Based on the amount of Carrie’s Personal Catnip content alone, One for All should have been a SQUEE grade book. Set during the reign of Louis XIV, it features found family, multiple kickass women, and a heroine whose chronic illness doesn’t prevent her from being an accomplished fencer. And yet, Dear Bitches, it pains me so much to say that I found the book to be, for the most part, deeply boring.
Our heroine, Tania, is the daughter of a Musketeer who left Paris to live in a small town with his wife and Tania. He teaches her to fence and raises her with stories of his life as a Musketeer. Tania lives with a chronic illness that causes her to experience frequent dizziness and fainting (known today as Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS). Her mother is desperate for Tania to marry, so that Tania will have some security once her parents pass away. But no one wants to marry “the sick girl.”
Things change for Tania when her father is murdered and her mother sends her to a finishing school, claiming that her father had insisted she attend should he die prematurely.
Tania thinks she’s being sent to a school that will turn her into the perfect wife. But, aha, the school is ACTUALLY a school with one teacher and four students, counting Tania – all of whom are women, including the teacher. It’s a school for female musketeers, training women to be alluring in a ballroom and deadly in a fight.
My goodness, people, what’s not to like?
What’s not to like is the glacial pace and the painfully obvious plotting. It takes eight full chapters to get as far as the school – eight tedious, depressing, repetitive chapters that tell us, over and over again, that Tania is treated poorly by her village because of her illness, that she worshiped her father and has a tense relationship with her mother, that her parents worry about her future, and that she considers the murder of her father to be an unsolved mystery. This is many more chapters than are needed to convey this information.
Once Tania gets to the school, there’s a burst of energy as the reader meets everybody and finds out what the school is for. Then there is another burst of energy when Tania goes to a ball for the first time.
In between these bursts of energy, the book makes the same points again and again, and this pattern repeats throughout the book. The plot also involves a lot of mystery and intrigue, and that would be great if it weren’t completely predictable. A slowly unfolding mystery isn’t rewarding if I can solve it at the first moment in which certain characters are introduced.
It’s true that One for All is not my favorite read, but it does do a few things well. In addition to living with POTS, the author is a competitive fencer. Her lived experience shines through the pages, making the descriptions of living with POTS and the fencing training and combat scenes clear and powerful.
I also enjoyed the relationships between women in the book, which have a lot of nuance and complexity. The language is quite lovely with some terrific similes and metaphors and attention to body language as well as dialogue. There are characters who are lesbian, bi, and ace, and a lot of discussion of class and of the ethics of protecting a king who is fundamentally irresponsible towards his people. Also, I’m not gonna lie, I am HERE for the lavish descriptions of clothing and jewelry, and especially enjoyed one of the musketeer’s interests in designing functional fashion.
One for All has a divine concept, some great use of language in description of scenes, clothing, and character, great fencing, and a portrayal of life with chronic illness that feels authentic (I don’t have POTS, but I do have other chronic conditions and I could relate to many aspects of Tania’s life with illness). The problems are all structural – slow pacing and predictable outcomes where there should be shocking twists. Given that this is a debut book, I’d happily give the next release a try.