“I like you. Laurent didn’t say it, but he didn’t need to. It was probably written all over his face.”
In a word: Read the thing. I didn’t really know much about this book going in. All I knew was that it was about hockey players and that one of the leads was asexual. I really liked this book. Like, a lot. I’m not really a big hockey fan, but I didn’t really need to be since the story was more about the characters and less about the game, so that worked for me. This is book four in the Scoring Chances series so a lot of the characters that I read about for the first time were actually already introduced in previous books. This didn’t turn out to be too much of a problem because the book gave me enough information about past major events so that I wasn’t too out of the loop, but I feel like I did miss a lot of character development in some places (this isn’t the book’s fault). Regardless, it didn’t take me long to get attached to the characters. There’s our two leads, of course, Isaac and Laurent, but there’s also their friends and coaches and a wacky landlady I enjoyed reading about as well. Although this story is definitely a romance, it’s also kind of Laurent’s journey to find himself and become the man he was truly meant to be outside of his father’s shadow. Also sometimes hockey happens. This book is both heartbreaking and heartwarming in parts, and also surprisingly funny. I don’t know if this series is still ongoing, but if it is I hope we get to see more of Isaac and Laurent (and their teammates) in the future.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains homophobia, mentioned child abuse, abuse, self-harm, and a character suffering with an eating disorder.
The Series: This is part four of the Scoring Chances series, though it’s the first one I’ve read. From what I gather, the books don’t necessarily have to be read in order. There isn’t one continuous plot or story being told; all the books seem to have different stories and feature a different couple. The thing that ties them all together is that the books all focus around the same cast of characters (more or less). The main couple in book four is Isaac Drake and Laurent St. Savoy, two characters who were first introduced in the previous book (I’m pretty sure). The main couple from the previous book are featured fairly heavily in this one, but they are now side characters as their story has already been told. Reading this book without reading the others didn’t ruin the story for me or anything, most of the important events are mentioned in the narrative so that first time readers aren’t going in totally blind. I do feel that I missed out on some character development, especially with Isaac, who is already pretty much a complete character here. Although that does give me incentive to start the series from the beginning to see what I’ve missed.
The Couple: Isaac Drake and Laurent St. Savoy are two goalies in the ECHL (East Coast Hockey League). Isaac is pierced, blue-haired, and openly gay. Also it looks like he first appeared in the previous book in the series, Power Play, and I think a lot of his story was told then. I didn’t read that book first so I feel like I missed out on most of his character development. In this book Isaac’s a pretty solid guy with a network of caring friends and pseudo-dads to keep him grounded. He has a bit of a temper problem, but he’s really a very nice guy and also a genuinely good person. From what we hear about his past (getting kicked out and becoming homeless as a teenager and having to perform sex acts for money to pay his way through college), he seems to have come a long way. Laurent is another story altogether. Also, I feel as if this book really is basically Laurent’s story more than it is his and Isaac’s together (although a big part of the plot is them getting together). Like Isaac, Laurent also first appeared in the previous book, though I’m not sure if he had the same amount of screen time as Isaac. I think not reading Power Play first has affected my initial reaction to Laurent. From what I understand, Laurent was kind of one of the more villainous characters in Power Play. We know some stuff went down between Laurent and Isaac, homophobic comments and the like, but reading a summary of the events is a lot different than reading the events as they happen. The emotional impact is different. So while Laurent does start out in this book as an arsehole, I didn’t really get the full effect of him as a bad guy because we immediately get a scene from Laurent’s point of view that lets us know that there’s a lot more going on under the surface and that maybe Laurent isn’t the villain everyone else thinks he is (he does do and say some pretty nasty stuff, but his motives are pretty complicated). So I started out instantly feeling sorry for him because, holy shit, boy has issues. He’s actually very insecure, and absolutely fails at socializing, quick to lash out when he gets uncomfortable. He’s spent his whole life trapped under his abusive father’s thumb to the point where he doesn’t really know who he is. He has no friends, no love interests, and no real idea on where his life is headed. He didn’t even know what his sexuality was because his father never gave him the chance to find out, keeping him constantly occupied with hockey and turning it from a sport he loved into something he hated. It’s only by chance that Isaac decides to look past Laurent’s hatefulness to see what’s going on inside, and it’s only because of him that Laurent is able to move forward in life. Isaac’s story in this book is mostly dealing with worrying about Laurent and doing his best for his hockey team. Laurent’s story is him finally falling in love (he eventually figures out that he identifies as demisexual) and working on becoming a man he can be proud of (or at least someone who can look himself in the mirror without hating what and who he sees) and escaping his father’s control.
