Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: Empty Net
SERIES: Scoring Chances #4
AUTHOR: Avon Gale
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
LENGTH: 219 pages
RELEASE DATE: September 2, 2016
Spartanburg Spitfires’ goalie and captain, Isaac Drake, ended last season with an unexpected trip to the playoffs. He’s found a home and a family with his coach and mentor, Misha Samarin, and he’s looking forward to making a serious run for the Kelly Cup. But things take an interesting turn when Isaac’s archnemesis, Laurent St. Savoy, is traded to the Spitfires. After Laurent’s despicable behavior in the playoffs last year, Isaac wants nothing to do with him—no matter how gorgeous he is. But that changes when Isaac discovers the reason for Laurent’s attitude.
Laurent St. Savoy grew up the only son of a legendary NHL goalie in a household rife with abuse. He was constantly treated like a disappointment, on and off the ice. When a desperate attempt to escape his father’s tyranny sends him to the Spitfires, the last thing Laurent wants is to make friends. But there’s something about Isaac Drake that he can’t resist. Laurent has an opportunity to explore his sexuality for the first time, but he’s cracking under end-of-the-season pressures. When facing the playoffs and a rivalry turned personal vendetta, Isaac’s not sure he’s enough to hold on to Laurent—or their relationship.
I am nothing like my father.
Laurent St. Savoy hates his father. He’d also do just about anything for a few moments of his approval. Which is why, during last year’s season, he spat on Isaac Drake–the out, loud, and proud goalie for the Spartanburg Spitfires. And he got what he wanted. A whole minute of his father’s approval. But the cost was more than even he could predict. Especially when he finds himself traded to the Spitfires, and having to spend nearly every day in the presence of “teammates” who despise him.
Isaac Drake hates the Ravens, hates their coach, and would gladly punch Laurent St. Savoy in the face. Again. The last thing he needs is to have the homophobic jackass on his team. But he’d do just about anything for his coach Misha Samarin, so he’ll do his best to ignore the sullen asshole whenever he can (and not give in to the urge to smack him whenever he can’t). Then after a particularly shitty day he catches Laurent in the showers having a full-on meltdown and… goddammit, Drake can’t just leave him there. So he drags him home, calms him down, and tries to figure out what to do with a guy that he mostly finds annoying…but also kinda likes. Maybe. In small doses. When he doesn’t open his mouth.
But there is more shit going on, in and with Laurent than even Drake knows how to handle–and Drake can handle an awful lot, thank you very much. If Laurent…no, Saint is to make it thru the season (and the rest of his life) intact, it will take more than even the combined efforts of Drake, Misha, and Max. It will take Saint doing something he hasn’t done in ages: acknowledge that his father is wrong and that he is worth saving.
If you have read any of my previous reviews for books 1-3, I think it would be easy to figure out that the stories that make up the Scoring Chances series are my favorite hockey book. Period. Avon Gale expertly weaves two of my favorite things, romance and hockey, to make great stories. But she also has a great way of writing in humor that works for each character and each book. Her main characters stand out not only in their own stories, but in the genre as a whole. I don’t think there is a single person who will ever forget Lane from Breakaway, even if they found the book itself didn’t work for them.
These books make you fall in love. Hard. And sometimes against your will. (Here’s looking at you, Saint.)
I don’t think there are many people who go into this book on Laurent St. Savoy’s side. Let’s face it, the guy was a complete ass in the last book. But it doesn’t take more than a few scenes with him before we are reluctantly pulled to his side–only to become his strongest supporters by the end (behind Drake, of course).
Once again I am floored by the skill at which we are lured and trapped into loving this character. Avon Gale did not just throw his issues and past out there and beg us to pity him, she showed us the flawed man and said, “look at this person, can’t you see parts of yourself in him? Can’t you sympathize, can’t you see him despite his past?” So often abuse is used as a cheat, an easy out, a way to shrug off responsibility for creating complex characters. It is a way to invoke pity and excuse bad behavior without doing a whole lot of work. It’s also something I’m more than a little tired of. I don’t wanna be told to feel sorry for a character. I want to find myself so invested in them that I cry when they cry, and smile when they smile.
Here…here I just feel Saint. From nearly the first page. And you wanna smack him when he can’t keep his mouth shut, when he finds himself so alone and angry and lost that he lashes out at anyone in his path. But when Drake is there, telling him to be quiet, that he is not required to come up with excuses or lies or explanations, you can also feel his relief. That for Drake, Saint doesn’t have to be anyone other than himself. Even if Saint hasn’t a clue who that is.
I think this book is very much about the second chances that life sometimes hands us without us noticing, and sometimes without our permission. And while Drake and Saint have slightly different chances offered to them, I think that they all fundamentally ask the same question: “what if?”
Here, for Saint, the question is “what if his father is wrong? What if he could get better? What if he didn’t have to be the person in the mirror?” He is given the chance to ask what would happen if he found a way to have something he loved…and he took it?
For Drake, the question is “what if his past didn’t matter? What if he could find a family that loved him? What if he let Misha and Max be that family?” And what happens if he trusts that the next person to call him son actually means it?
Nothing is as simple as asking a question, or even answering it, though. Life is never that simple, unfortunately. Some things take time–and professional help–to conquer. But I like the subtle nature of it. The way it kinda hides in plain sight, and it isn’t until you sit down to think that it actually strikes you how deftly the questions have been posed and answered. And that it is never just one thing that drives the story, but a mix of wants and desires, that lead the characters to making the choices that change everything.
This book and this series just keeps growing and changing and getting better and more complex. I love that the author is taking the chance with each new story to give us new ways of thinking or of seeing this world of hockey. New characters to explore, or new complications to overcome. Hockey–or at least the competition–kinda takes a back seat to the other things in this book. It works though because hockey is still so very much a part of who these characters are–for good or for ill. The fact that it wasn’t the race for the Cup that drove the plot was a good thing, because I don’t think it was on the ice that these characters really shine (not that I didn’t like those parts as well). But by focusing on people, letting their stories come to life around the game and letting us enjoy all of it together in one bit intricate tale, it made the story stick that much harder.
At the end of it all this story becomes something you can remember because it was something you lived with the characters. It is a wonderful thing to walk away from book and know that some part of the story is going with you. That you are going to be caring about these character, still, a year from now. And that with each reread you come to understand them better, love them fuller, and see things you never seen before. Each book has built on the one before it, and whatever comes next will no doubt be all the better for Saint and Drake’s story.