For the Good of the Realm: Genderswapped swordplay for Three Musketeers fans

For the Good of the Realm by Nancy Jane MooreFor the Good of the Realm by Nancy Jane MooreFor the Good of the Realm by Nancy Jane Moore

2021’s For the Good of the Realm is a gender-swapped swashbuckler heavily inspired by Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. Author Nancy Jane Moore creates a world of nation-states much like France and its neighbors of the Musketeers. Against this backdrop, Anna D’Gart, a swordswoman in the Queen’s Guards, serves the queen and the realm against enemies foreign and domestic — although one domestic adversary is powerful, and Anna finds herself swimming in very deep waters.

In the opening chapter, Anna and her friend Asamir are given a secret assignment to recover a necklace the Queen gave to an admirer, because the King wants her to wear it at an upcoming ball. Fans of The Three Musketeers will recognize this plot. In this adventure, we the readers learn that the King and Queen share power, merging the country after a civil war that still lingers in memory. We meet Roland and Jean-Paul, two of the King’s guards, who are the women’s opponents in this first adventure. Most importantly, we learn that magic is outlawed and feared, and what good sword fighters both Anna and Asamir are (although we already had a pretty good idea about that).

If Asamir’s name wasn’t enough of a clue as to which musketeer she is based on, her vanity, her lust for dueling and her stated vocation to the Church would make it clear that she is Aramis character. Anna is not a one-to-one correspondence with D’Artagnan, even if her family are farmers and her mother was a retired guardswoman. When this story starts, Anna has become a seasoned, respected member of the guard, looked to for advice and counsel. She’s no green recruit.

As For the Good of the Realm progresses, Anna is forced to rely less and less on her fighting skills and more on strategy and even diplomacy. This forces the character to grow, and that’s nice to see. This doesn’t mean the book stints on swordfights, tournaments and battles. Moore sword fights herself, and when the fighting is depicted on the page, it’s detailed and accurate. Overall, I never did feel that the stakes were high for our two main characters, or Roland and Jean-Paul. Usually, they handle adversaries with dispatch, emerging unscathed and barely winded. Throughout the book, direct danger to the characters seems a little bit abstract. Even though at least two of the assignments Anna is sent would have her arrested for treason if she were caught, I never really felt she was at much risk until the very end of the book when she confronts the Heirophante, the head of the church, a woman with great power and a willingness to use it.

Nancy Jane Moore

Nancy Jane Moore

The title of the book becomes a theme, as Anna and Roland sometimes have to struggle with competing loyalties — hers to the Queen, his to the King. When they can, they must find the middle ground, which is the good of the realm. In contrast, and for comic relief, Asamir and Jean-Paul never waste their time on soul-searching; they’re either bickering or making out, a set of choices I heartily approve.

Magic is outlawed in Anna’s realm, but it’s everywhere, and Moore made some original and interesting choices here. I especially like how the weather reacts to magic. The reasons the realm criminalized magic are clearly explained — it’s made equally clear in the book that those reasons are outdated.

Secondary characters, like the Queen’s lady-in-waiting Cecile, or the Queen herself, are well-drawn and interesting — and Cecile’s particular relationship with Anna is funny. One of the funniest scenes occurs when a group of hapless thieves try to rob Ann and Asamir while they are in disguise on a mission. Thoroughly enjoyable.

I’m always interested in the villain or adversary that works most offstage, and with the Heirophante the book gives me a great one. When she finally appears on the page, it’s worth the wait.

My part of California recently had its first hot spell of the season, several days in a row where the temperature broke 100. I sat in my relatively cool library, sipping sparkling water, and wended my way through this charming adventure. I can’t think of any better way to have spent those afternoons. I reached out to Moore to ask if there is a sequel planned, because while the book resolves the issues it sets up, there is plenty of material left. She said she is considering one. For The Three Musketeers fans who especially like women warriors, I recommend For the Good of the Realm.

Anna d’Gart is both skilled with the sword and shrewd (not to mention discreet), a rare combination among the hot-tempered and rowdy Guards serving the King, Queen, and Hierofante, which is why she’s always the Queen’s first choice for carrying out sensitive assignments. Discovering that someone powerful is using magic to damage the Queen, Anna is plunged into political intrigue and a series of tough decisions. No fan of the uncanny, she’s forced to enlist the assistance of a witch — whose magical practices are strictly prohibited in the Realm and condemned by the Church. With the aid of her flirtatious friend and fellow Guardswoman Asamir and their friends Roland de Barthes and Jean-Paul of the King’s Guard, Anna repeatedly matches wits with an opponent too powerful to be named. Intent on preventing war, preserving the Realm, and protecting the Queen despite the risks to herself and her fears about the ancient way of magic, Anna deploys all the means at her disposal—espionage, diplomacy, her sword, a powerful witch, and, of course, indomitable bravery.

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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