Series Review: All For the Game by Nora Sakavic

Posted August 14, 2017 by Kim in books, series review / 3 Comments

A comprehensive list of trigger warnings for the All For the Game series can be found here.

There are a few rare stories that become timeless to us, and many of them we discover in childhood. (Hello to Harry Potter and Percy Jackson!) Books we’ve grown up with and characters we watched develop in turn. The All For the Game series was a recent chance discovery that ended up as one the best series I’ve read in a long time. It isn’t going to be the right read for everyone, but these books are my pure aesthetic.

Foxhole Court by Nora Sakavic
Series: All For the Game (#1) 
Publisher: Smashwords
Published: January 15th, 2013
Source: Purchased
Goodreads Amazon

Neil Josten is the newest addition to the
Palmetto State University Exy team. He’s short,
he’s fast, he’s got a ton of potential—and he’s
the runaway son of the murderous crime lord
known as The Butcher.

Signing a contract with the PSU Foxes is the last
thing a guy like Neil should do. The team is
high profile and he doesn’t need sports
crews broadcasting pictures of his face around
the nation. His lies will hold up only so long under
this kind of scrutiny and the truth will get
him killed.

But Neil’s not the only one with secrets on
the team. One of Neil’s new teammates is a
friend from his old life, and Neil can’t walk away from him a second time. Neil has survived the
last eight years by running. Maybe he’s finally found someone and something worth fighting for.

One of my favorite types of anime to watch falls in the sports genre. It began slowly with Kuroko no Basket and then suddenly one day series like Diamond no Ace and Yowamushi Pedal crashed into my life with their wonderful character dynamics and slightly corny one-liners. Most importantly, through sports anime, I fell in love with the idea of a team – a makeshift home away from home for people with similar passions to come together. But among the rookie players and the strict coaches, I seem to have developed a particular character preference: overconfident boys with thin smiles and the ability to overcome fear.

I asked for a character like Ronan Lynch from The Raven Cycles by Maggie Stievfater and the internet gave me Andrew Minyard. (This is my thank you card to tumblr.)

The Foxhole Court centers around Palmetto State University, which has been a bottom-tier NCAA Class I Exy team because it doubles as a halfway house for those who need another chance and something more than the lot they’ve been given in life.

The Palmetto State University Foxes were a team of talented rejects and junkies because Wymack
only recruited athletes from broken home. His decision […] was nice in theory, but it meant his
players were fractured isolationists who couldn’t get along long enough to get through a game.
(5)

The story begins with Neil Josten, and his life is a ticking time bomb. There isn’t much in the world Neil can claim for himself but his consuming love for Exy (not a drug, pinky promise it”s just a fake sport). So when circumstances align to give Neil one shiny, take-me-home present of a chance to play for a real college team, he isn’t able to walk away from the lion’s den. 

All three books behind me and I can’t tell you with any confidence how a game of Exy is played besides, “Girls and boys carry big sticks and people are whacked just as often as the ball.” But in all fairness, a guide is provided at the end of The Raven King and I only skimmed it like a school essay.

In lieu of the praises I can sing for sports anime, I’d like to mention that they often require a suspension of disbelief to be fully enjoyed. Haikyuu!!‘s 5″4’ Hinata Shōyō  spiking with his eyes closed because their setter can toss with perfect precision isn’t a likely feat reality can reproduce. The Palmetto Foxes deal with things with questionable validity that I can easily ignore because I don’t know how sports, drugs, or the proper ways to cut a man really works. If you’re highly adverse to implausible things in a contemporary setting, this might not be the read for you.

There is an economy to Nora Sakavic’s writing that just works with the type of reader I am. I enjoy my share of purple prose novels, but Sakavic’s writing is engaging because it is direct. The characters she creates are the kind I can devour in abundance, and a lot of them are really egotistic fools who cling too hard to one thing to die quietly. The Foxes are battered and bruised and have dealt with one too many shitty hands. They are the farthest thing from co-dependent, but Neil’s addition to this team might be the common ground the players can rally around.

