Review: All for One by Nicki Bennett & Ariel Tachna

Aristide, Léandre, and Perrin pledge only three loyalties in life: their King, their captain, and their passion for each other. So when the musketeers discover a plan to accuse M. de Tréville of treason, the initial impulse to kill the messenger, Benoît, is tempered by their need to unmask the plotter. But their first two suspects, the English ambassador and Cardinal Richelieu, prove to be innocent, forcing the musketeers to delve deeper into the inner machinations of the French court.

Meanwhile, Aristide finds himself falling in love with the ill-fated messenger, a blacksmith without a home who rouses all of his protective, possessive instincts. Benoît, however, has no interest in any man. Torn between desire and duty, Aristide must find a way to protect the King and clear his captain’s name—all while heeding the demands of his heart.

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

The musketeer Aristide enjoys the good life with his two comrades, Leandre and Perrin. The three of them take the famous motto ‘all for one, one for all’ literal, as they aren’t just comrades but members of a ménage-a-trois. This arrangement serves them well until they save Benoit, who has been shot on the road while delivering a letter to Cardinal Richelieu. The contents of the letter accuse the commanding officer of the musketeers of treason, and the four set out to uncover the plot which may hint at an attempt to murder the king.

Aristide, who looks after Benoit while he’s healing, falls in love with the peasant who lost his wife and child to the plague. Unobligingly, though, Benoit abhors the idea of having sex with another man. Eventually he comes round to it, though, after much angsting and many misunderstandings, and helped along by a cast of characters mostly made up of happy exclusive gay couples and their understanding allies, who all adore Aristide.

I have to admit I was bored for most of the book. The sex is the best about it – the frequent sex scenes are realistic for the most part (coming back to this later), even if they are, more often than not, completely unnecessary. Though there were a few where I wasn’t quite sure how the positions work and the bodies fit together, as pure erotica, they were well handled, if not particularly revealing about the characters.

Once it moves away from the sex, the story falls apart on several counts. Despite some attempts at making this a historical novel by detailing clothes and mentioning bits and pieces of the times peppered throughout, the attitudes of the characters are decidedly modern. Under no circumstances do I believe a musketeer is calling the
Queen-Mother “that bitch” without raising at least an eyebrow. But never mind that they speak in a modern way (many instances of“’twas” and “’tis”nothwithstanding) – the dialogue just never rang true to me, regardless of any historical timeframe.

While the author does mention they have to be discreet, the characters never really are, instead talk openly and brazenly about their mindblowing sex and what they intend to do to each other once opportunity arises. One gaffe like that is funny, two gets repetitive, but ten or more is just grating.

Lucky, then, that almost all of Paris is gay and happily exclusive, if we judge it by the supporting cast, which is made up of couples that read like they had their own novels or will get their own novels in due course. True to form, our happy menage is about to break up into two couples, with even the slutty Perrin yearning for one man to claim wholly and exclusively. This happens of course, so Perrin mends his slutty ways and, having sworn exclusivity with Leandre, wishes for nothing more than not having slutted around. I’m not sure what this hang-up about exclusivity is, but I guess it’s one of those things that m/m romances have inherited from m/f romances, however psychologically dubious this yearning for a restoration to purity and virginity is. Applied to a gay male, a fighter, and a man of his century, that is a pretty bizarre thought.

The main drama in the first two thirds of the book is about the fracturing menage on one hand and misunderstandings and fears that keep Aristide and Benoit apart. The last third is about Benoit and Aristide having sex and swearing eternal love to each other.

Personally, I wouldn’t have minded if they had stayed apart.

Beyond being really pretty, I see nothing loveable about Benoit. (I’d call him a “girly weepy girl” if that wasn’t pretty damn sexist and insulting to my kick-ass female and female-identified friends).

This is not remedied by the authors telling me he is a peasant blacksmith. His manners and fears and blushing innocence make him appear more like an underaged runaway from a monastery. His combination of stupidity (which I guess is supposed to be innocence), insolence, sullenness, unreasonable demands and taking any excuse for self-pity is a deeply unattractive combination. I couldn’t help but laugh at the scenes where Benoit is staying in the house of the three musketeers and keeps bitching about how loud they are during sex until they vow to be silent – and Aristide flips over backwards to accede to Benoit’s petulant and childish demands.

Aristide, built up to be the tough alpha male to sweep sweet little blushing Benoit into his arms, loses my respect with all his pining, self-pity (again) and passive-aggressive behaviour. Supposedly a gifted officer, he doesn’t have an ounce of empathy for other people – constantly misreading their intentions and then sulking that things don’t go his way.

But then, the misunderstandings are the only things that keep the story moving. Well, kind of. There’s a bit of an intrigue going on, which is sprinkled in, but never develops into a real plot. After two hundred pages of pretty much nothing happening but relationship drama and sex sex sex, when the politics finally do happen they are as subtle as a plan cooked up by fire-year-olds. I’d have expected better from accomplished players like the Cardinal Richelieu and the De Medici Queen-Mother. This ‘plot’, when it happens, takes around twenty-five pages of the 352 pages, with the rest taken up by relationship drama that leaves me cold, because of the, for the most part, unrealistic and overwrought emotions.

There was also a sore lack of all the cool stuff in that time and setting. The fighting/fencing was done with some empty phrases and sometimes was plain wrong, such as the one character bitching about how Benoit failed to ‘parry a feint’. Well, you’re not supposed to *parry* the feint, since doing so opens your guard for the real attack. So the wrong way to respond to a feint is to be deceived by it. Many other details are wrong, or sound wrong.

It’s great all our gay characters love and accept each other, but an ambassador who’s drinking in a musketeer tavern, chats up a bunch of musketeers and tells them to call him with his Christian name, until all of the minor and major characters are on a first-name basis lacks all the decorum that such lofty station warrants, never mind him being a nobleman (or English).

The POV constantly jumps around into all the characters heads, which I’d find a lot less grating if that hadn’t been slowing things down to near-paralysis, and if all the characters had had something interesting to contribute. This way, it seems like it was some kind of roleplaying game between the authors, where lots of unnecessary repetitions were never edited out.

There was simply not enough plot or believable conflict in that book to warrant the pagecount or the lengthy explanations and the many, many, many repetitions where everything was repeated and still people constantly contradicted their original intentions just two paragraphs later. There is no sense of danger or urgency in the story, until the reader wonders why he should bother even finishing the book.

There was enough purple in the prose to paint a mid-sized village. ‘Passages’ and ‘channels’ were invariably ‘anointed’ (the religious connotation nothing short of disturbing even for this atheist), and this has a sex scene where a tongue reaches a prostate – which made me laugh. All that overwrought emotion rang false, especially when the authors spend so much time with taking Benoit’s virginity…The threesome sex scenes, which are unabashedly porny, are way better and more honest than all the heart-rending and soul-searching emotion of the entirely predictable Aristide/Benoit sex, which was shown to me to be so much better for Aristide than the empty threesomes he had with his friends. Well, I’d have chosen the empty sex over that overwrought nonsense from that weepy blushing blacksmith any time.

The saving grace is that I did like Perrin and Leandre and some scenes were well-handled and interesting (such as the beginning and whenever the actual plot made an appearance). I can easily see the book that this could have been, and I’d have rated that one pretty highly, but that’s not the book I read. I think it might be a fun read for everybody who likes yaoi, doesn’t care about the history or real emotions, and doesn’t need a plot to be a happy reader.

Buy at Dreamspinner Press (paperbook and ebook available)

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