Last spring, I joined a “tipping pool” with other readers of this author in picking the winning teams each week for the Australian Football League. It took me at least 3 months to figure out that the sport was not, in fact, rugby. By that point, I was committed to my strategy of picking teams based on which literal mascot would be the winner in a confrontation (and not in danger of winning the pool), so I decided to roll with my lack of knowledge. I was a bit worried going into this book that I’d be lost as a result, but Crane’s obvious love and knowledge of the sport meant that even when I wasn’t 100 percent sure what was going on during the in-game moments on the page, I was also never confused or lost enough that it distracted from the story.
After all, Crane also does an excellent job balancing the overwhelming role of the sport in the character’s lives while also creating characters that are sympathetic heroes even for readers who don’t often read sports romances. Both Bryce and Noah are incredibly competent when it comes to their professions, but also incredibly real when it comes to being people, from Bryce’s adorable awkwardness to Noah’s slightly flawed emotional intelligence (that Crane provides the backstory to support). That realism also shines in other moments between the men that I don’t often read, then enjoyed all the more so for that reason. Another fine line that Crane balances is how the physical aspect of their relationship is a relatively slow burn, without unnecessary pining, and that some of the “first times” between them as Bryce explores his newfound interests are not completely perfect, without any sacrifice to the escapism aspect to reading romance.
That these characters are not on the same team is a plot feature, not an annoying bug to create unnecessary drama, considering the ties of family and friendship that tie both Sydney teams together before sparks fly between the heroes. From day one, there’s never a question of hiding the bonds that grow between Noah and Bryce from their teammates, and the only consideration regarding the public is a reasonable need for privacy, not a desire to hide a same-sex relationship. Even when the relationship hits the inevitable rocky point, the secondary characters remain as integral components to the story—not as plot devices but as important and supportive longstanding friendships, with none of the traditional toxic masculinity usually expected from professional sports players. That being said, I was at least a third of the way through the book before I realized that I hadn’t identified a significant external plot because I was so entertained by the slice-of-life moments shared by the characters as professional sports ball players, which were just as interesting as the slow-burn relationship development. In turn, I was surprised and thoroughly impressed by how Crane wove together the relationship arc with the overall story of the footy season until I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised at the unique but perfect location for the dramatic finale/grand gesture moment.
Overall, this book was an introduction to an aspect of an unfamiliar culture that was completely accessible to readers both interested and indifferent to sports romances. I adored these characters, who excellently captured the vibes Crane does so well, with “idiots in love” catching unexpected feels. I can’t wait to hang out with Bryce and Noah again as their close friends all experience their own love stories in future installments of this series.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.