Neil closed his eyes. “Why did you tell the ERC I would make Court?”
“Because when you stop being impossible and do what I tell you to, you will.”
(211)

I have no regrets marathon reading the whole trilogy because these are books that grow considerably with each installment. Each book builds on the last, and the action in the finale wouldn’t be as thrilling without the Foxhole Court setting up the pieces that will eventually take us there. The character arcs wouldn’t mean as much if we weren’t introduced to Kevin Day at the stage where his fear overrules his talent or the Neil Josten whose only instinct was to run. All For the Game as a whole handles a lot sensitive messages with grace, and The King’s Men is by far the best acknowledgement of consent I have read. Especially with the kind of histories these characters carry with them, I can’t say how important it is that it’s acknowledged that casual surrender is not a yes. The lack of a no is not a yes, particularly between two people who haven’t known each other for very long.  

View Spoiler

On the topic of consent: the fact that Nicky, who otherwise is really loyal and a ball of cheer who deserves a lot of credit for not giving up on his cousins,  forcefully kisses Neil twice is something problematic I just can’t let go of. Whyyyyyyy would you do that, especially when someone like Andrew has explicitly and quite violently warned you off the rape jokes. Nicky has a serious boyfriend too, so this was just one part of his character motivation I couldn’t understand. You can’t tell me he really couldn’t have figured out another way to distract Neil, who was drugged and barely had any strength. The drugging really pissed me off too, and I was mentally shouting I don’t care how long you haven’t had soda, if your memory of the flavor screams this sickly sweet flavor is off, it is off, stop drinking get help NEIL

[collapse]

Caution: the reviews ahead are spoiler filled discussions with far more exclamations and proclamations of emotional attachments.

The Raven King by nora sakavic
SERIES: all for the game (#2)
PUBLISHER: SMASHWORDS
PUBLISHED: July 10th, 2013
SOURCE: PURCHASED

Goodreads | Amazon

The Foxes are a fractured mess, but their
latest disaster might be the miracle they’ve
always needed to come together as a team.
The one person standing in their way is Andrew,
and the only one who can break through his
personal barriers is Neil.

Except Andrew doesn’t give up anything for free
and Neil is terrible at trusting anyone but himself.
The two don’t have much time to come to terms
with their situation before outside forces start
tearing them apart. Riko is intent on destroying
Neil’s fragile new life, and the Foxes have just
become collateral damage.

Neil’s days are numbered, but he’s learning the
hard way to go down fighting for what he believes in, and Neil believes in Andrew even if Andrew
won’t believe in himself.

Sooner or later, you’ll figure out that I am a hopeless romantic and there are few things I am more fond of than a healthy relationship. The Raven King is not a romance story. It is a story about taking chances and characters I want to take apart. Riko. 

RIKO. 

How somebody like this can be idolized by Raven fans when he is little more than a petulant child with catastrophic tantrums and a penchant for disturbing violence makes me wanna cry. He is the kind of person who delights in pain, who thrives on the helplessness of others, and he is sick. I have read about characters who flaunt consent and cross boundaries but Riko honestly takes a big slice of the i-hope-you-burn cake.

The psyche of a character like Riko can spurn infinite amounts of questions — when do you stop being the consequence of your upbringing and at what point can you blame your own choices in becoming a demon of your own making? Reading about Riko grate on every Fox’s nerves was like a horror show you know is going to unfold but you can’t look away from (and a customary reminder that I am a scaredy-cat so I need to look away now look away now) —

oh look, hi Neil who especially can’t control his attitude problem when provoked

oh he’s gonna die

he’s definitely gonna die

at least someone’s gonna die for this

Neil stop talking you’re gonna die

but Neil doesn’t stop, because Neil is a beautiful confirmed (but never explicitly stated) demisexual character who takes no shits and has no filter and is absolutely clueless to the little signs the romance lover in me eats up. In the moments when I am deathly afraid for Neil’s life because of his mouth, I try to remember that Neil stands up for others when no one else in their right minds would even dare scowl at Riko the boy-king. So yep Neil is great, Neil is brave, Neil is courageous —

Neil is totally gonna die at the Raven’s Nest don’t go don’t you dare go and oh there he goes. 

I swear this boy lost all his survival skills while managing to retain all his I am a walking magnet for murder and mayhem shining personality.  

“Looks like I was right about him after all. Or do  you still think this is all a big misunderstanding? Go on,
tell me again how I’m too unbalanced to understand normal brotherly affection and love. Tell me
this is natural.” (219)

I love Andrew Minyard so much that it honestly breaks my already stressed heart to see this boy with so little to live for. The Raven King is emotionally wrecking because I adore the Foxes and all these injustices against them infuriates me to the point where I would just like to punch Riko in the face. 

