Hordes of students wearing blindingly orange clothing. A street called Perimeter Road snaking around the buildings on campus. A campus green with a clocktower on one side and a singular downtown street on the other. This is the setting of All for the Game, an indie cult classic that takes place at the fictional setting of Palmetto State University; however, students of Clemson University should be able to recognize the inspiration for the series no later than chapter five.
Completed in 2014, All for the Game is a trilogy written by Clemson graduate Nora Sakavic. Independently published and criminally cheap (I’m talking less than $3 for the entire series), All for the Game is a conglomeration of random genres and themes that shouldn’t fit together, but do anyway. A fictional sport named Exy, organized crime, drugs and alcohol, found family tropes and LGBTQ+ representation make their home in All for the Game, but the subtle and steady way in which everything is introduced keeps the reader from being overwhelmed. In hindsight, the plot seems ridiculous, but in the middle of seeing the story unfold, the characters and their story are nothing short of addicting.
The series begins with the introduction of Neil Josten, a runaway whose only solace from his dark and mysterious past is through the fictional sport of Exy. Within the first few pages of the first novel, “The Foxhole Court,” Neil is left breathless by the offer of a lifetime. (And if you’ve already read the series, take a moment to appreciate that pun.) Palmetto State University’s D1 Exy team, known as the Foxes, want to sign him to their team.
From there, the reader is treated to Neil’s constant struggle between his knowledge that running is how he survives and his desire to play Exy and to eventually find a true home. Neil’s indecision is a relatively minor source of tension in the series, though. The Foxes, while on their way to fulfilling a found family ideal, are dysfunctional at best and homicidal at worst. The Foxes’ coach, David Wymack, lives by a philosophy focused on second chances and only recruits from what the novels callously regard as “broken homes.” All ten members of the Foxes’ lineup have in-depth backstories, and while some of the details are only covered online in extra content, there is still plenty of exposition to be done in the first several chapters of “The Foxhole Court.”
The first third of “The Foxhole Court” is the weakest part of the series by far, making it initially difficult to become invested in the story. Neil enters the Foxes’ world as a fairly informed protagonist, and while the reader learns some things through dialogue with other characters, the majority of information comes from Neil’s own internal thoughts. The constant narration nears the point of being overwhelming in its details, and by the time Neil actually arrives at Palmetto State’s campus, the reader’s head is typically spinning with names, backstories and past meetings.
Once “The Foxhole Court” reaches its rising action, though, plot developments arrive at a far more sedate pace. The pacing hits its stride around the halfway point of “The Foxhole Court” and it never loses it. The ending of “The Foxhole Court” features a shocking twist that perfectly sets up its sequel, “The Raven King.” As tensions and dangers rise throughout the second installation of All for the Game, character motivations and relationships are constantly expanded upon. By the time “The Raven King” gives way to “All the King’s Men,” the reader has a fundamental understanding of everyone and everything in the Foxes’ world.
It is no exaggeration to say that All for the Game gets better with every chapter. The trilogy as a whole is a series of unveilings, steadily allowing readers insight into the characters, relationships, plot points and Exy stats that make All for the Game appealing. While it remains generally plot driven, it also prioritizes character development to a degree that is rarely seen in such fast-paced novels. “The Foxhole Court” may invite the reader’s interest, but “The Raven King” and “All the King’s Men” demand dedication and attachment.
While the series offers plenty to its ordinary readers, it gifts anyone who is familiar with Clemson University an additional layer of references and in-jokes. Fox Tower, which serves as the Foxes’ dorm, is none other than Clemson House, which was still standing when Sakavic attended Clemson. Neil regularly goes for runs around Perimeter Road, and he occasionally visits Reddin Health Center for medical concerns. When Neil goes shopping in a downtown boutique with one of his teammates, Clemson students are easily able to imagine themselves in the shop alongside the characters. One of the key scenes in “All the King’s Men” even happens on Library Bridge, and the ensuing dialogue is nearly as iconic as the view of the amphitheater and the Reflection Pond.
In a series full of intense emotions and shocking twists, Clemson students possess a rare and vivid understanding of the setting of All for the Game. This in-depth comprehension elevates the reading experience to another level. For most readers, this trilogy is an intense and violent narration of resilient characters forming their own found family. For Clemson students, this is watching their own campus act as the setting for unlikely relationships to flourish and a heartwarming underdog story to take flight. “The Foxhole Court” is an excellent recommendation for any avid reader, but it is a must-read for Clemson students who are even mildly interested in seeing characters overcome adversity and beat the odds.
Amidst the complex plotlines and heartwarming relationships, however, there are many potential triggers. The Foxes all have varying experiences and have survived large amounts of trauma, and the series’ contents reflect such developments. All for the Game contains sexual assault, addiction, torture, violence, self-harm, murder and far more. Anyone who could be potentially impacted by such content should check on the full list of trigger warnings before reading the series, and readers should remember to prioritize their mental health while reading.
“The Foxhole Court” is currently available on Kindle or Apple Books for free, and “The Raven King” and “All the King’s Men” are $0.99 each. Audiobooks are even available for anyone interested in the truly magical experience of walking around campus while listening to the narrator describe South Carolina’s Waffle House infestation.
The value behind All for the Game cannot be understated, and it is a magical way to see the fictional world of your reading and the real world of Clemson’s campus collide. So take a walk around Palmetto State University and join Neil as he becomes a Fox. You won’t regret it.