Discussion of disordered eating, homophobia, bullying, mental illness.
The Long Game is the sequel to Heated Rivalry, the rivals-to-lovers hockey romance that pairs Ilya, an infuriating Russian, with his hockey nemesis, sunny Shane. Heated Rivalry has a permanent home on my keeper shelf, but the book ends with a HFN. I was dying to revisit these two and see them have a more permanent HEA.
Unfortunately, I had three main issues with this book–Shane is a dick for most of it; the homophobia and bullying are overwhelming; and I hated the catalyst for Shane and Ilya finally coming out. The insufficient repercussions for awful behavior and the lack of support from allies shifted the tone of the book, so I found it distressing compared to the rest of the series.
The Long Game brings us a couple who are still living largely separate lives, traveling between their respective teams in Ottawa and Toronto to steal moments with one another. They’re closeted to everyone but Shane’s family and a couple of Shane’s friends, and the secrecy is wearing on Ilya, who’s struggling with depression. Playing for the crappiest team in the league, while his boyfriend’s the star player on a star team doesn’t help either. The two had originally planned on staying closeted until they retired, but Shane’s at the top of his career so it could be a decade until he retires. Will he ever be willing to weather the storm of public opinion?
Most of the books in this series have delicately balanced the bad behavior of one or two misogynists or homophobes, with plenty of caring hockey dudes and goey gay love. Is this realistic? Probably not, but I’m a romance fan not a hockey fan, so I do not care.
While Shane is winning games, Ilya is becoming increasingly isolated in Ottawa. He’s the team captain, but he avoids his teammates, and feels responsible for their failures. Shane hasn’t told his teammates about his relationship, but they know he’s gay. Poor Ilya can’t come out without people guessing that he’s dating Shane, the only single gay dude in his orbit. Ilya’s in a tenuous situation.
Yet, Shane spends much of the book blithely unaware of the imbalance in his relationship. His self-absorption is painful to read, and some of Shane’s behavior, like his disordered eating, is never resolved. Ilya himself only realizes his misery when his therapist–who is Russian and fabulous–points out that she’s the only person he can talk to about his life. He’s been too busy reassuring Shane to notice. Ilya’s arrogance and snark is part of what I love about him, and while the depression rep is excellent, it was hard to see him so unhappy.
My main issue with the book is the coming out storyline. Shane and Ilya are terrified of being outed, for good reason, but their behavior isn’t consistent with the level of terror they espouse. In Heated Rivalry, they are very careful, and that tension gives the book some of its heat. In The Long Game, they appear more stressed about keeping their secret, but they’re affectionate and make out in precarious positions, many of them outside. They aren’t hyper-aware of how their actions may be viewed by others.
It was stressful to read, and also felt totally devoid from any reality of how it feels to be closeted in a high-profile relationship. I didn’t care if the hockey was real in the book, but I needed it to feel believably queer. This dynamic did not, and it made me uneasy throughout the book.
Ultimately, Shane and Ilya are outed after someone takes a video of them kissing outside in an intimate moment, and it goes viral. The impact is brutal, violating, and honestly awful to read. They have only a few allies, and their defense of Shane and Ilya is lukewarm.
Partly, this is because the bullies are too powerful to topple. After a deluge of abuse and shaming, the HEA is quickly wrapped up, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. I couldn’t enjoy seeing them together because of everything they’d lost. I’d been looking forward to Shane and Ilya’s happy ending, but even though they’re still playing hockey, the final scenes weren’t strong enough to compensate emotionally for the angst and trauma that came before.
For many readers, any Ilya and Shane is better than none, and I appreciated getting to spend a little more time with them. Ultimately, it was too heart-wrenching for my taste, but hardcore Heated Rivalry fans who love intense angst might enjoy this. For me, The Long Game is the only book in the Game Changers series that won’t be a reread.
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Not gonna lie, I actually gasped when I opened the review and saw the D grade. I was really hoping for a sweet, if challenging coming out arc for Ilya and Shane. (I just typed his name as “Shame” by mistake which actually seems appropriate.)
A while back, there was a review of a Regency romance where a commenter astutely observed that the author seemed to have written the story of an actual Regency marriage (hero’s a dick, things go poorly, no grovel, they don’t actually seem happy together, etc.) rather than a Regency romance and it sounds like that’s what Reid did here—she wrote the coming out arc and forgot/missed giving it the context that truly makes it romantic. Such a shame.
