“Remember this feeling. This is the moment you stop being the rabbit.”
The Foxhole Court, the first book in the All for the Game trilogy by Nora Sakavic, has been haunting me for over a year on Tumblr. For some reason, this novel heavily appeals to fans of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater* and, as a fan of the latter series, I thought it was beyond time I finally saw what the fuss surrounding All for the Game was about.
The plot was unlike anything I had come across before. Neil Josten, the son of a notorious crime lord, has spent the past eight years of his life on the run from his murderous father. Neil is recruited to the Palmetto State University Exy team and, despite settling down being the absolute last thing he should do, Neil can’t stop himself from accepting. The Palmetto Foxes are the dregs of the dregs of society, all former drug-users and teenagers who have experienced the very worst life has to offer – and they are also the worst team in the NCAA. Neil shouldn’t be allowing himself to undergo this kind of scrutiny, not with his father still searching for him, but Neil isn’t the only one on the team with secrets. One of Niel’s new teammates is someone from his old life and Neil knows he can’t walk away from him again.
“Then it’s time to stop being the worst,” Wymack said. “It’s time to fly.”
For such a short novel, this novel digs deep into the plot and character development. All the characters on the Foxes are complex and problematical people: there’s Kevin, an Exy-obsessed Striker who is considered the rightful property of another Exy team; the twins, Aaron and Andrew, one who despises Exy and the teammates, and the other who is so high he doesn’t even know what day it is; Nicky, their cousin, who’s family once tried to ‘cure’ him of his homosexuality; Dan, the captain who has struggled for years to prove herself because she’s a woman; Matt, a former drug addict; Renee, a former gang member turned born-again Christian; and Seth and Allison, a former drug addict and a former billionaire heiress who turned her back on her family to play Exy.
All of these characters are given equal screen time so we fall in love with this difficult, rag-tag group of nobodies. Every character has their own issues, which is explored skilfully. The relationships between the characters are the central force of the novel and drives the plot. With novels that have a large group of characters, I often find myself worried that some characters would be left behind and forgotten (a la Empire of Storms). But that does not happen here. Each character is present in the scenes and you can’t help but become engrossed by their unique, individual history. I went from hating some of these characters, to loving them by the conclusion. Well done, Sakavic.
“How are you getting along with your teammates?”
“I’m pretty sure the majority of them are clinically insane.”
Neil, as the protagonist, is the outsider and he has to navigate the mechanics of the group’s hierarchy, and dynamics between the teammates. Neil has been an outcast his entire life and his loneliness and fear of life made him a very sympathetic character. I felt so much for Neil – it can’t have been easy running for half of your life. There are many moments in the novel where things get too much for him he is literally a second away from packing his bag and fleeing the country. Not only were the characters’ histories intriguing, but there was also a large amount of diversity too! There are LGBT and POC characters which was amazing to read.
What I was most intrigued about in this novel was the creation of the sport Exy. No one was more surprised than I was that I willingly read a book about sports – which I abhor – although I’m sure part of that reason was that Exy is fictional. The fact that Sakavic has created her own sports, with a fully-fleshed out history, rules and regulations, is incredible. The sport, the game and the Exy League felt so realistic that when I finished the book, I was annoyed that Exy wasn’t a real sport. I would actually watch sports if Exy was real! The sport scenes were very entertaining and I absolutely loved the fact that it is a co-ed sport. But don’t think that this book is just a sports novel – it’s not. It’s about friendship and teamwork and loyalty. It’s about second, third, fourth and fifth chances and that, no matter what you have done in your past, you still deserve a future. Read how to play Exy here.
The plot was a little slow, but picked up quickly. The novel focuses on Neil’s integration into the Foxes and the struggles they experience attempting to prove their worth to the NCAA and to the Edgar Allen Ravens, their Exy rivals. As for the romance – what romance? Half of the reason I picked up this book was because Tumblr was obsessed with the romantic element of the series and certain characters falling in love. I assume this romance will be a slow-burn because there wasn’t even a hint of it in The Foxhole Court (aside from Dan and Matt who are an established couple). I’m only guessing that this romance will feature Neil, but I have absolutely no idea who he could possibly fall for – he is not exactly the type of person who cultivates friendships or relationships with others; rather he goes out of his way to avoid them.
“University,” he said quietly. It sounded like a dream; it tasted like damnation.
The writing flowed effortlessly and seamlessly. If I didn’t know any better, I would not have guessed that this was Sakavic’s debut novel considering how amazing she is at writing. I did have one issue with the book: because of the sheer number of characters, it could get a little confusing as to who was in the scene. I kept mixing Nicky and Dan up, confusing Nicky for a woman and Dan for a girl because of their names (oops).
Despite the fact that the novel is only around 255 pages long, the book had a strong emotional impact on me, from the complicated characters to the interesting plot. I didn’t think I would enjoy The Foxhole Court and I think that is the sentiment of everyone who reads the book. It was a great surprise to find I fell in love with this book and I can’t wait to binge read the next two.
* Personally, I don’t see the connection! If someone does, please let me know 🙂