All For The Game

The book trilogy I won’t forget

source (from my Pinterest board)

I first discovered Nora Sakavic’s All For the Game trilogy from a mood board on my Tumblr dash.

Combining the factors of people’s reactions to it, the canon demisexual character, and the general aesthetic of the book itself, I started reading it a few hours later.

Although I expected extreme violence, there are many aspects of Nora Sakavic’s All For The Game trilogy that were just…weird. This review is my attempt to tell the uninitiated what to expect.

The basics

Just so you’re not confused

  • Neil is the main character. He has a troubled past and a secret identity.
  • He joins an Exy team at Palmetto State University. His team is named the Foxes.
  • The first book is The Foxhole Court.
  • The second book is The Raven King.
  • The third book is The King’s Men.
  • The characters abuse drugs/alcohol and are pretty messed up + violent.
  • AFTG is short for All For the Game.

The plot

spoiler: much Sport™

I have never played a sport. Everything about sports — going outside, getting sweaty, talking to people — is bad for me. I don’t like watching them, I don’t like writing about them, and I usually don’t like reading about them. However, I got through a good amount of this trilogy.

When Nora Sakavic gave her explanation of how Exy is played in the epilogue of the first book, I even skimmed it. Considering that I would have already lit any other sports book on fire, this is quite an accomplishment.

For the first two books, I was all in. I cared about every detail that was driving the plot forward, but at the beginning of the third book my patience snapped.

It’s so plot heavy.

Even the characters who made a point of standing off to the side and proclaiming “I don’t care about this plot!” cared more about the plot than I did.

There’s so much plot.

Dialogue

Before starting this trilogy, I read a Goodreads review claiming this trilogy was like no other book.

Is AFTG’s plot so mind blowing that it warrants creating a new genre of postmodern literature? No. What differs AFTG from other books is not only its mind-numbing violence but its choppy and unnatural dialogue.

The majority of words spoken by the main character, Neil, are just explanations of the plot. When Neil speaks, he sounds like Watson answering a Jeopardy question. Despite this, when Neil interacts with other characters, he usually tries to have something resembling a conversation — one person says something, the other person replies, you get the idea.

For some reason, when Neil and the character Andrew talk to each other, it can’t be that way. Every “conversation” between them consists of Neil looking at Andrew and saying something, Andrew refusing to say anything, Neil staring at Andrew for two minutes, and them not saying anything to each other.

There are so many scenes where the rest of their team sees this happening, and of course at first it’s like awwww yeah there’s the homo but even then I wonder, isn’t this such a strange way to interact with people? Why would you do that?

I think the mid-conversation paragraphs describing Andrew and Neil staring at each other are meant to belie the sexual tension between them, but all I can think to myself is, “50% of this book is Andrew and Neil staring at each other silently”.

I’m a weird person, so this is a lot for me to say. Andrew, as much as I love you, you can’t stare at other people silently in lieu of responding to a question. That is weird, my friend.

Violence

There’s a lot.

People mention graphic violence in their AFTG reviews, but since there wasn’t anything traumatizing in the first book, I thought I’d be fine for the other two. I was wrong.

The violence contained in the last two books is less like an aesthetic tumblr mood board and more like a gory Pinterest board. This violence is not brief, vague, or meaningful.

The turning point for me was this excruciating, brutal rape scene in The Raven King, the second book of the trilogy. That rape scene was too much. I had simply read too much of the trilogy to stop, but I was so scarred and traumatized that it was like my experience watching Psycho Pass.

One commonality between this trilogy and Psycho Pass is that at times, the violence became so much that I simply had to look away from the screen. Unfortunately for this book, even though I figuratively looked away by skimming overly graphic scenes, there is still one image from the rape scene in The Raven King that I can’t forget.

I was not prepared for the rape scene in this book. There’s one very specific image the author describes in the rape scene that I thought of every 10–30 seconds while reading The King’s Men.

I would like to talk to other people that have read this series so that someone can help me heal.

Characters

The characters in AFTG kind of made me feel bad. I find most of the characters very hard to relate to and would never engage in conversation with them in real life. For Neil and his Exy team members, that’s because they are total jocks and behave as such. The reason they made me feel bad is because…I want them to be happy and they deserve to be happy. Even though they’re unrelatable, they are so deserving of care and affection. It makes me wonder how many people I ignore in my day-to-day life that are just as lovable.

