tale Ends?

A lot can happen after happily ever after. This premise drives the hilarious and swoon-worthy So This Is Ever After, the new YA fantasy from F.T. Lukens that explores what happens when the evil monster is defeated at the end of the fairy tale. Witty, sweet, and populated by a wonderful group of queer characters, So This Is Ever After is the perfect book for those tired of more traditional fantasy realms.

The novel begins where most fantasies end. Arek, along with his best friend Matt and their merry band of adventurers, fulfill a prophecy by killing the evil king of Ere. It’s not without one major wrinkle, however. Arek is now king (despite his many attempts to turn down the responsibility). But that’s not the only challenge facing Arek. Turns out, Arek needs to find a spouse by the time he turns 18 in three months or die due to magical conditions placed on the crown. This is a problem, considering the only one Arek loves is Matt — and Matt has made it perfectly clear he’s not interested in anything more than friendship. With time running out, will Arek and Matt find their happily ever after … again?

First and foremost, So This Is Ever After is hilarious. The witty banter between Arek, Matt, and the rest of their friends is natural and carefree, perfectly capturing the joy of found family. The friend group is populated by fantastic characters like Lila (the prickly pickpocket), Bethany (the manipulative bard who uses her power for good), Sionna (the talented warrior), and Rion (the sarcastic knight who’s also a sweetheart). The dynamic within the group, along with the quirky side characters, is a highlight of the novel as a whole. There are so many laugh out loud moments that you’ll lose count.

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Of course, the central couple in a romantic fantasy has to be appealing, and I fell head over heels for Arek and Matt. The top-tier “idiots to lovers” trope is on full display here from the start. Every time Arek assumes Matt couldn’t possibly love him, or Matt pushes Arek in the direction of another romantic prospect thinking that Arek doesn’t want him to break the curse, I found myself thinking, “Just kiss already!” in the best possible way. They’re easy to root for and fun to follow on their journey together, both as individuals and as two halves of a relationship.

But the true strength of So This Is Ever After is its casual rejection of a heteronormative fantasy world. It’s not an exaggeration to say that almost everyone in the novel is LGBTQIA+, from leads to supporting roles, with so many queer romantic relationships that it is clearly the norm in this world. Characters crush on whoever they want and pine to their hearts’ content. There is zero (and I mean ZERO) angst about sexual identity to be found. While the found family central to the plot comes together for a variety of reasons, including trauma from families of origin, none of the characters are mistreated based on who they love.

So This Is Ever After is marketed at a YA audience (though it often feels like a New Adult novel), and I couldn’t help but marvel at what a difference it would have made for me to have a novel like this on my shelf during middle and high school. It shouldn’t be such an unusual or noteworthy addition to a fantasy narrative. After all, if fire-breathing dragons and wizards can exist in a faraway magic kingdom, why can’t queer people? But it is unusual, and author F.T. Lukens deserves praise for writing a fantasy realm that doesn’t treat LGBTQIA+ representation as an afterthought.

The story is a safe one for queer readers to get lost in — you can let your guard down and enjoy the story knowing for a fact that all twists and turns are related to magical spells and plots gone wrong, not rooted in homophobia or prejudice. That’s a rare gift and the highest praise I can bestow on a novel. It’s perfect for the YA loving, fairy tale obsessed high schooler in your life (or for you. I’m not one to judge considering the state of my bookshelf). Lukens has created an explicitly queer fantasy that fans of Merlin, Carry On, or The Princess Bride will love.

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So This Is Ever After is out March 29 wherever books are sold. You can find more of Lukens’ work on their website.

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