If you’re not aware of this book, a while back this series started making the rounds on Tumblr. It’s entirely self-published, and managed to break through somehow. It follows a team of college athletes playing a made-up sport called Exy at a fictional university called Palmetto State. The main character is the son of a crime lord and has been on the run for most of his life; he is living under a fake identity when he’s recruited. He also happens to have been childhood friends with one of his teammates, and works very hard not to be recognized. There is supposed to be an inherent conflict in the premise between Neil’s desire to play the sport he loves, which will bring him into the spotlight, and his desire to stay hidden and alive. There is no romance in this book at all, but I can feel it coming on in the future.
Look, I have a lot of thoughts, and many of them are confused, so bear with me. This was a 262 page book that felt like 500. I should have been able to kick it out in hours, in less than a day. Instead, it took me six. I read three novel length fanfics in the time I was supposed to be reading this book. Most of the time I was reading it, I was irritated and utterly flummoxed about why people loved this series. I didn’t like a single character, and actively hated many of them. It was unpleasant to be in these characters’ company, and they didn’t seem to like themselves much either. On top of that, I was confused as hell by the sloppy writing and continuity.
It wasn’t until the last 5% of the book that I became emotionally engaged with it. Actual stakes were now present, and the characters started behaving more like human beings. Seeing where the book ended up, I can now see what Sakavic was going for, but I still think she utterly botched her execution. This didn’t need to be as toxic or confusing as Sakavic made it.
I’m going to bullet point the rest of this in an effort to sort out my thoughts:
* Let’s talk about the sloppy writing. The text openly contradicts itself on many occasions, and also openly contradicts reality and facts. A lot of this just reads as lazy to me. It’s not difficult to Google fast mile times, for example, but instead Sakavic has her NCAA COLLEGE ATHLETES inform the main character Neil that his “fourteen minute mile” means he is SUPER FAST. I almost threw my phone across the room at how breathtakingly wrong this was. I am one of the most out of shape people I know, and I used to run a fourteen minute mile. There was a kid in my high school who ran a mile in four and half minutes. That is an actual fast time. (It is not hard to do simple research!) There were many instances like this, as well as blatant continuity errors, like one second the stadium seats 60k people, the next it seats 100k. This sloppiness contributed to my confusion throughout the book. The biggest example I can remember right now is that Sakavic goes out of her way to have Neil’s internal monologue tell us that Palmetto State has two games in one weekend (which never happens in real life, to begin with, so that was confusing to me), and how they know they’re going to lose to Breckenridge, but they have a hope of winning against the other team, and then the narrative makes a big deal out of how they need to do that. They then do not even have the second game at all, instead the team goes on a morning show (on a Saturday????) and then spends the weekend partying. I think it might have been a football game Neil’s monologue was referring to as the “second game” but nowhere in text is that evident and it was SO CONFUSING. The end result was that I spent a lot of time trying to figure out something that didn’t matter at all. It is unbelievably obvious to me that this book was not edited, or if it was, not edited competently.
*I talked a little about confusion, but that was a big issue here, and it wasn’t just limited to logistics and worldbuilding. Everything was confusing: character motives, behaviors, the rules of Exy, how dialogue fit together (sometimes it didn’t even feel like characters were responding to what was being said, but following their own imaginary conversations instead). The worldbuilding and character info was not handled well. I kept mixing up characters in the beginning, or literally not understanding what they were talking about, because she kept having them refer to things she hadn’t introduced yet, but it was done in a way that was frustrating instead of intriguing. I felt constantly as if I were an alien visiting from another planet, and I learned the language before I came, but not the customs or the context. It was surreal.
*It’s very possible to have unlikable characters in your book, or characters who make bad or amoral choices, if they are interesting and written well. That did not happen here. And characters were constantly doing abhorrent things and almost no one called them on it. Characters fling slurs casually (the coach uses the word SPOILERS “retard” END SPOILERS on three occasions, and one of the team members calls another character a SPOILERS faggot END SPOILERS, and though that character is meant to be unlikable, no one even reacts to this. Characters also constantly engage in non-consensual behaviors like SPOILERS drugging someone against their will, forcing alcohol on them when they don’t drink, and constantly openly sexually harassing them (is this supposed to be cute because the character, Nicky, is short and gay and supposedly has a husband who lives in Germany? Yes, those mitigating factors mean it is okay to constantly make sexually explicit comments about your new team member to his face when he and everyone else has told you to stop!). In one instance that turned my stomach, one character basically sexually assaults another. It’s just a kiss, but it’s unwanted, and performed while the character is unable to consent, due to having been drugged against his will, and who has previously been adamant in his non-sexual interest of the other character. I hated everything about that entire sequence, which was also incredibly overdramatic (supposedly this whole sequence was done by one teammate because he saw Neil as a threat and needed to get info from him, but give me a break, that’s how you do it? What the fuck? I’m supposed to like these fucking people?) END SPOILERS.
*Sports stories, especially ones where the team is supposed to be a chosen family, should be fun. This was not fun. There was almost no camaraderie on the team, and the book seemed much more interested in manufactured personal drama and organized crime than in the actual sport the book was supposed to be about. There was one Exy game in the book, and I had almost no idea what was going on while reading it. It wasn’t unreadable, as she highlighted the important points and I got the gist, but I feel like I should know the basics of how this game is played by now, and I don’t.
*I don’t like stories about organized crime to begin with, but the author’s understanding of how it works is laughable. Everything to do with the crime part of the story felt like over the top nonsense.
*What the hell is up with Andrew? And Kevin? She was writing it like they were supposed to be all mysterious and intriguing, but it was just irritating because they weren’t acting like human beings to me. Andrew’s “medical condition” was just absolute gibberish. What even are you doing, author? No attempt was made to give a rational explanation for his diagnosis or medications, and his reaction to his medication made very little sense. And what the fuck is up with the author constantly calling someone who is on prescription medication, and who is currently off meds, “sober”?? That’s not what that word means! You don’t say someone who takes anti-psychotics or anti-depressants is “on drugs” and you certainly don’t call them sober when they aren’t taking their medication. Especially when said character uses his “sober” hours to drink and do non-legal drugs???
I could keep going, but I’m going to make myself stop now, as it will soon cease to be productive. As always with these two star books I get ranty over, I get so worked up specifically because an author has managed to waste a potentially great idea that could have been so much better with the proper execution, and something about that really gets me going in an angry way.
I’m going to read the second two books, not only because I already own them and I don’t want to waste the $3 I spent, but because my friend Megan (who was DMing me all weekend in response to my reactions over this book) says that books two and three are a much different (and better) reading experience. So that’s on the TBR for May, and we’ll see what happens, I guess. I genuinely hope I end up liking them. I don’t like not liking things! And the little teeny glimpse of something I liked near the end wasn’t enough this time around to make up for the rest of it.