No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, July 24, 2016

2016/43-45: All For the Game [trilogy] -- Nora Sakavic

The Foxhole Court
The Raven King
The King's Men
Neil realized he was happy. It was such an unexpected and unfamiliar feeling he lost track of the conversation for a minute. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this included or safe. It was nice but dangerous. Someone with a past like his, whose very survival depended on secrecy and lies, couldn't afford to let his guard down. [The Raven King, loc. 1050]

Neil Josten is eighteen. His mother is dead: he hasn't seen his crime-lord father for years. Through multiple countries and as many identities, he's fled his past, moving from school to school. His luck's about to change, though: he's been recruited to Palmetto State University's Exy team, the Foxes -- a bunch of misfits and delinquents which happens to include a friend from his former life.

Exy (if you were wondering) is a fictional team game, 'an evolved sort of lacrosse on a soccer-sized court with the violence of ice hockey'. It's the one part of Neil's childhood that he hasn't been able to give up, and he's very good at it. So are the other members of his team. They're just not very good at being people.

There are three major story arcs in this trilogy: the rise to glory of the Foxes; a conflict between rival crime families (some of who are involved in sponsoring and funding Exy teams); and the relationships between the team members, and especially between Neil and the 'sociopathic' Andrew. Pretty much all of these relationships are more or less dysfunctional: the trilogy features rape, murder, torture, characters being drugged against their will, characters not being drugged despite a court mandate, bullying, theft, hatred ...

And yet, there is a hopefulness, a sense of something greater than the sum of its parts: the relationships between characters aren't always nice, but they are heartfelt and vivid. Sakavic's writing is fast, staccato and well-paced, which I think is what kept me reading (the first book was free!) despite my dislike of several characters and my disinterest in the game of Exy. She doesn't make the mistake of infodumping: the characters know more than the readers about their world, and this sense of secrets waiting to unfold was also a powerful motivator.

There were plot elements that I didn't find convincing, and others that made no sense from the viewpoint of one or more participants. I do think the third novel was weaker than the others. It was interesting, though, to read a YA work with no supernatural or fantastical elements, and a distinct lack of heteronormativity.

Final note: I read this trilogy because it was being recommended by people who'd read Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Chronicle (see here for reviews) and who found similarities in characterisation and relationships. My mileage varied: I found All for the Game considerably darker and less humorous, and I didn't like the characters as much.

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