A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Playing for Keeps by Avery Cockburn

on July 10, 2016

This is one of the most fascinating romances I’ve ever been not all that into. To clarify, the romance itself didn’t do much for me, even though I’m no more immune to kilts and brogue than the next gal. But the conflict and setting kept me glued to the pages.

It’s the first in a series about a Scottish LGBT football (soccer) team and — much coolness — there are actually characters other than gay white men on the team! Even cooler, the author plans to write about some of those characters. The captain of the team is Fergus, who’s in a bad place emotionally since his former lover/former captain cruelly dumped him and the team. Then he meets John, a politics student who’s organizing a match to raise money for gay asylum seekers.

Although I really enjoyed the dialogue, liberally sprinkled with Scottish slang — “It’s you I love, ya big numpty” — Fergus and John didn’t work all that well for me. Their feelings come off as more mushy than sincere, and I felt like a voyeur during the explicit sex scenes. And Fergus is such a jerk. He not only stalks John — admittedly with some reason, since John is lying to him — but deserts him at the worst possible time. I couldn’t give him a pass just because of his previous experiences.

What drew me in was the setting, and fresh take (for an American reader) on star-crossed lovers. Apparently Protestant/Catholic conflict can be almost as fierce in Scotland as it is in Ireland. Fergus is Catholic, and John grew up as a member of the Orange Order, which he loathes but feels a complicated loyalty towards. The author draws a parallel between the anti-Catholic Orange marches and those in the American south glorifying the Confederate flag — justified by the marchers as “tradition” rather than bigotry. I don’t have the knowledge to comment on how accurate the portrayal is, but it’s certainly heartfelt and convincing. Discussions of class and immigration issues — Fergus’s housemate is from Nigeria — are also pertinent.

So although not a complete success for me, as a fictional trip to another culture it really worked. And there’s a powerful conclusion to end things on an upbeat note.


One response to “Playing for Keeps by Avery Cockburn

  1. […] July 5th is a day of dread for John, because he’s promised his father to march with the Orange Order. And if his Catholic lover Fergus finds out, their relationship will go straight to hell. Reviewed here. […]

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