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.
When I get that message of “I have a book recommendation for you” from my best mate, I usually listen to her. Then she tells me that it’s about a made up sport that’s a cross between hockey and lacrosse, I wonder what she spiked her tea with… Then I went along with it because we both like/dislike the same books (we’ve already agreed to never read a specific author again, and we can’t wait for a different author’s next release).
From the offset, Sakavic sets the tone for the entire series with this book. It’s full of mystery, fear, and violence. The characters are – not quite relateable due to their circumstances, but they are real. They have major flaws, yet you can’t help but like them and want them to do well. The main thing I really liked was that Sakavic didn’t try too hard to ram the mystery and the fear that the characters (Neil especially) have. For me, it’s what The Raven Cycle books wanted to be, with added sport and a much better mystery.
The Foxes are a team in name only. They segregate themselves from the other athletes at Palmetto University, and each other. They argue and threaten each other, and they consistently lose their Exy games. They all have their different reasons for being on the team, yet many of them aren’t willing to try and mingle.
Then Neil’s recruited to the team. He’s been on the run for years, and it’s a risk agreeing to join the Foxes, but his love of the sport overrides his fear of those he’s running from.
Can he survive his time on the team without being found out, or killed by one of his teammates? I had to finish the book in pretty much one sitting to find out!
The main reason this isn’t a 5* read for me, is the way the team coach stays out of the arguments/fights between the team members. I wanted to slap him and tell him to help his team rather than to turn a blind eye. No coach would leave them to their own devices, especially where drugs and weapons are concerned. I’m guessing he has his reasons, but it still rankled at me a little.
Book 2 of All for the Game; The Raven King follows The Foxhole Court
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.
The continuation of the first book, The Raven King – Better than another of the same name in my opinion – carries on with the action. I was already becoming attached to the characters in the first book and this book made that attraction stronger with every word.
Considering this series has been described as M/M, Sakavic has been quite subtle with it (apart from the very out and proud Nicky who is wonderful). The subtext is fantastic and in places, made me smile while in others, made me well up. The emotion is thick in this book and that’s what drew me to the characters. The female characters in this second book are shown more in how strong they are. They’re all so different and have their own issues, but they deal with them in a mature way.
Even though, as with The Foxhole Court this book is told from Neil’s POV, yet Sakavic lets the reader learn about his teammates (and tentative friends) alongside him, and she does this very well. Throughout this book, Renee and Nicky were my favourites, but Andrew, Neil, and Kevin are up there too.
We also meet more of the Ravens, and I have to admit that they’re (mostly) not at all likeable. They are ruled by Riko’s iron fist, and although they’re one of the best teams, they are not remotely relateable. That becomes even clearer towards the end of the book when Neil is forced to spend time with them… That’s when I really began to read with my heart in my mouth.
Again, not a 5* rating because of the lack of control Coach Wymack seems to have over his team and the way he doesn’t involve himself in their lives more and reign them in.
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 third in the All for the Game series for me, was by far the best in the trilogy. Not only are the Foxes in on Neil’s secrets and most of each other’s, they are more of a team than ever. Yet, more and more and more is thrown into their paths. I sobbed reading about Andrew and what happens to him, which then causes a domino effect on the other team members.
This book is also the main element of the M/M romance that is hinted at and alluded to in the previous two. It’s a real slow burn and almost a fight to actually be considered a romance. What it is tough, is a natural progression of these characters and I found myself internally cheering for them.
Finally, Wymack steps up and fights for his team and shows the respect he has for each member and I can now understand why he seems as hands off as he has been in the previous books. In fact, the adults are all a lot more ‘responsible’ in this last book and feel like they are doing the jobs they’re employed to do.
This book is the ultimate culmination of what Sakavic has set up in the first two books. Speaking to other people have read this trilogy, I found that they’ve had the same kind of reactions to me in different parts of this book. I cried, I laughed, I smiled, and I cheered as each of the characters matured and dealt with the things in their past that was holding them back. As a team, they are working together and fighting for what they want and deserve.
Neil and Kevin especially, deal with some horrible things in a way that I would never have imagined from the way they behave in the first book. The character progression for these characters is brilliantly done and I applaud Nora Sakavic for this.
Trying not to give spoilers, I think the ending was perfect. Anything more ‘pretty’ or ‘neat’ would have been a disservice to these characters, but I also feel as she’s left it open a little to maybe, possibly write more about The Foxes. I wouldn’t be averse to this idea.
As someone who isn’t a huge fan of sport in general – even though I enjoy reading about them – I really liked this. Although Exy is the backbone to the story, it doesn’t dominate the plot. It’s used a device to get the characters together and moving around to the places they need to be. It also gives them a reason to become closer they way they do throughout the series.
It’s a pretty slow burn, but the entire trilogy is captivating and makes you want to devour it. I will certainly read more by this author and I want them in paperback for my shelf!