The Game: Pretty much all the characters, including our romantic leads, are either minor-league professional hockey players or are involved with the various teams in some way. The book isn’t about hockey per se, but hockey is a very big part of the story. I’m not a particularly huge fan of hockey and I only really know the basics of how the game is played. I know even less about what goes on behind the scenes. You don’t really need to be a hockey expert to really get into the story. There’s an explanation at the beginning of the book that provides some basic information about minor-league hockey. The hockey elements of the story were pretty easy to understand, especially since they mostly took a backseat to Isaac and Laurent’s story.
The Side Characters: Isaac and Laurent are definitely enough to carry the story on their own, but the people they surround themselves with just make everything better and remind the reader that they’re all part of a bigger picture. Max Ashford and Misha Samarin are the two coaches for the Spartanburg Spitfires and they were the leads in the previous book, Power Play. It’s these two that really got me interested in reading the rest of the series because I really want to read their story. Max and Misha are an established couple in Empty Net and I totally believe in their relationship. I really enjoy their scenes together. And I enjoy their scenes with Isaac, who they have taken into their home and sort of adopted. Isaac seems to be pretty friendly with all of his teammates, but the ones he’s closest to are Matt ‘Hux’ Huxley and Shawn ‘Murph’ Murphy. Hux and Murph are complete bro BFFs and Isaac’s closest friends. Their dynamic is pretty interesting because I honestly thought they were going to be set up as the lead couple for the next book, but it turns out that they are both actually straight. They’re also really protective of Isaac, which makes life pretty difficult for Laurent early on. We don’t actually see much of the other members of the Spitfires team, I think the only other one I remember that got a name was Crowder, and I think he’s only mentioned once or twice. The team in general is mostly referred to as a group. Other side characters of note come from Laurent’s former team, the Ashville Ravens. Xavier Matthews is a closeted player who I’m guessing was introduced with more detail in the previous book. He and Isaac were together for a bit but broke up because Xavier couldn’t come out to his homophobic family and out and proud Isaac didn’t want to be his secret. Tyler Simon is one of Xavier’s teammate and their coach’s favourite plater. Tyler Simon is a homophobic douche and a real nasty piece of work. Denis St. Savoy is the Ravens’ coach and Laurent’s abusive dickbag father. Denis is a former NHL goalie and is expected to be entered into the hockey hall of fame. He is a horrible man; abusive, homophobic, and cruel. I hate this guy, and so does Laurent. The last major side character is Laurent’s landlady, Mrs Bowen, who pretty much deserves a book of her own. I didn’t expect her to be as interesting as she was (how many old ladies do you know who would’ve eagerly entered a three-way marriage were it legal?), starting out as just another face in the cast and becoming a friend to Laurent and part of his support network. I’m pretty sure she will actually adopt Laurent if he isn’t careful.
The Sex: I knew going into this that one of the leads was asexual, so I wasn’t actually expecting any sex scenes. I was completely wrong about that. While Laurent is indeed on the ace spectrum he finds out that he’s demisexual, which means that he only feels sexual attraction to a person he has a deep emotional bond with. Laurent develops a deep emotional bond with Isaac. There is a lot of sex. It’s slow going at first because Laurent has never been in a relationship before. He’s actually never even thought about whether or not he was attracted to anyone, so this is completely new territory for him. Isaac has been with people in the past, so he knows what he’s doing. Their scenes together are really good, especially because they don’t go from 0 to perfect anal right off the bat. They start with just kissing and touching (Laurent loves having his hair petted) and work their way through other sex acts as they get closer as a couple and Laurent gets more comfortable. There is a very obvious difference in their sexual relationship from the beginning and end of the book, and the scenes are all pretty varied so they don’t get boring or repetitive.
The Writing: I loved the writing in this. There was one issue I had where sometimes the transitions between scenes was a bit confusing, and there were instances where time passed and sometimes I felt that there were a few developments that happened that were glossed over. But other than that, I have no complaints. It was very easy to get sucked into the universe, even if I was coming in late. A lot of the characters were already established, and I get the feeling that if I had read the previous books first I would’ve been delighted at seeing these characters again. One thing that did surprise me was how funny I found the book. The way some of the lines were written just made me laugh out loud, especially some of the things from Isaac’s parts. Another thing I really liked was that there were no huge misunderstanding conflicts between Isaac and Laurent. Their relationship wasn’t entirely smooth sailing, but there was no third-act breakup drama. Laurent has issues that make things difficult for him, but neither he nor Isaac let them push Isaac away, even if it meant that they had to work harder to be together. Also one thing I really wasn’t expecting, but completely loved, was Laurent’s character arc. He wasn’t completely 100% okay by the end, but you could tell that he’d made significant progress over the course of the story. I really enjoyed reading about him and Isaac together and I really hope that they (and their teammates) show up in future installments.
[Empty Net was published September 2, 2016, it is available both in print and as an ebook]