Love of the Game will have you crying, laughing and horny, maybe all in one chapter, most certainly before you’re done reading!
The fair Lady Phetra warned me, repeatedly, before sending me the ARC of Love of the Game:
“This is not a book for you Hans. It’s about hockey and BDSM. You don’t have to read it!”
She’s like a mom, you know? Never knows when to quit the hovering and protecting. Y’all know how much I like a challenge, right? So of course I insisted on reading it, even though Phetra used her best tricks to delay the inevitable, including sending the ARC form a server where she must’ve known that the .mobi file would be removed as a potential threat to public health and safety… I had almost given up before I finally had it in my hands! Alas, now I’ve also read it. And yeah, as you’d expect, this review is entirely based on my own views. Trust me, you’ll see why when you read it… Phetra’s going to kill me!
So, yeah. Another venture into BDSM (whiny ‘yay!’), but like Caraway Carter’s masterpiece 7 with 1 Blow which I reviewed last fall, this is not your run of the mill BDSM novel. I’ve read a few of them by now, and the more I read, the more I learn. In Love of the Game Ms Novak explores the differences between “domination” and “abuse”, and I think it’s fair to say that I agree with her distinction. Caraway made the same one as the premise for his book. He just took off in a very different direction. I don’t claim to fully understand BDSM, nor to know how it feels to have that urge, that need to dominate someone or to feel that need to submit, sexually or otherwise. I guess that unless you feel it, you can’t really understand it, and no matter how much I read about this, I will always be at a loss, at least to a degree.
I understand that Charlie, one of the protagonists of the book has gone through hell. That’s abuse. I also understand that part of the allure of submission is the release of control to your master or dom. Marc and his husband Luc are the poster boys for a happy dom/sub couple in the book. I have always understood that, I just didn’t get the perks, the benefits of it. And make no mistake, this isn’t Ms Novak’s fault, quite the contrary. Seems it took for me to read her book to connect some of the dots in my own life (which doesn’t mean I crave BDSM, quite the contrary). Some of the key aspects of domination are “control” and “trust”. And I look into myself, I look at my own marriage, and I wonder, how is this different from being “vanilla”, which is how I’d define myself?
Falling in love, for real, with someone is (imho) all about relinquishing control. I know so many young people who are afraid of “letting go”, of trusting their hearts. Their relationships keep failing, because they just can’t let go, afraid to be hurt.
But to really love is to trust someone else implicitly with your heart and soul (and all that comes with it).
I trust my husband implicitly, and I know he feels the same. Yet we are not in a BDSM relationship, because we don’t do the whole submission thing (mentally or sexually), nor the pain thingy: the spanking, the toys and the bondage and whatever else people into that lifestyle toy with. Pardon me if I need to stay personal for a moment longer, but there is one (sexual) aspect where I personally experienced the aspect of “letting go”. As I grew up as a “little gay boy”, I would always top, never bottom. And this wasn’t about being a better man, some misguided machismo or that sort of bullshit. It was the fear of what could happen if the roles were reversed, and abused. People who bottom and the het ladies out there will understand what I mean, what it implies to “let go”, to trust someone enough to have that someone else physically enter your body: it can mean utter devastation or an orgasm the like of which you’ll rarely experience (to put it bluntly).
Once I had learned to trust a guy with that, and was able to relinquish that control, trust him not to hurt me, that’s when I began to enjoy sex both ways. TMI, I know. My apologies. I’m learning from my reading.
In a nutshell, that is what Love of the Game is about. For Hannes and Charlie to find that place of implicit trust. It’s easy for Hannes, but given Charlie’s abuse, that’s a different beast. Yes, there are additional aspects being explored, including the sexual “pain” aspects, mostly philosophically, although there is one scene, where Hannes and a friend get up close and personal, and while I normally skim sex scenes in books (I prefer to watch), squirming about the weird language used to describe one of the most basic human endeavors, that scene left me squirming in a different way. I was so horny that I thought my pants would burst! Great writing Ms Novak, and I’ll send you the dry cleaning bill… But yeah, I still don’t get it. Pain and pleasure are two centers in my brain that just don’t want to be connected…
On the surface, Love of the Game is constructed like a traditional romance novel, an ice hockey story, playing out around a tight-knit Canadian NHL team. The protagonists meet, there’s a spark (first turning point), there’s separation, a chance (fated?) reconnection, and plenty of stuff happening before finally, after the second dramatic turning point, the two get to skate off into the sunset, together (for now). Within the premise of that, Ms Novak tells a riveting, sometimes very funny, sometimes tear-jerking story of young Swedish NHL rookie Johannes Alm, his first season in Montreal, and journalist Charlie Morin, who is battling the demons of a really bad and abusive relationship.
Ms Novak is not one to hide her convictions under a rock, and she’s found a great spokesperson in Hannes, the young hockey pro. The scene at his first press conference is one for the history books. If only the real NHL coaches had as much cojones as Hannes’s coach. But alas, in real life, being out and proud in the NHL is still “fiction”. Hopefully it’ll be a reality sooner rather than later.
If you like BDSM stories, you should definitely read this. No dungeons, no prolonged sex scenes with nipple or cock torture await you though. If that’s your fancy, look elsewhere. And if you cringe at the mention of those four letters, like I do, you should still give this story a go. Maybe you’ll finally be able to “get it”, the way I have after reading it. While it’s helped me understand some aspects of what attracts people to BDSM, I still don’t understand the whole submission or the pain aspect, probably never will, even though Caraway did a great job at explaining it in his novel. Phetra’s story doesn’t quite go that far.
Love of the Game is an unusual book, and boy do we need more of those. Great job Phetra!
Have a wonderful week,