I first saw One For All (2022) by Lillie Lainoff on NPR’s Best Books List, I was intrigued, but a little unsure. It looked like a young adult, feminist retelling of the Three Musketeers, but the protagonist was plagued by dizziness. I was curious how she would be able to fight and hopeful that the book would be good.
The beginning of the book definitely drew me in. Tania de Batz is sixteen years old, living in a small, French town with her mother and father. Her father was forced out of the Musketeers by his unhappy in-laws after he married their noble daughter, But he is still a great swordsman, and he’s taught Tania well. When Tania was twelve years old, she became plagued by dizziness. It was debilitating, suddenly making it hard to stand up and walk around. Her best friend deserted her, and her mother thought her chances at life ruined, but her father believed in her and continued to train with her.
The opening scene is when Tania and her mother come home to find two intruders in their home. Tania’s father is away for the evening. Even though she can barely see, Tania makes her way into the house with a fire poker and finds the men. Desperately wanting to be as brave as her father, she stands up to them as best she can in a scene I found quite touching.
Unfortunately for Tania, her circumstances change rather drastically, and at her father’s wish, she is sent to Paris to attend a finishing school. This feels like a betrayal from her father who always encouraged her. But when she arrives and meets the three other girls there, Tania discovers that the school is actually an undercover, lady’s musketeers organization (but in French). The woman in charge knows about her dizziness, and they’re planning on working around it. Everyone is very impressed with Tania’s fencing ability.
I loved the book up until this point. I thought Tania’s relationship with her father was very sweet, and her fraught relationship with her mother felt very real. In addition, Tania’s struggles with her dizziness and how people treat her because of her dizziness felt very relatable. And when the school turned into a secret training center for spies/lady musketeers, I was very excited. It seemed like the rest of the book was going to be so much fun!
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for my frustration to set in. I often found the descriptions hard to follow. I’d find myself going back and re-reading paragraphs to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. In addition, there were a bunch of the same French names for a certain father, son, and uncle, which could get confusing. But the main problem was that the mystery and the lady musketeer’s role in solving that mystery didn’t make much sense to me.
There are nobles that may be plotting to kill the King of France, and the lady musketeers go to parties and attempt to gather information. Sometimes they dress up as boys and try to gather some more information. But none of it really fits together in a satisfying way. One night they are at the theater where there is some kind of commotion, someone gets hit in the head, and a couple of men are running away. Tania climbs a 30-foot rope in a dress in pursuit of one of them but he gets away. (Also, Tania can’t walk up stairs on her own, so how she managed this is beyond me. Also also, if anyone saw her chasing down a man and shimmying up ropes, their lady musketeer cover would be blown.) Nothing much comes of it except that they decide that the whole theater thing was to distract the city while something was smuggled into the city. Really? How does this help smuggle weapons into the city? When the bad guys do end up bringing weapons into the city, they have them hidden in bolts of cloth. So what was going on with the whole theater thing?
In addition, for a minute the lady musketeers are suspicious after someone breaks into their home. They think it might be their leader and her nephew. But why would she want to break into her own home and steal papers that are in her possession? They have absolutely no reason to be suspicious of her. Finally, they figure out a secret code that took them days and days, but they had the code and the cipher, and this was supposed to be a message for everyone in the “kill the King” club. It should have been straightforward to solve once they had the cipher.
Finally, as much as I liked the idea of lady musketeers, their role in that world was not clearly spelled out. They were pretending to be on the marriage market, but they were also willing to fight duels whenever they needed to. As soon as they start fighting, it would be pretty obvious that they’re not what they say they are. They also occasionally profess to be doing this for the poor in the city because if the Nobles plan a coup, it will be the poor that will suffer. But that felt like a stretch.
In the end, I liked the idea, and I liked the beginning of this book. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the execution of the rest of it.
You can find all my reviews on my blog.