Don’t look back, don’t slow down, and don’t trust anyone. Those are the words that Neil Josten lived his life by for so long.
That is, until he came to Palmetto State.
The “All For The Game” series consists of three books written by Nora Sakavic, all of which can be found online or can be purchased on Amazon. The first novel is “The Foxhole Court,” followed by “The Raven King,” and ending with “The King’s Men.”
The novels follow the story of Neil, a runaway with a dark past who gets recruited to play for the Class-I Exy team at Palmetto State University. For everyone who hasn’t read the books, Exy is a made up sport that can be best described as lacrosse (and maybe even tennis) mixed with the violence of hockey. When the AFTG fandom makes graphics and pictures for the series, a lot of the time they put pictures of tennis courts, but I’m pretty sure the game actually has nothing to do with tennis. Really, it’s more like lacrosse than anything.
At first Neil resists joining the team, but he eventually signs the contract that’s offered to him. When he gets to campus for summer training, he meets the four members of the team that are referred to as “The Monsters.” This group consists of Andrew Minyard, Aaron Minyard, Nicky Hemmick, and Kevin Day. You can probably tell from the fact that they’re referred to as “The Monsters,” but they’re really not a good group of guys. All the members of the group, except for Nicky, are generally cold and untrustworthy towards Neil as well as most of the other members of the team. There are a number of reasons for this, one of them being that they all had rough upbringings.
Later in the summer Neil meets the rest of the team, and he’s hesitant to get close to any of them because of his background. By the end of the third novel, Neil finally comes to see them all as his friends and even his family.
As the story progresses, you find out why Neil is running away, and the risk that he’s taking in signing the contract to play with the PSU Foxes. You also see him growing as a collegiate athlete, making friends, and coming to terms with his past.
Something you learn early on in the novels is that Neil’s father is a mob boss who’s looking for his wife and son after they stole a large sum of money and ran away from him because he was, well, god awful. Neil has spent the majority of his life on the run from his dead, constantly changing his name and appearance and never being able to interact with kids his own age. Eventually, the running gets the best of his mom and she dies. Neil, although a teenager who’s already pretty independent, has to learn to survive on his own. Before joining the team, he went to a high school in the middle of nowhere and played Exy to pass the time. He never thought anything would come of it and he would be able to just up and leave once he graduated. He never counted on the Foxes wanting to recruit him for the team.
By joining the Foxes, he’s risking being caught by his father, but his love of Exy outweighs his fear of being caught by his father.
Honestly, I found the plot of the books to be a little weird and hard to believe in some parts. I’m not sure if some of it is supposed to be realistic, but some parts feel like they would never happen in real life.
For example, the coach of the Foxes, Wymack, only recruits players who come from troubled or criminal backgrounds. In real life, I doubt this would ever be able to happen. No college sports league would allow that kind of recruiting style. Not only that, but the amount of rules that Wymack allows the kids on the team to break is incredible.
That being said, I think the characters and their dynamic makeup for the slightly lackluster plot. I enjoyed seeing Neil grow and bond with the people around him who he was so hesitant to trust in the beginning.
The characters are really what saves the story for me. My favorite character in the whole series probably has to be Kevin Day. My boy Kevin has a whole backstory full of sadness and drama, so much like Neil, he’s really hesitant to get close to his teammates. He’s definitely the member of the Foxes that takes Exy seriously (although both Neil and Dan are probably a close second), which makes it interesting that he’s such good friends with Andrew, who doesn’t care for the sport (or much of anything) at all.
At times Kevin can seem standoff-ish or cold. That’s because he is, but I love him anyway. He’s dubbed “the son of Exy” because his mother, Kayleigh Day, was one of the two original creators of the sport, which kind of means Kevin’s also a big deal, since he grew up playing the sport and is the best player in the league. Also, before he joined the Foxes, he played for the most successful team in the league, The Ravens. But an accident that resulted in his dominant hand being broken lead him to lead the Ravens and join the Foxes. There’s a lot more story behind it, but that’s all I can say for now without spoiling one of the biggest secrets of the series. Regardless, all of this adds up to him taking Exy super seriously and being incredibly standoff-ish about it.
The coolest thing about this series is that the author keeps a blog and answered a lot of fan-asked questions about different characters and different scenes, so it gives even more background to the story than before. I have a bunch of them bookmarked on my computer just in case I ever want to go back and read more about certain characters. Since Kevin is my favorite, the ones that talk about him or give more backstory to him are the ones I like to read the most.
If you like made-up sports, romance, and incredibly self-destructive-but-lovable characters, the “All For The Game” series is the one for you. Sometimes it might be hard to get through, but the characters and their relationships really make it worth it in the end.