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.
So, we chose the All for the Game trilogy as our first review, mainly because Fra kept telling us how bloody good it was, and she can be mightily persuasive, and also right.It’s fair to say that we all loved this series, and were wowed by the generosity of the author in making Book 1 free, and the other 2 books 99 c / 99p depending on where you live. So thats $1.98/ £1.98 for over 600 pages of knock your socks off writing
Karen : It’s kind of funny, on one hand to trust someone’s judgement and then to feel really quite apprehensive, because the genre isn’t one that you are normally drawn to – because initially I looked at this as as a YA book I suppose. However it became apparent from pretty much the first few chapters that while the characters were young, the issues that the books deal with are very grown up.
Miki: I don´t feel usually attracted to YA books because there are so many awful examples lately. Specially inside the more commercial circuit. I avoid it like a plague. There is this idea that a book where the MCs are adolescents and it readers are young, must be…simpler…easy. But this saga is nothing like that. It´s exactly as you said, Karen: it´s a trilogy where the protagonists are young, yes, but that touches very real issues for that stage of life, and is yet extremely hard and heavy.
Fra: Well, the series had been on my TBR pile for quite sometimes. It came highly recommended by a good and trustworthy friend but when I looked at the blurb and saw that it was about sports I wasn’t convinced. I picked it up during a reading slump and I was so taken with it that not only I declared my undying love for it to everybody but I also insisted that everybody read it.
That’s a whole lot of responsibility right there: one thing is to recommend a book, a film, a TV series to abstract stranger on the internet; the other is to stand on a table top and shout to all your friends you must read this, you must, you will love it. What if they don’t like it or even hate it and then won’t be your friends anymore?
Miki: I agree with Karen that I only read it (with that confidence) because it was recommended by you.
Karen :I found the game itself, Exy, to be a great vehicle for illustrating what I found to be one of the critical elements of the book, how people, especially in a forced situation, work with others.
Miki: Yeah, The book is full of those little details, that work like machinery to build and show everything that happens to the
se boys and girls. And through a super elaborate narrative style, that doesn’t need to resort to complex and incomprehensible words, or the use of slang, to demonstrate a certain “literary level”. And you must be alert to every detail.
Fra: If we get inside the book, it is narrated from the main characters point of view, Neil Josten – runaway, hopeless (that’s literally hopeless), self confessed liar (out of the necessity of a life on the run) and apparently obsessed with Exy. Neil’s voice got me intrigued five paragraphs into the book and by chapter 2 it had me hooked without a hope of me putting this book down.
Miki: And this fantastic character is complemented with an intriguing and well rounded group of secondary boys and girls -and adults, of course- that are as interesting as Neil.
Fra: Yeah. I love that, as readers, we know what he let us know and we see the world completely from his point of view. Scoping for exit points, gauging people around for potential threats, all that good stuff.
Possibly because of the above his observations of his new teammates are paired down but very effective and poignant. But before you start thinking oh fluffy story about the runaway kid that gets redeemed by joining the Mighty Ducks, think again. This is a very dark thriller, peppered with a varied range of psychopaths and sociopaths, abusers and kids so lost it is heart breaking.
Karen : I think you cracked it there Fra, Neil is a really old soul in a young body, he’s been through enough experiences for a man twice his age, and yet he retains a vulnerability, and a strange optimistic pessimism.
The story starts with a coincidence which initiates an unraveling of secrets and layers which keeps you on the edge of your seat and makes you want to read the next books , like yesterday !
Fra: I find myself incapacitated in writing even one coherent thought about this book (and the series) without writing an essay. It’s a thriller – if I go into details I’ll spoil it. But it is also character driven, there are so many layers of secrets and gasp worthy twists and turns which happen only when the characters are ready to let you see bits of the truth. It is masterly done. I particularly loved the taut writing: there is not one redundant word, every sentence is crafted in a manner that underscores the narrative by stripping it down to its very core while – at the same time – shredding layer upon layer of the story.
Miki: Absolutely. It is impossible to put this book inside one genre exclusively. It wouldn’t be fair. And I love that the author does not need to treat the readers like idiots, and over explain everything. Or this annoying tendency to add extra explanations to clarify something, or to clarify what is happening in a scene, that if you have done your job ok, it is not necessary at all. You get to understand everything through actions, dialogues, sequences.
Fra: Yeah. This book – this series – is a splendid achievement in the “not tell” writing school; we are basically told nothing. Every truth is wrapped in a lie, especially in this first offering; we know Neil’s POV and very little else and the little we discover is a surprise to us as it is to Neil. Not one of the other main characters gives an inch and what we are shown is through actions and factual accounts occasionally shared by the other characters and tellingly, in my opinion, mostly secondary ones.
Karen : I can tell you’ve really thought about this Fra, and once again so right. From book 1 to book 2 your assumptions are challenged about the roles and the behaviours of the characters, what their motivations are, and in fact who was aligned to who. I totally adored the writing style, Miki got it so right when she says that there is no talking down to the reader or spoon feeding in the writing. I found the writing style superficially simple, but kept highlighting passages and shouting ‘yes, that ‘.. quite a lot.
Fra: And All these characters are powerfully written. The author takes no shortcuts into making them normal, they remain screwed up and get to retain their flaws and their and very serious problems.