The Palmetto Foxes are not perfect characters and their actions don’t make them saints. They are violent when pushed, they have histories as victims of assault and addiction, and they are growing into better people with every word on the page. The backstories The Raven King reveals showed me just how far these characters have already come — the unlikely female friendships born from the solidarity struggle of playing Exy as girls, the will it takes to keep going and to keep believing when every time you tried it’s more poison in your veins — and just how far they can keep going from here because this team is a dark-horse champion in the making.

I really want all my precious Foxes to one day get to a point where they wouldn’t qualify as Foxes. That is the day when I know they’re all going to be okay. For now I’ll settle for taking Jean so bloody far away from the Ravens that Riko and his stupid number tattoos can’t hurt and brand anyone anymore.

“Welcome to the Nest,” Jean said.
“Cult,” Neil said again.

There is a lot I love about The Raven King and a majority of it is Andrew Minyard and the moment you see the boy behind the shell, Kevin Day with his unfailing belief that talent should never be wasted, and Renee who is every bit the sweetheart Christian girl as she is the nightmare that will cut you open throat to groin. It’s Dan who not only met the challenge of being the first girl to captain a Class l Exy team, but she rose above it with a hell of a lot of something I wish I had. It’s my admiration for Allison because she makes no apologies, and Matt because he knows which battles are his to fight. It’s Wymack, who understands that sometimes all you can do to lessen the weight of the pain people carry is to give them something that can fall back on safely.

Neil is arguably the protagonist of the story, but this is a series driven forth by a full cast of characters. It addresses a lot of potential triggers, but none of them ever felt gratuitously handled or added for shock value. The approach is poised and the result is a coherent understanding of these characters with depth. Rather than having it feel contrived to tell an emotional story, it feels more like someone is telling you the Foxes’ story as if they were real people and the writer is merely putting their experiences on a page. Essentially it means that here: This is their story laid bare, and a lot of it really really sucks. But this is what molds these characters into who they are. This is what gives moody Aaron his stand-offish connection to others, and this is why Andrew and Neil don’t mince their words and use syntax like a weapon.

 He yanked Neil into a fierce hug before Neil thought to dodge. “Oh, you just might be the best thing to
happen to the Foxes.” (193)

The Foxes are too broken to come together on their own, but their new freshman striker gives them something to rally around. Neil definitely isn’t the only one with an attitude problem, but the fundamental difference between a character like Riko and somebody like Andrew is that Andrew’s anger isn’t self-serving in nature. That is why Andrew gets to be a protagonist. Riko and Drake and Proust are just disgusting people and I won’t stand for them. I hate them all. Please burn like Eliza Hamilton’s letters. I hope a snake eats your heads.

I’m okay, I’m okay, the last part of this book just punched what’s left of my heart

THE KING’S MEN BY NORA SAKAVIC
Series: ALL FOR THE GAME (#3)
Publisher: CREATESPACE
published: DECEMBER 3RD, 2014
source: purchased
goodreads | amazon 

Neil Josten is out of time. He knew when he came to PSU
he wouldn’t survive the year, but with his death right around
the corner he’s got more reasons than ever to live.

Befriending the Foxes was inadvisable. Kissing one is
unthinkable. Neil should know better than to get involved
with anyone this close to the end, but Andrew’s never been
the easiest person to walk away from. If they both say it
doesn’t mean anything, maybe Neil won’t regret losing it, but
the one person Neil can’t lie to is himself.

He’s got promises to keep and a team to get to championships if he can just outrun Riko a little longer,
but Riko’s not the only monster in Neil’s life. The truth might get them all killed—or be Neil’s one
shot at getting out of this alive.

The King’s Men is my favorite book of the series and I will never admit that it’s because there are few things are beautiful as these boys kissing. What I will admit to is that I love that kissing Neil isn’t a magical fix for Andrew’s problems, and that by the time we turn the final page, Andrew did not go from broken to mended whole. In many ways, Neil who doesn’t think twice about respecting personal boundaries was the glue Andrew needed to start healing, but there wouldn’t be pieces for Andrew to pick up if it wasn’t for Betsy. If Kevin never stubbornly believed in something more for Andrew, if Wymack never offered him a place, if Aaron never accidentally came into his life, Andrew might have walked a very different path with Cass Spears and the monster who likes to call himself Drake. Even for Kevin I’m-too-talented Day, Exy is not the final answer to his problems. Everybody deserves a chance to start somewhere though, and healing from our scars will come in time.

