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.
I don’t really know where to start this review with, actually. The Foxhole Court was certainly different from what I expected to find. When I first came across the book (incidentally, it was because the sequel is named The Raven King) I thought it to be a sports-action-fest and I tend to avoid those. Well, it is sort of a sports book because it is about the players of a team in the fictional game of Exy, and while it has some amazingly written game scenes, the plot is more character-driven and focuses on the players themselves.
Our protagonist, Neil Josten (not his real name) has been on the run from his crime lord father for years, and finally he decides to stop running (at least for a while) and play the only thing he loves in the world – Exy. Honestly, the boy needs a break and survival can only carry you so long! But the team that recruits him for University is the Palmetto State Foxes, who are this band of misfits that are pretty down on the ladder. His first impression of the team is that they are a bunch of assholes who just like to watch the world burn (actually that is more Andrew Minyard) but he is here for Kevin Day, his sort-of childhood friend and has-been champion who doesn’t seem to recognize him. Anyway, Neil loves the game too much and throws caution to the wind to join it.
When I said this team was a band of misfits, I meant they are a bunch of messed up kids, who no one else cares about. Each has their own damage, and they keep taking it out on each other, which means there is a lot of violence, rotten language and drug use going on. NOT good times! But through Neil’s eyes, we also see that deep down (very deep down) they care about each other. Especially Andrew, who comes off as this psychotic control freak but is like a mom-friend taking all the scared ones under his win; it is not that he has a heart of gold or something but under his ruthlessness exists a small warm core (I still don’t like him, though), which normally would be very difficult to find. There is Kevin, who is this cocky champion but is also a nervous wreck. And I can’t even get started on Neil’s damage – he is afraid of any middle-aged man, including his coach; the latter actually understands this and treats him as a son, and is fiercely protective of him. There are many more team members but can’t go into them now. So, while on first notice it may seem like they are just a bunch of carefree assholes, they have the makings of a family.
I am really interested to see how the two plot-lines – the crime lords, and the game players – play out in sequels. Also, seeing these characters develop/unveil is a thing of beauty. Because we see through Neil’s eyes, we are sort of learning them as he learns them. And he is quite a good protagonist to read through – he is sharp, and unforgiving, but he also can’t stand injustice and is mouthy when he needs to be. My heart broke at the moments any character showed affection to him, because that is the one thing he has being missing since his childhood.
Lastly, I would like to point out that while the book is good and well-written, some things are a bit confusing, like Neil’s mother’s injury and death (is that medically possible?), Andrew being allowed to play (court-mandated drug use seems a bit antithetical for a game), the way Neil calls everyone man or woman (I really can’t get their ages – aren’t they supposed to be in college?) and the graduation years (5th year???). Also, the lack of control the coach has over their activities kind of goes against his second chance rhetoric.
Overall, an awesome book, and a series I look forward to reading more about.