Discussion+Series Review: All for the Game by Nora Sakavic

I knew I was going to have to write a series review from the moment I started reading The Foxhole Court. I had heard almost only positive things before starting it, and the few negative reviews I’d seen revolved around the fact that the sport elements in it weren’t realistic. To be honest I don’t care much for sports so I knew it wasn’t something that would bother me. Flash forward to after I read the whole series: I start seeing people that say negative things about it (sometimes without having even read it) that don’t make any sense to me, and (coincidence?) they are the same (or similar) things I’ve seen thrown at my other favorite series, Captive Prince. So I decided to make this post a little bit more than just a review because I feel like there are things that need to be addressed.

Please note that I’m not trying to shit on people’s opinions. Everyone is allowed to like or not like whatever they want. But. I see a trend of “opinions“, or to better put it: “reasons why I wouldn’t recommend this series” that I think is just harmful for these books, for these authors and for the people that enjoy them, and I find it problematic because it doesn’t take into consideration something fundamental to any written story: the fact that perspective is always key.

So, allow me to write a big fat disclaimer first:

I am in no way criticizing your opinion if you’ve read this series and you didn’t like it. Be it the characters, the story or the writing that didn’t appeal to you, I respect you and your opinion.

Also I need everybody who hasn’t read them to know that both series I’m talking about are ADULT series. Not YA.
With that out of the way, I want to address a few (just two really, because this post will be very long already) of the complaints that I’ve heard about both All for the Game and Captive Prince, often from people who haven’t read these series.

  • There are words like “faggot”yes, this is true for All for the game. That word is used (two times throughout the whole series) in dialogues, never in the narrative. Does it mean that every character uses that word? No. Does it mean that the author agrees with calling people “faggot”? No. Does it mean that the character that uses that word is idolized? No. Does it mean this series has zero or bad LGBT representation? Absolutely not. To give you an example of how that word is used:

    “Fuck you, faggot,” Seth said.
    “I don’t like that word,” Andrew said. “Don’t use it.”
    “I would say ‘fuck you, freak’, but then you would’t know which one of you I was talking to.”
    “Don’t talk to us at all,” Aaron said. “You never have anything useful to say.”

    As you can see, Seth is immediately called out on his use of the word. Seth is not a likable character throughout the series, and he’s the only one that uses that word. So why would you criticize this series for using this word, if you don’t know or (purposely or not) forget to mention the context it’s in? It would be nice to live in a world where nobody ever called anyone that, but the fact is, homophobic people exist, and to ignore that fact would be much more problematic than using a bad word twice and pointing out that that’s not okay.

  • But there is rape: look, yes, there is rape and (past or present) abuse in both series. Abuse (sexual or otherwise) exists and there need to be books that talk about the effects it has on a person. The abuse in both series is never used as a plot device, and both of them deal with how the persons affected by it is able to cope with it. Are they pretty, fluffy stories? Hell no. But are they important stories? Hell yes.

With this I don’t want to say that everyone should read it. There are strong trigger warnings for both series, so if that’s a problem for you, you should absolutely stay away from them. But should you denigrate these series based on the pure fact that bad things are said or done in them? I don’t think so.

I’m going to focus just on All for the Game now because that’s what I want to review today.
This series has awesome, realistic LGBT representation and is one of the best lessons in consent that I’ve ever read. I’m 24 and I’ve never read anything that takes consent more seriously than this. So allow me to be slightly pissed off when someone comes along and shits on its value, indirectly implying that it condones rape or the use of words like faggot.

I believe that we, as readers, should be able to understand that, allow me to repeat myself, perspective is key to reading any given book. End of rant.


 

But let’s come to the actual review for this.

★★★★

The main character is Neil Josten, well, he has become Neil Josten. He had to change names and countries more than twenty times, because he’s been on the run with his mother for eight years, running away from a criminal father that is on the hunt to kill them both. And indeed, he did manage to kill Neil’s mother one year prior to the beginning of the story. So Neil is alone and lying low, with only one passion: playing Exy in his high school.
Exy is a fictional sport that I won’t even pretend to have understood completely. But hey, that’s entirely my fault because I don’t follow any team sport and I don’t care much for them. So here’s a description taken from the book for all of you sports lovers: “an evolved sort of lacrosse […] with the violence of ice hockey”. Whatever that means. (I promise I have understood a little bit of how it works. Just not enough that I can explain it to someone else.)
But high school is almost over, and he gets an offer to go to Palmetto State University and keep playing Exy there with the Foxes. He accepts.
Coach Wymack selects all of his players from problematic families or situations. He saw potential in Neil and understood Neil’s profile fits perfectly within this team, despite not knowing exactly what his past looks like.
As the story continues, Neil will learn the full truth about his past, who his father is involved with, how all that is somehow connected to Exy, and he will have to trust others with half or full truths and even put his safety in their hands.

Other things you can expect from the plot, in completely random order:

  • Life lessons coming from team play and sport: well there really can’t be a book about sport that doesn’t have those, can there?
  • Seriously though, to call this a series about sport is ridiculous. Exy is obviously important, but it can be totally overlooked if you’re like me.
  • Complex, morally grey characters. Secrets. Troubled and tragic pasts.
  • Japanese mafia.
  • Lots of character development.
  • Positive and realistic LGBT representation.
  • One character is demisexual. Like, hello, have you ever seen that in a book? (Demisexuality is not explicitly mentioned, but the description of this character’s interest in romantic and sexual relationships seems to match this type of sexuality)
  • CONSENT IS A MAJOR THEME.
  • Healthy relationships.
  • Healthy, positive female friendships. 👭👭👭👭👭
  • Your morality will feel challenged by some of the things you find here.
  • A girl is the captain of the team. 😀
  • Lots of diversity.
  • Honestly there’s just too many positive things I can say about this and this should be an endless list.