I just finished THE LONG GAME yesterday and loved it—it’s my favorite book of the year so far, so obviously I have to disagree with both your grade and your review. I found it an immensely-satisfying and smoothly-written ending to a beloved series. I think Reid wrote the characters completely true to the way they’ve been in the previous books: Shane is tightly-wound and razor-focused on hockey (his “clean” eating plan seems more of a part of his disciplined training regime than “disordered” in a medical sense), Ilya is much more gregarious. Ilya is also less concerned about the repercussions of them coming out. I think it’s important to note that Shane & Ilya were discussing with their agent how to manage publicly coming out before they were inadvertently outed, and even Shane was beginning to chafe at the restrictions of keeping his relationship with Ilya a secret. I agree that THE LONG GAME is not a breezy read: there is homophobia and push-back focused on the lovers, but I didn’t find the book anywhere near the level of dark & depressing that you did; there is joy, hope, found-family, and love. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree about THE LONG GAME. As the old saying goes, no two people ever read the same book—and this is clearly a case of that.
Thanks for this review, Shana. Like DDD, I enjoyed this book more than you did, although I understand and don’t disagree with the points you made. Reading this book this week made me a little sad. It felt real to me (well not all parts, more on that later). Sometimes people in love are self-absorbed. Sometimes people in love make decisions motivated by fear. Some things are too painful to share with a partner. (Late in the book, Shane sees a hammock in Ilya’s backyard and muses why he doesn’t often lie in it. The reader knows; it’s a lovely grace note.) And other people can be awful. I expect there are quite a few of those in the hockey world. If Heated Rivalry was a romance novel, The Long Game is a love story and I read it through that lens. I can’t lie – I actually started to skim the sex scenes. There were too many. And some aspects of the ending strained credulity. Yes, this’ll be a re-read for me – but not for a while. I’m going to enjoy reading everyone’s comments on this post!
While some of your assessments are accurate, I completely disagree your overall take on the book and the characters. I’m actually a little stunned. The Long Game is right now at the TOP of my 2022 favorite reads. I thought Reid did an amazing and powerful job writing this conclusion. I anticipated the book, but was actually afraid I’d be disappointed, but I certainly wasn’t. It was realistic, not dark and depressing. In fact, like Eliza, I found it joyful.
As someone who deals with depressed in myself and family members, I thought the portrayal of Ilya was excellent. I also thought the portrayal of Shane’s obtuseness was very well done. I don’t think it makes Shane a selfish git. I think it makes him very human. And as you pointed out, Ilya spends a lot of time and energy NOT communicating effectively with Shane. Once Shane sees the issues clearly, he changes.
Everyone reads a different book, and I’m sorry your experience wasn’t what you’d hoped. I hope your review will not dissuade others from going into the book with a positive outlook. It’s well worth the ride (and the wait) for most of us.
Thank you for this thoughtful review. I don’t disagree with any of the critiques you made, although I think this was closer to a C for me. My heart hurt for Ilya through this whole book, and I think the imbalance between Ilya’s arc and Shane’s is pretty consistent from Heated Rivalry to the Long Game. I think that because Ilya has been a key player in many of the other stories in the series, we have more investment in him (and probably that Reid herself likes writing him better).
I’ll also say that I too did a lot of sex scene skimming in this book (although the trophy room was a good one).
Omphale’s Ranking of Game Changer couples
1) Troy and Harris
2) Ryan and Fabian
3) Shane and Ilya
4) Eric and Kyle
5) Scott and Kip (largely bc I found/find Scott terribly boring)
Thanks for this review! I totally agree. For me, plot wise it also felt like a very long epilogue to Heated Rivalry – the book just doesn’t have enough depth to stand on its own.
My take on this series has been that Rachel Reid has been mostly successfully executing the m/m sports romance formula – not a problem at all where the characters are compelling and there’s a HEA. Here, I think the homophobia/bullying, Shane’s disordered eating, Ilya’s depression/therapy, and the spoiler included behind the cut are all somewhat expected m/m sports romance tropes. Reid just doesn’t combine or execute them successfully. Some of the ways they were implemented seemed to sweep problematic stuff under the rug for the sake of a quick resolution – odd after the first few hundred pages where the plot didn’t seem to advance at all.