The Raven King or better – book 2 that failed at being a book 2
Fra: Where did you come from book? I mean your brother book 1 was amazing – but you were a book 2 weren’t you supposed to be sort of the weakest link? Eh? Eh? I stayed up all night to read this, was late to work because I had to finish it and queued up book 3 for when I finished work.
Miki: I think we were all taken by surprise
Fra: When I first read Foxhole Court I thought this was going to have some romance in it and because I run ahead of myself ALL the time I was totally sure it was going to go one way at which point book, you slapped me across the face with all the charme of Andrew on meds and went nuh, think again lady! So I gave up on the romance and stayed for the characters – all of them, because as I said before they are all incredibly layered and interesting.
Karen : Ah yes Andrew – an enigma of a character initially. Because you see him through Neils eyes I though he is a tiny psychopath, and then fragments of an alternative version start to filter through. His loyalty is phenomenal as is his capacity for deception and love.
Fra : There is a dreadful darkness to these books, Neil’s hopelessness is not dramatic it is a fact. It is a like a dark countdown to an inevitable end which I was expecting and dreading at the same time.
And yet, and yet there’s a little, tiny, smidge of hope. As Neil opens up and his team mates start to gravitate towards him we see what he sees, learn what he learns and by christ to get all the pieces of the story out is like pulling teeth.
Karen: The rivalry between the Exy teams was so well done, I know that it’s mirroring the rivalry elsewhere in the book, and kind of drawing you, the reader, further into the ‘is this real’ mindset. The game itself is quite violent, and acts as a catalyst for the emotions that all the various characters harbour. Its really quite hard to explain this without some significant spoilers. But the Exy teams are basically families, they train and live together, and the methods of training and how the team spirit is nurtured is quite critical to the book. Especially as there are players who change teams for various reasons.
Miki: and Exy is a mixed sport. Played by men and women. So the gender perspective is very well done, and taken into consideration. It´s not a minor detail.
Isn’t it funny how the breakneck speed in the action is counterpointed by such slow (albeit momentous) characters’ development: this book does it and does it so well!
Fra: Also, there is something incredibly ICoS-ish about these books and characters even if the stories are completely different. I cannot unsee the similarities: both books are incredibly written sustained by a precise, economical use of language that makes every word count, with strong multi layered characters, with realistic depiction of abuse and its consequences. I would be interested what new readers think of this comparison.
Karen: Yes, I did get the ICoS vibe as well, perhaps this series is less intense in some aspects, but the team spirit, the courage in the face of adversity were all there. Plus the non romantic romance, which I kind of adore. And like you I would be intrigued in what other readers think.
Miki: I agree too. I think is the intensity of the narrative, the story and what happens. And the compromise, respect and love the author has towards the books.
So in The Raven King we left Neil in a hell of his own making: in The King’s Men the story moves along bringing all the broken peas back into the screwed up pod that is Foxhole.
Fra: In The King’s Men, Neil opens up more, although there are still secrets he can’t share and his breakage is now physical and mental, but he has stopped saying “I’m fine” when asked how he is. I swear there’s this part where I was heartbroken and really in denial with nonononononono this is not happening on repeat in my head. And I thought this is going to end now, but when I looked at the page count I was not even half way through and aargh, what? Lets put it this way, the last time I was so relieved at an event in a book, it involved a raging Emilio Vega, a sure shot and a certain Agency bitch. Yes you heard me, this is how good this book is. It gets compared to ICoS!
Miki: It is cruel, really. There isn’t a moment of peace. And when you feel that the action is slowing the pace, the author speeds things up again. And the best of all is that you never get tired, or feel bored. You never have the feeling that things could be said in fewer pages. And you can’t predict at all what is going to happen next. It is perfect. And hard. And difficult. And breathtaking.
Fra: Yes. And as the drama unfold, there is – completely out of field – romance or these characters version of romance. And yep, not in a million years of book 1 and 2 I saw this one coming. It is unexpected to us as readers as it is to our MC. And it is spiteful, intense and I found it extremely romantic. And all of a sudden the smallest of gestures in all of the previous books take on a completely different dimension and make you want to go back and re read entire passages in the first two books. And it is a thing of utter and terrible beauty.
Karen: The final book in this trilogy really cemented the whole story, which I guess is the point. But it was more than a storyline simply coming together and tying up loose ends, which is a feeling that you sometimes get with the third book. This was really masterful story telling, all the strands and characters were pulled together, and NS really achieved what I thought at one point was unachievable for this series, a believable and authentic happy ending.
Fra: I cannot praise these books, this series enough. This books are a thing of beauty. Mind blown. Heart broken and put back together. Even now I haven’t got enough words to say how much I loved this series. But one thing I know, you all should really go and read these books – no I mean it go!
Entirely told by an unreliable narrator who does nothing but tell you, throughout the story that he is a liar, these books take the reader through a journey of self creation in which Neil builds himself around the idea of being Neil and, by turn using and shedding the names intrinsically linked to a lifetime of hardship and abuse
His observations of the other characters are sharp and detailed without being overbearing and manage to bring them to life through the smallest of gestures, the shortest of conversations.
The plot carries the characters through without effort and is sustained by the bare minimum of words, it is simple without being simplistic – it is like each word is an iceberg to deeper meaning and understanding.
As we said at the beginning, the first book is free – and you can get it Here