When it comes to Andrew, though…Is it finally time to talk about Andrew? Is it time to talk about Andrew? I’m truly asking myself.

Andrew is sort of the point of this series. If this series is human existence, Andrew is water.

Andrew is the type of guy I wouldn’t have talked to in middle school. Andrew is the creepy kid in your science class who doesn’t talk and doesn’t wash his hair. Andrew is the kid who just stares at you menacingly when you ask why he

And yet…oh, Andrew. I would let Andrew have his way with me. Andrew could do anything he wanted to me. Andrew could take my virginity. Take me, Andrew.

Andrew is just a BAMF.

“A group of people shouldered their way up to the bar counter at Neil’s back, pushing him into Andrew. Andrew didn’t budge beneath his weight. He was something solid to lean against, something violent and fierce and unmoving.”

This is a teammate of Andrew’s describing Andrew’s Exy finesse:

We found out the ERC was going to cut us from the Class I ranks if we didn’t stop losing. Coach asked Andrew for a miracle, and Andrew gave us one. He made Coach come up with a number between one and five, and that’s how many points he let the other team get before he shut them out.

When I read that — Andrew just shut them out — I questioned my sexuality. I’d never felt such a strong feeling for a person before that wasn’t hate.

The ending

Most reviewers on Goodreads give the trilogy’s last book five stars, but it contains such a ridiculous deus ex machina that I’m pretty sure those people just gave five stars for the gay stuff. The plot is so convoluted that the conflicts are basically impossible to solve, and then there’s this ridiculous deus ex machina that comes out of nowhere. Seriously, it’s worse than the end of The Lego Movie.

But then again, if you’re someone who didn’t mind or notice the deus ex machina at the end of The Lego Movie, then maybe you won’t mind the one within The King’s Men either.

Gay stuff

I wish I had told my pre-Foxhole Court self that All For The Game is not all pastel dyed hair and cool gays.

If you are a kid, stop reading this.

If you came to this here review looking for gay stuff and you’re fearing there won’t be any, good! That’s how I felt when I reached the last book of the trilogy without finding a hint of gay sex.

I got to page 200/900 of the third book, and I wanted to scream, “I came here for gay sex!”

If not the actual deed — especially considering that this is a “young adult” trilogy — something. There was no gay couple anywhere, not even as a side mention. A minor character was gay, but I knew that couldn’t be it because I came for gay and that wasn’t enough to classify it as an LGBT book.

The gay takes a while to appear, but that’s the point.

Neil is asexual. When asked which way he swings, he responds that he doesn’t swing. (This is likely caused by verbal abuse he got from his mom as a kid.)

Andrew is a survivor of child sexual abuse. His reentry into the world of sexual activity is apprehensive, practical, and somewhat violent.

You know, I read a lot of yaoi. When I have a fight with my parents, I read yaoi. When I feel too tired to speak, I read yaoi. When I want to fall asleep, I read yaoi. When I need to stop crying, I read yaoi. It’s a comfort; it’s written to be.

The rape scene was so dark that I realized this trilogy was nothing like yaoi, although I had read it hoping it would fulfill the same purpose.

I read yaoi to lighten my existence. This series actually made my existence darker. I came to the Palmetto Foxes looking for something to make me happy, but they’re the ones who needed something from me. I was the one who needed to bring them light.

Andrew and Neil’s romance is not like yaoi. Yaoi takes place out of time and space. Yaoi characters are iterations of archetypes like the adult NEET or the cubicle worker. Andrew and Neil, however, are people I’ve met and seen. I see them getting gas and stomping around grocery stores. I saw them in high school. I ignored them, but I know them. I owe them.

Reading AFTG made me realize that the romance of yaoi takes place between gay men, but still maintains the heteronormative roles of mainstream romantic fiction. Yaoi manga are just romantic comedies with men filling both roles. Andreil is a different kind of gay.

All For The Game made me think about what it would be like for someone at my high school to be gay. Andreil is gratifying because it takes the homosocial nature of athletic bonding to its natural end. It’s too raw for yaoi though.

All For The Game is a painfully realistic depiction of what happens when two athletes who create and inhabit the social constraints of masculinity start kissing each other.


I could not emerge from the violence, hyperrealism, and trauma of this trilogy as the same person who started it. Maybe I’m a little kinder. Maybe I don’t glare at strangers as harshly when they smell bad. But that’s just a small part of me that I gave away to the Foxes — they needed it more than I did.