Wow, interesting to see the range of reactions! I haven’t read any of Reid’s hockey romances yet (having read one too many hockey romances) but I know a lot of people were really eager for this one.
These comments bring up an authorial/editorial choice I’ve seen many times recently: the book 90% full of action, angst, conflict, and main-character rumination about same, wrapped up with a hasty conclusion that leaves most of the HEA off the page. 3-5K words telling me they’re now happily & openly in love does not convince after 60-70K words about their embattled lives and ill-expressed feelings. (Case in point, ‘A Duke by Default’ by Alyssa Cole, which I liked a lot except … .)
And most of the time, the author is clearly capable of writing out the missing scenes. Is a puzzlement. I would so much rather have a longer book that tells the *whole story.*
It sounds as though, in this case, some book length went to sex scenes that should’ve gone to conversations. I like a few good sex scenes in my romances, but when there are serious obstacles in/around a relationship, people need to TALK. To EACH OTHER.
I have to admit that I read The Long Game without actually having read any of the previous books in the series, and I loved it. I realize I would likely have a richer and different perspective when I have the chance to read the rest of the series, but I feel that Rachel Reid did an impressive job of creating characters and a world that feels both real and warm. I am excited to enjoy the rest of the series at some point.
Thank you all for the review and the discussion. It has pushed me to finally get Heated Rivalry to see for myself what you’re talking about.
I’ve had this waiting in my Kindle since Tuesday and will probably be reading it tonight. I was shocked too when I saw the D but if anything the points you made will prepare me for perhaps more angst than I was expecting. I have a hard time reading about people being outed and wish these two characters in particular could have come out on their own terms, but I love Ilya and Shane so I’m still pretty sure I’m going to love this.
Thank you for this review. I skimmed much of this book because there was just too much horribleness and all I really wanted was the HEA for these characters I’ve followed for so long. It’s true my appetite for angst has substantially decreased the last couple years, but this felt like more angst than I ever wanted to read. And like what @FashionablyEvil said – the angsts/arcs were not interwoven enough. Not enough romance to wrap around the grimness.
100% agree on the unresolved disordered eating – not to mention the unchallenged use of “clean” as a descriptor, which has so many problems on its own.
Just started it last night. It’s over-sexualizing every gay character so blatantly, particularly in a scenes where they overwhelmed by boners meeting Ryan’s boyfriend, that it feels like the author is fetishizing gay male bodies. And the whole shaming Ilya for his eating habits is wearing thin. Plus everyone is miserable, pining, sad. Some readers love books where gay male characters suffer, suffer, suffer. I call it poor baby syndrome. It’s not for me. I don’t feel sorry for famous, wealthy, powerful white guys at the literal top of their game. They can choose to try to change the world, or hide and whine. I can respect their choice, but whining about it? Please. Gonna DNF and re-read Taylor Fitzpatrick’s You Could Make a Life instead (best m/m wedding scene ever btw.)
I’m actually really surprised by this review, although I don’t know why. I rarely agree with the reviews here any more. I honestly feel like we read two very different books. Shane has always been oblivious. Right from the start in Heated Rivalry we know he doesn’t do much introspection. He didn’t even put two and two together about his attraction to one of the Friday Night Lights actors until after he and Ilya start up. Nothing he does in that book shows him as anything but hockey obsessed. How many years had they been hooking up before he accepted that he was gay? It took Rose talking to him for it to finally hit home. Even then, he’s still oblivious in how his actions hurt Ilya.
Shane was also always more afraid of coming out than Ilya, even though doing so would have made it impossible for Ilya to return to Russia. It seems to me Shane was dealing with a lot of internalized homophobia—remember, he was deeply ashamed about being a bottom at the start of Heated Rivalry.
As for Shane’s “distorted eating” as you called it. I don’t think it was distorted at all. He’s an athlete. They have ridiculous diets. It wasn’t like he wasn’t eating enough calories or only eating cabbage soup. He was eating healthy and by calling it distorted you’ve basically insulted anyone who doesn’t eat junk food. This part of the review felt really judgmental to me. Don’t get me wrong—I wouldn’t cut out carbs or fast food the way he did, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting a healthier diet just like there’s nothing wrong with Ilya eating McDonalds.
