When I think about representation in literature, especially young adult fiction, disability representation springs to mind as one of the areas that is significant underrepresented. Delving deeper, there may books where disability is represented, but less frequent is the representation accurate and even less so do we see these books written by authors who are disabled themselves. I would love to see more disability representation in young adult literature, and it’s important that we support and uplift disabled authors who write these stories.
So when I discovered One For All, a young adult retelling of The Three Musketeers about a girl with POTS who trains as a Musketeer, written by Lillie Lainoff, a disabled fencer(!) and author, I was immediately on board. And when Lillie reached out to me wanting to work together in some way, it felt right (and I knew we were going to have a fun journey putting it together)!
Today, I have the delight of having Lillie visit us as a rapier-wielding swan! And because One For All is all about fencing, she will be sharing a list of sword-wielding women in fiction and in history, as well as some quotes from her upcoming debut! (How cool is that?!) But, before I share Lillie’s list, I would like to formally introduce you to her debut, One For All. Make sure you read the blurb, friends – you’re going to love the sound of it. I can feel it!
One For All by Lillie Lainoff
Tania de Batz is most herself with a sword in her hand. Everyone in town thinks her near-constant dizziness makes her weak, nothing but “a sick girl”; even her mother is desperate to marry her off for security. But Tania wants to be strong, independent, a fencer like her father—a former Musketeer and her greatest champion.
Then Papa is brutally, mysteriously murdered. His dying wish? For Tania to attend finishing school. But L’Académie des Mariées, Tania realizes, is no finishing school. It’s a secret training ground for a new kind of Musketeer: women who are socialites on the surface, but strap daggers under their skirts, seduce men into giving up dangerous secrets, and protect France from downfall. And they don’t shy away from a swordfight.
With her newfound sisters at her side, Tania feels for the first time like she has a purpose, like she belongs. But then she meets Étienne, her first target in uncovering a potential assassination plot. He’s kind, charming, and breathlessly attractive—and he might have information about what really happened to her father. Torn between duty and dizzying emotion, Tania will have to lean on her friends, listen to her own body, and decide where her loyalties lie…or risk losing everything she’s ever wanted.
Lillie Lainoff: A List of Sword-Wielding Girls in Fiction and History
Cimorene, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
As a child, I spent most of my free time listening to books on tape. (I’m dating myself now, but yes, books on tape! Each book was recorded onto a number of cassette tapes that you fed into a car radio or a cassette-player.) Dealing with Dragons was my most loved; I know this given the frequency the tapes broke, went missing, etc. And Cimorene was my most-loved heroine: a girl with dark curly hair, just like me, who was strong enough to save herself. Cimorene was a huge influence in the creation of One For All’s main character, Tania. Plus, who doesn’t love dragons?
“Princesses don’t fence.”
“But I’m a princess, and I do, so that means princesses do fence.” (Dealing with Dragons)
“I’d heard it all before. How girls didn’t need to learn the proper way to hold the grip of a sword, didn’t need to learn the angle at which her arm should tuck into her side as she prepared for the onslaught of her opponent’s attack. Girls did not need to know these things—especially not sick girls.” (One for All)
Mulan (1998) was one of two characters who spurred my love of fencing (the other was Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride.) As an adult, I’m now aware of the Disneyfication of the Ballad of Mulan, and the nuances of identity and representation that as a seven-year-old I hadn’t begun to grasp yet. But it is impossible for me not to return to the magic of the movie—the one Disney princess movie of my childhood where the princess becomes a princess not by marriage or birth, but by her courage, strength, and compassion. As much I loved Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and Ariel from The Little Mermaid, it was Mulan I returned to time and time again, awe-struck, my little face nearly pressed to the TV screen, watching as a fierce girl proved she was as strong, if not stronger, than any man.
In One for All, my Musketeers utilize their femininity to their advantage like Mulan does. It’s impossible to find all the hidden allusions, but one of my favorites is a scene that parallels the iconic “Reflection” sequence.
“For years, no matter what I saw staring back at me, I knew that wasn’t what others saw. While I saw dark hair, dark eyes, curved figure, they saw a sick girl. Fainting girl. Strange girl.” (One for All)
Bree, Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
First, I have to admit my bias: Tracy is a friend and I helped consult on Legendborn’s training/fighting scenes (especially the ones with swords), but that doesn’t negate the fact that Bree is one of my favorite literary girls to raise a blade—if you follow me on social media, you’re probably already aware of this, given my weekly declarations of love for Legendborn.
One for All sold to Farrar, Straus & Giroux the same week I read an early version of Legendborn. Not only did I immediately fall in love with the characters and the writing (I mean, how could you not!) but I was taken with many of the overlaps in Bree and Tania’s journeys. The grief of losing a parent, and how that grief shapes and molds what they want and how they go about trying to achieve it.
“Why someone dies is not the same question as why they are gone.” (Legendborn)
“My pain did not fit into teardrops. My anger and grief could consume whole cities…” (One for All)
Julie D’Aubigny, An Actual Real Life Person
Okay, okay, she’s technically not a character in literature/media, but this list wouldn’t be complete without her: not only because Julie and her life served as inspiration for two of my four Musketeers in One for All, but also because she’s an all-around badass.
Known for beating men in duels and ending up in their beds the very same evening, Julie fell in love with a girl whose parents sent her to a nunnery—naturally, Julie took orders to be with her. After a failed escape attempt from the abbey (think Maria in the Sound of Music, but with FIRE), the two split up. Julie made a habit of seducing opera singers and/or threatening said opera singers who sexually harassed her friends (no, I’m not making this up; yes, the man in question begged for mercy before Julie stole his finery as proof so he couldn’t lie and say he was beaten up by a group of men.)
The years that followed involved Julie brazenly romancing multiple women at every ball she attended, a short stint as a governor’s mistress, and hanging radishes from her employer’s overly styled hair as a substitute for a resignation letter from her lady’s maid position (the employer in question went to a ball without even noticing!), before Julie returned to Paris, became a prima donna, stabbed a few more men who’d sexually harassed and assaulted women in Paris, and finally partnered with Madame la Marquise de Florensac, who was said to be one of the most beautiful women in all of France.
Julie D’Aubigny: an absolute legend. An inspiration for one of the characters in One for All… and also possibly the main inspiration for one of my secret works-in-progress.
“He won’t turn me over to the authorities, if that’s what you’re worried about. No gentleman would admit to being bested by a lady—think of what la noblesse would say about his strength and honor. Besides,” Portia said, adjusting a crystal earring that had slipped out of place, “who would believe him?” (ONE FOR ALL)
About the Author
Lillie Lainoff is a current MA student in Creative Writing Prose Fiction at the University of East Anglia. A former Div I fencer and NCAA Championship competitor for Yale, she is the founder of Disabled Kidlit Writers. She is the winner of the 2019 LA Review Literary Award for Short Fiction. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post Outlook, Washington City Paper, and via the Disability Visibility Project, amongst other places. One for All, her debut novel, will be published by FSG in 2022. More of her work is online at http://www.lillielainoff.com/, and @lillielainoff on Twitter and Instagram.