All is Fair, by Dee Garretson
Publish Date: January 22, 2019
Published by: Swoon Reads
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2 out of 5 stars)
**I received this as an egalley from the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.**
Lady Mina Tretheway knows she’s destined for greater things than her fancy boarding school, where she’s being taught to be a proper English lady. It’s 1918, and war is raging across Europe. Unlike her father and brother, who are able to assist in the war effort, Mina is stuck sorting out which fork should be used with which dinner course.
When Mina receives a telegram that’s written in code, she finally has her chance to do something big. She returns to her childhood home of Hallington Manor, joined by a family friend, Lord Andrew Graham, and a dashing and mysterious young American, Lucas. The three of them must band together to work on a dangerous project that could turn the tide of the war.
Thrilled that she gets to contribute to the war effort at least, Mina jumps headfirst into the world of cryptic messages, spycraft, and international intrigue. She, Lucas, and Andrew have to work quickly, because if they don’t succeed, more soldiers will disappear into the darkness of war.
So I was intrigued by this novel because to me, its premise made it sound like it was going to be about espionage and decoding ciphers to help the Allies against Germany during the Great War. I’m not sure why that’s what I thought it was going to be now that I look back at the summary, but what this turned book turned out to be was definitely a far cry from what I expected. And not all of it was good.
I would say right off the bat, this book is good for younger readers. Like, middle grade to about mid-high school I would say. It’s easy to read and follow, is very engaging, and keeps the reader going. The action doesn’t get lost in the details, and I would say this is good for someone who likes things to move at a quick paste. Sadly, I am not that sort of person.
My initial thought was that this was going to be a decent book. It started off well, with Mina receiving a telegram from her father with a cipher in it that she decodes, discovering that she is to head home from school to help an old friend with the war effort. There’s a train ride where she meets the love interest, Lucas, and gives off a wonderful first impression by yelling a line from a play to her friend out the window. At this point I really like Mina already. She is kind and vivacious, eager to know what’s going on, she loves writing and acting in plays, and she wants desperately to help in whatever way she can with the war.
Then the story starts to have me getting a little antsy. Mysteries start building up around Mina’s home, Hallington Hall, but it still feels like nothing is happening regarding the cipher her father sent her. I kept waiting for more ciphers or things that Mina would need to help with. Instead I got a sort of Downton Abbey type of setting (and don’t get me wrong, I was loving it to be honest), with some building intrigue dealing with German spies and a secret mission and her sister having a mysterious beau. I kept waiting for Mina to be given more ciphers to decode or to be asked to do something to help with whatever mission Lucas and her brother’s friend, Andrew were working on. All she ended up doing was drawing them a map and that was….it. Then we just had some rural English countryside drama and multiple mysteries that had yet to be solved. Also some growing chemistry between Lucas and Mina, of course.
During this time at Hallington, I did feel like I was a little annoyed at Mina for being so nosy and wanting to know all the minute details of Andrew’s mission. I get feeling left out, and normally I hate the trope that is often used where the main character isn’t allowed to know certain information for their “own safety” but in the case of a top secret mission during The Great War….girl you gotta make like Elsa and let it go. You do not need to know the details. In fact there was a point at the end of the book when she claimed that she could have known about a specific detail because “there wasn’t anyone near her who could have gotten that information back to Germany” and yet [SPOILER] there was a freaking spy who shot Andrew so yes, I do think there was someone who could have found out the secret from you and passed it on to Germany [END SPOILER].
And suddenly, things just escalated. I mean, exponentially. The plot just takes off and suddenly the Downton Abbey-ness of it all is gone and the war becomes the definite focus of the plot. There were just suddenly so many (in)convenient happenstances that help push Mina into the rest of the plot that it felt a little unrealistic at times. Any conflict that was met was overcome almost too easily, or if there was a hiccup, it wasn’t completely life-threatening. Even the ending gets its happily ever after twist [SPOILER] by letting Mina and Lucas go to the same place in England rather than be separated [END SPOILER]. Honestly, I was kind of disappointed by the end of the book because the first half had been going so well, despite it not going in the general direction I had thought it would, and the second half felt like almost a completely different novel.
My other issue with the plot was just how quickly it moved. Earlier I said this was good for younger readers and those who don’t enjoy a lot of detail, but for me, this felt like it just glossed over travel scenes and moments of character growth/insight. And then there were these odd moments when the author would add in these random scenes that didn’t really do much for the plot and were just sort of there. I think she was trying to show some moments of humanity during this terrible war, but all it did for me was to stick out like a sore thumb with how peculiarly they were transitioned into and out of.
I think the characters were good. Mina, like I said, I really enjoyed, and Lucas was definitely fun and full of life. I did think he was unfairly judgmental of her, but I also felt like when that moment happened, it was a little unjustified of his character. There were a couple of times before when he had pre-judged Mina’s behavior about things, but he had spent so much time seeming to enjoy her company that I felt like I didn’t understand where these presumptions were coming from. If he had started out biased towards her position in life, then yes, I would have completely expected it, but to throw in this character flaw so late in the story felt awkward and weird.
As for their romance, I liked it to a point. The chemistry grew wonderfully over the course of the novel, until they kissed. At a completely unromantic moment. [SPOILER] It was right after almost being discovered by a German soldier while trying to sneak into Germany. I don’t know about anyone else, but that definitely does not get me all hot and bothered. [END SPOILER] After that I felt like their romance didn’t mean as much? I don’t know how to describe other than disappointment in the direction in which the romance continued.
Sadly this book just turned out to be a disappointment for me. It started off well, with characters I was enjoying, and a plot and atmosphere that felt right for the period and interesting to continue reading. But then things escalated and the plot took a turn that I was not expecting or really all that pleased with, and from there I just kind of judged everything that happened in a bit a of a negative light. The romance, the action, the travel – it all just started happening too quickly and too conveniently for me to really enjoy it anymore.