Like other commenters, I found this book to be joyful. Yes, Ilya’s situation was hard to read, but I thought it was well balanced. I particularly loved the scenes with Hayden’s kids. The proposal scene was also one of my favorites even if it did rip off Monica’s proposal to Chandler. Also, they decided to be less careful about being caught. It wasn’t like they just forgot themselves after 11 years. They’d been planning to come out when they were outed.
Thanks for your review Shana, and it feels validating to see someone else have the same kind of experience I did after seeing so many say the opposite. I wish I had been able to read your review before I read the book so at least I would have gone into it with some awareness of what I was getting into, because for me the hopeful and funny moments were outweighed by the heaviness of it all.
I have depression myself and can appreciate the depression rep, but I also want to see more of a satisfying, uplifting HEA and didn’t feel that at all here. There was a lack of communication and connection (a lot of pages seemed to instead be dedicated to sex… something I’ve never really found myself complaining about there being too much of before) and it felt like some things went unresolved, including the disordered eating storyline. For me that was triggering enough, but I hated that Shane was actively judging Ilya for the way he ate, and while Ilya didn’t seem to take offence to it, a reader could definitely be put off by him continually calling his partner’s food “gross” and giving him the side-eye for putting Nutella on his bagel. It’s one thing if you’re choosing to be on a specific diet yourself (though that can still be uncomfortable to read about) but another to turn around and judge those around you. Even if Shane believed he was concerned about Ilya from a health or career longevity standpoint, the way it was communicated (at least in my opinion) was far from loving. I was disappointed that this wasn’t condemned by the book at all or that the reader wasn’t warned about it in the CWs because it was definitely up there in the extreme end.
The forced outing was just another pile on, and I hated that for them and the way even their friends reacted/failed to meaningfully support them. One thing I’ve really liked about these books is that they’ve made me feel hopeful about hockey even amongst all of the misogyny, rape culture, homomisia, etc. because of the allies and connections they have, but this book made me feel the opposite. Completely disappointed and feeling a lack of hope.
I really enjoyed this book, I laughed and cried and stayed up way too late finishing it on Tuesday night but it’s interesting to read other people’s thoughts, some of which I agree with and some of which I do not. I did think the book had a lot of sex scenes but it seemed realistic to me given Ilya in particular seemed to have a history of using sex as a coping mechanism. As for Shane’s eating issues, it did read to me as potentially bordering on disordered but again it read to me as a coping strategy consistent with his controlling personality and dedication to hockey and for that reason I bought that he was able to give a lot of that up when he felt more at peace with the situation regarding his relationship and career. It also worked for me as a way of signaling his shifted thinking in not putting his career first all the time. As far as shaming Ilya’s food choices, it seemed to me that they both made multiple statements addressing how gross they found the other’s diet.
I am in the camp that found the ending hopeful,.
I haven’t read this book, but after reading the comments I wanted to say that just because someone is an athlete and might have specific food needs other people don’t that doesn’t mean they can’t or don’t suffer from disordered eating. In fact, I imagine it’s pretty common and doesn’t get much attention because the public perception is that if someone is an athlete that means that whatever they are doing to maintain their physique is healthy and correct and the rest of us are just fucking it up with our Nutella bagels.
Sorry about the spoilers in my first comment, thanks to whoever added the spoiler tags.
@I_Simon – I haven’t read the book and this review has made me apprehensive (though the comments are helping). I’m very pleased to see the info you included in the spoiler. The part at the end? Yes, that is HEA material for me.
Like many here, I had highly anticipated this. My take? I’d rate it higher than the reviewer. Overall? Heated Rivalry was so good on so many levels, I think that the pressure was huge and it would be really hard to live up to all the expections with The Long Game!
To me, yes, there were moments where I tought “OMG are they going to be ok?”. But I knew they would be. It could have had a sex scene or two less for me, but it also had those absolute laugh out loud moments. I love their snarky ways!
I understand the author’s decicision to not make it just a giant fluff-fest, and Ilya’s story and issues make sense to me. So does what Shane does, his whole being wound tight, his competitiveness and all that. His eating didn’t seem disordered to me per se. I guess many sports professionals have special diets, and the balance whether it’s healthy or disordered is probably a delicate one. He does give it up in the end, though maybe it would have been good if there had been more about it.
What I probably liked the least about the book was how they were outed. Though maybe bound to happen, considering that none of the other books in the series had an unplanned outing? And I hated how Shane’s team reacted and he pretty much lost all of his friends there. BUT that is probably also more realistic.