But, this wouldn’t be one of my favorite series if it wasn’t character-driven, so I need to talk a bit about the characters. The Foxes are divided in two friendship groups: the Upperclassmen (Matt, Dan, Renee, Allison, Seth) and Andrew’s group (Andrew and Aaron or “the monsters”, Nicky, Kevin). Neil learns gradually to get along with both groups in different ways. He obviously has trust issues and can’t reveal all of his past.
As I mentioned, Neil is not the only one with drama in his past. As we find out the Foxes’ backstories, we learn why they ended up in this wreck of a team, and I can guarantee you that each story is heartbreaking.

Besides Neil, my other favorite characters were Andrew and Nicky.
Nicky is “the talkative” one and is cousin to the twins Andrew and Aaron. He’s hilarious, supportive, and ultimately a really good person.
Andrew…I won’t lie and say that I understand him fully even after having read the whole series. I’ve stated in my review for book one that Andrew reminded me a bit of Ronan Lynch (from The Raven Boys). After having finished the series I don’t think that’s true anymore, but I’ve somehow still felt the need to associate him with other known characters while I was reading this. I don’t know why that is, probably him being just too complex. Another character I’ve tried to associate him with is Laurent from Captive Prince, but it just doesn’t do it. Andrew is his own character and doesn’t feel like a copy-paste of any other one.
I don’t agree with a lot of things he does, but his is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve met in my reader life, and I don’t necessarily feel like I need to agree with or understand a character in order to love him. And love him I do.

If you’re looking for romance, you should know that what you’ll find here is extremely slow burn. But it will eat your soul. You will cry at night thinking about it, you will listen to songs that remind you of the characters involved in the romance and start crying in the middle of the street because of how perfect the songs fit and you just hope the characters are doing okay. I wish I was just being overly dramatic. I wish.

I’m already planning a reread of this series (probably in January with some buddies) and I feel like it’s much needed, as it often happens in character-driven stories. I know I will understand a lot more than I did the first time around. That’s not to say the story wasn’t clear; on the contrary, the story was very clear, but some of these characters (not just Andrew) are too complex to fully appreciate them if you only read the books once. Besides, these fictional people aren’t planning to leave my head anytime soon, so I might as well dedicate my full attention to them again.

If you want to read my reviews for the single books you can do so here (warning: not all reviews are complete and I’m likely to go edit them often and probably not in a way that makes much sense at all):
The Foxhole Court
The Raven King
The King’s Men

I really hope this series will gain more notoriety and recognition because it honestly deserves it all. I also hope Nora Sakavic will come up with some new books/series because I enjoyed her writing far more than it should be humanly possible.  Oh, have I mentioned this series only costs about 3€ in e-book format? Can it get any better than that? I don’t think so.

Bonus: Spotify playlist.

Series review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

daughter-of-smoke-and-bone-series

★★★★

Karou was plagued by the notion that she wasn’t whole. She didn’t know what this meant, but it was a lifelong feeling, a sensation akin to having forgotten something.

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy has been a weird one for me to read. Usually, when I start a series that is fully published, I marathon the whole thing. That’s just the most enjoyable way for me to read series, and also why I generally prefer series than standalones. Anyway, that’s not what I managed to do when I first started reading this last year, so I ended up reading only the first two books before being hit by a huge reading slump. I still enjoyed both of them, but it wasn’t the books’ fault.
When I picked them all up again this past month, I did manage to read all of them finally, but it took me longer than normal for some reason because I kept being distracted, and also that’s around the time I started this blog and my fanfiction. Despite all that, I loved these books.

The writing is something that really resonated with me. That’s a very personal thing, because I know some people who were initially put off by it (and once -some of them at least- they looked past that, they ended up loving this series). It is lyrical, poetic, humorous at times, and it definitely fit the story it was telling. I’m really looking forward to reading more by Laini Taylor, to see if she can capture me again like she did with this trilogy.

The story was completely beautiful. It’s an urban fantasy that features humans, angels (not in the religious way) and chimaera, as well as two separate worlds (Earth and Eretz). Love is definitely one of the main themes, but as much as the romance is a really important element, it’s not the only one. In fact, throughout the series there are so many themes that are discussed or mentioned, and while not all of them reach a conclusion and are only mentioned in passing, they still make you think.

I can’t really say which part of these books I enjoyed most, but something I care very much about when I read is the way characters are portrayed, and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. Both the main characters and the secondary ones were really well done and I even found some of my new all-time-favorites in them.

The world building was honestly amazing. Things start off on Earth (specifically in Prague) and slowly you learn that there are other creatures (chimaera and angels), and then you learn there’s another world, and then you learn there’s magic, and…well, saying more would be very spoilery, but I can only say at the end of the third book there’s a lot more than you thought at the beginning. There’s never any info-dump and everything is slowly built and thus it’s made credible.

If you want to check out my individual reviews you can do so on goodreads:
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Days of Blood and Starlight
Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Needless to say, I gave all of these books 5 stars (maybe 4,75 to the first one) and I really recommend this series to everyone!