REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT DEAR AUTHOR
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.
Dear Nora Sakavic,
I bought (that is, I downloaded since the book is free on Amazon) your book several months ago on the strength of a great review by someone whose tastes are quite close to mine. However, the book has been sitting in my TBR mountain until recently, when a friend whose tastes coincide with mine about 95 percent of the time highly recommended it. Of course whatever she recommends I have to read.
I loved your voice very much. I have not read a book for a while where I simply fell in love with the raw energy of the writing; it almost literally swept me away. This is also a most unusual book – which is both a good and a bad thing as far as I am concerned. First and foremost this is not a romance or a love story – *at all*. I have heard that the writer has promised some romance in the last book of the trilogy, but I have not read that comment myself, so I cannot guarantee anything. Right now this is a book about a teenager on the run who loves a particular sports game and who gets drafted to play for the most unusual University team in this most unusual game. When we learn that Neil is running from his father who is a mafia Boss (Don, whatever you want to call him), I understood that this book would have a lot of violence. After I read it I think that while the book is bursting with hints of future violence and we learn about some past violent things which took place in the narrator’s (and some of his teammates’) pasts, there is no graphic violence happening in this book. The interactions between Foxes definitely had violent undercurrents, but for me it did not go over a line that would disturb me. I have heard that the second book “Ravens king,” which is already out, does have a lot of on-page violence though.
What I loved the most in this book are the characters. Neil is someone who lived through the violence his father unleashed on him and people around him, so his everyday concern is to survive, run, and never stop in order to survive. Neil is not your typical angsty teenager. He is sarcastic and angry with good reason, but in fact while I can definitely call him a tortured character, there is very little angst in this book. There is a lot of anger, but not angst.
“He glanced up at the sky, but the stars were washed out behind the glare of the stadium lights. He wondered – not for the first time – if his mother was looking down at him. He hoped not. She’d beat him to hell and back if she saw him sitting around mopping like that”.
The only problem is Neil still loves one thing in his life – Exy. Exy is a fictional game that is very popular in this world and to be honest, because it is taking place in a world equivalent to ours I could not fully accept it as fictional. The author’s brief explanation of Exy as a mixture of several games known to us also did not help me to see this game as something completely abstract, which was both a good and a bad thing.
“Exy was a bastard sport, an evolved sort of lacrosse on a soccer-sized court with the violence of ice hockey, and Neil loved every part of it from its speed to its aggression. It was the one piece of his childhood he’d never been able to give up”.
Neil lets himself be convinced to sign up with the Foxes and play for a while until his past catches up with him. The problem is that this happens faster than he expected. One of his teammates was somebody Neil knew from his violent past and he appears to have so many issues on his plate that he just does not recognize Neil from several years ago. The Foxes turned out to be a strange team – their coach basically formed a team of second chances, team of misfits, who almost all of them had different kind of problems.
A lot of this book is devoted to this sport and how much these men and few women love Exy (almost all of them anyway), but also the violent dispositions of many characters bring very interesting tensions in their everyday communications even when they were not on the training field.
Remember when I said that it was a good and bad thing that Exy felt to me just as another game from our world – it has college tournament, it has governing body, etc? Well, one of Foxes has to take antipsychotic medications on the regular basis as a part of the plea bargain he struck after doing something bad. He is allowed to play by Exy’s governing body and I could not completely suspend disbelief about that. I also could not completely suspend disbelief about a coach striking a private agreement with this boy and allowing him to get off his medications when he is playing. It kind of felt too real world for me and meds making him feel worse than he felt without them? He was described as feeling high while *on the medications* and experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal without them. What? Change the medication people.
Neil’s conflict between wanting to run and wanting to stay is one of the main themes in the book, along with his process of building some kind of communication with his teammates. The guys were all very interesting; especially Andrew and Kevin, and I can safely call these two tortured characters as well. I was also trying to guess who will be romantic couple in the book (if any), but I keep going back and forth between several possibilities.
There are couple other things I was really having trouble suspending disbelief about when I was reading this book (I did not get it for review initially so I read several other reviews and there is a review on Goodreads which is called “A Book of No” by Julio, which described those issues really well), but the sheer drive of the story and characters made me enjoy it despite that.
The ending was not an ending of a separate book and I heard it is worse in the book two. Apparently it feels more like one novel split in three parts rather than a trilogy. I am not starting book two till book three is out.