To me, Heated Rivalry and Role Model will remain the best books in the series, but I am happy Shane and Ilya got their conclusion and HEA.
I liked this better than Shana but much less than a lot of commenters. Maybe a C+/ B- for me.
I liked the first 3/4 of Long Game quite a bit but I got so angry about the way the outing was handled that it kind of ruined the book for me.
It’s so, so validating to read a review by a fellow queer romance reader who also had trouble reading the homophobia and especially the outing / coming out plot in The Long Game. I too found the risks the characters took to be stressful.
I also wanted to read more about Shane’s friendship with JJ. We’re told that he’s Shane’s best friend but he’s hardly on page – much less than Hayden.
It’s so interesting reading the comments wondering if Shana read the same book they read because that’s exactly how I felt about Heated Rivalry – I just didn’t like it and I still don’t completely get all of the love for it.
In genre romance, we readers really want to connect emotionally with the characters and story – when there’s a split reaction like this I think it’s often between readers who really, really connected with the story and readers who just didn’t.
First take: the banter had me smiling throughout the book but the secrets and pining were so heavy. It was very interesting to compare Ilya from “Role Model” (confident, charming, inspiring) against how he was really feeling during that time line. That was a powerful reminder for me that a depressed person doesn’t always have visible triggers.
Second take: I am vengeful and wished there was more of a take down of the obvious villains. If there are more books (and it feels like there may be at least two more), I would love to see Shane and Ilya on ice together and Shane calling out Montreal and his old team for not being “perfect”.
Takeaway: enjoyable read with some heavy topics. I wanted more for these two characters BUT I’m not the author and the set up for what happened makes sense.
I assumed I would gobble this book in a second, but I had to read it piecemeal. I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to, although I still enjoyed it. I never get tired of Ilya being a prick, he’s hilarious and delightful. He really carried the book for me. Shane was always …stupid is too harsh a word, but oblivious, anyway. And yet always a thoroughly decent person previously. He seemed kind of self-absorbed, to the point of interfering with his core values this time around? Idk, he was never a fun person, but he had been more fun to read about.
The pacing of the book was uneven. Is there a story arc if it’s just stuff happening at random intervals to largely passive characters?
I didn’t like the dynamics around food, or bodily fluids. I hated how they were outed, I didn’t believe they’d just be less cautious as they got closer to getting married and still have no plan for coming out, that was all very stressful. I really needed Ilya to spend more time in therapy. Oh and the playoffs were boring and felt like a cop out.
But I’m not mad about it. There’s still lots to enjoy. Mostly Ilya.
I’m so sad you didn’t enjoy this book. I understand what you wirte here, but it has not been my experience. I just loved it, it’s one of my favourite books of the year. The way it approaches things like mental health in itself, is just worth it. Ilya is one of my favourite romance heroes ever now.
I went with a B on this – it’s not d-level to me but not a book of the year rave.
I LOVED it! I stayed up till 4:00 am reading it, I couldn’t put it down. I swear I had heart eyes at times. It made me laugh, cry-I thought it was a perfect ending for them. Yes of course there was homophobia, bullying, as in all the other books. Shane has always been hyper focused, and I didn’t think he had disordered eating at all. He is an elite athlete who followed an eating plan to maximize his performance. Ilya has always been more devil may care-that is part of what makes them such an interesting couple.
I was looking forward to a review here, I admit I screamed “what!” when I saw this grade. Like someone mentioned in a previous comment, no one reads the same book. I was so excited for this book, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I loved it.
I was never big on HEATED RIVALRY (and felt like a heel as a result), partly because it felt like Sidney Crosby/Alex Ovechkin fanfic, but mostly because the whole first third basically boiled down to “he’s hot, but I know I shouldn’t sleep with my archrival” restated over and over. Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen’s US (the sequel to the also-excellent HIM) handles a lot of THE LONG GAME’s themes, apparently with more nuance..
I’m with you, Shana. It wasn’t a perfect read but I was thinking it would I give it 4 stars until I got to 85 pages from the end. The forced outing wrecked my enjoyment. I can’t understand why she went with such a traumatizing plot choice when she navigated around it in every other book in this series. I so badly wanted Shane and Ilya to come out on their own terms and they were so close to doing so.