This review might not make much sense from here on out but the moment Andrew is released from Easthaven I WAS SO LIVID RIKO I HATE YOU CAN’T EVEN KEEP YOUR WORD LIKE HOLY DON’T TOUCH HIM DON’T USE A PROXY DON’T GO ANYWHERE ANYMORE JUST STAY IN YOUR ROOM.

Andrew comes out arguably worse off than when he went in but he’s drug free and at the very least he can start working off his anger without his court mandated happy-high (is that even what the drug did though I know nothing). There is a significant reduction of his overt usage of exclamation points and he doesn’t smile anymore, but Andrew is able to see things a lot clearer now and Neil is something he needs to address. The boy who always looked ready to run at a drop of a pin kept his promise and stayed, but he has a whole bunch of new bruises and he’s sporting (hey , what you look at that) Riko’s number tattoo. Maybe it wouldn’t mean a thing if Neil took those scars for Kevin, because Neil made a promise and the consequences are something he should’ve been prepared for, but Neil looks at Andrew and tells him he did it because he wanted to protect him and I’m just like

NEIL HOW DO YOU NOT PICK UP THAT ANDREW LIKES YOU HELLO SOMEONE GET THIS POOR BOY PEN AND PAPER AND WRITE IT OUT FOR HIM (Andrew does spell it out for him ha I’m actually weak) 

“I didn’t think I was a personal problem. You hate me, remember?”
“Every inch of you,” Andrew said. “That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t blow you.”
(61)

I swear I’m not crying; they just make me really happy even though most of their interactions are the farthest thing from sweet territory. The Trojans are literally sweethearts though. I can’t imagine any Exy team, except my dearest  (nope go away) Ravens, playing extremely dirty against them because, seriously, the Trojans are one of the best teams and they keep their sportsmanship. It’s almost a miracle they’re actually all-around good people, and reading the Foxes’s match withthis daring team that took the risk of losing the tournament in order to improve in the long run was just as satisfying as the beginning of something like Hikaru no Go. The Trojans stuck with nine players to the end and then complimented the Foxes because it is not easy to make it this far with so little players in such a long game, so I’m telling you Jeremy and his team are my kings (who even is irrelevant Riko, I’d rather live for Kevin being an unrepentant USC fanboy).

“I can do it,” Neil said when Renee sat cross-legged on the bed in front of him.
I know you can,” Renee said. “but perhaps it’s easier if someone helps you.”
(320)

There are so many scenes I want to talk about that I could write an essay the size of The King’s Men. Admittedly a lot of it would be THEY KISS, I HATE NATHAN, LOLA GO SIT IN A DITCH, RIKO DON’T EVEN RIGHT NOW, HELLO ICHIROU PLEASE DON’T CUT NEIL’S FACE TOO, OH YAY A KISS, YOU ARE ALL FOOLS, I LOVE EVERYBODY not you Riko or you Nathan or you creepy members of Nathan’s gang, but one of the most important scenes I was waiting for since the moment Neil got in Riko’s face in The Foxhole Court happened to my immense pleasure. I wanted to see the moment Kevin was no longer checked by any king, and it was a long time coming when he tattooed a queen over the two on his face. Kevin Day, my queen. (not laughing who’s laughing I’m very proud)

They’ll play tonight with everything they’ve got and they’ll be better for it. Next year is going to
be interesting.” (373)

I really am sad that I am done with this series because I won’t get to read about the Foxes’ next year, even though I would probably want to kick Kevin’s recruit. I definitely wasn’t willing to let go of them quite yet, so I found and continue to find my fix of #Andreil in the tumblr extra content the author provided. I never knew how much I could appreciate domestic lives and cats named strangely by Nicky, but the bonus insights into the past and a hint of the future is more than enough to give me a sense of closure. I can let the books end here, especially because I know the stories  still continue. I just wanted my first review in a long time to be an open letter to someone detailing how Andrew Minyard is very precious to me and how everyone deserve to be happy. Maybe not Riko. Or Nathan. 

Rating Report
Characters
5 star rating
Plot
5 star rating
Writing

The Foxhole Court was the first book I finished a day in a long time.

5 star rating
Pacing
5 star rating
Art
star rating
Overall 4 stars

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3 responses to “Series Review: All For the Game by Nora Sakavic

  1. I loved this series so much 😭 I want to bawl every time I hear/see mentions of it. But I really need to re-read them, it’s been so long. The whole series is a masterpiece, the character arcs, the development…I LOVED IT. Great review <3<3

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