I've been pretty quiet lately, mostly just going along, reading things that don't run away, rereading a lot to keep myself from stressing too much, you know the drill. Well, as I was browsing facebook, I was linked to Playing for Keeps, which was a freebie on Kindle at the time. I downloaded it, like I do about eleventy billion children's non fiction books to use with our science curriculum, and whatever takes my fancy along the way... and then I forgot about it. Skip ahead about a month, and the ebook I was reading was having troubles turning pages, and then I was on a new reader, because my old one wasn't working the way I wanted it, so I had none of my usual 300+ books at hand, and... I dropped into Kindle. Why not.
Kilts on the cover meant pretty much an automatic go-for-it, and sure enough, I loved the book. Enough that the prequel and sequel made it onto my wishlist at Amazon within an hour. I'd put together a mini-review of Playing for Keeps, and it turned out that the author, Avery Cockburn, was willing to send a copy of the sequel, Playing to Win, my way for review. I'm surprised y'all didn't hear the squeeing when I found out. I read it, I started writing a review... and then I got sick. Sick enough that I don't think I spent much time stringing together solid sentences for most of the last week, and there was no way I was going to try to write a review for a book I enjoyed while I couldn't keep track of sentences from one end to the other. Anyway!
Playing to Win, set in the final weeks of the Scottish Independence Referendum, follows Colin and Andrew, characters we met first in the story Playing for Keeps. Colin, who is one bad day away from abject poverty, and Lord Andrew Sunderland, of the aristocracy, have more than a little bit separating them - wealth, class, politics... But there's a spark. Oh, there's a spark. Colin is brash, bluntly spoken, and very in-your-face. Andrew is quite the opposite, a socialite from the day he was born, refined, careful, and generally very cool.
I read the book as soon as it was available to me. I finished it, then jumped straight into Play On, followed by a reread of Playing for Keeps, and then right back in for a more careful read of Playing to Win. The entire world fits together very well, and while some things are foreign to me - like flats at University, or public housing blocks, Ms Cockburn is able to explain them in context to the point that it doesn't feel like you're being beaten over the head with the explanation, but you are also familiar with the general layout. You get the feel of Glasgow as a city laid out with its poor areas, its rich areas, its areas in between. You get to know the places, even if you've never been there, and you get to know how people interact, generally speak, and a sense of the 'speed' of the city - the general attitude, and how the people view themselves.
Playing to Win specifically, however, follows primarily two of those people, and for extra excitement, follows them through the recent Scottish bid for Independence. Naturally, our main characters are on opposing sides of the issue, and a fair bit of the story is told of them trying to convince each other why the vote should go their way. Through it all, though, we start to get glimpses of Andrew. Not Lord Andrew Sunderland, the very public personality with a solid million Twitter followers, mind, but of Andrew himself. Colin is easy - what you see is what you get with him. He hides nothing of himself, and lives his life as fully as he's able. He crashes into the lives of others, exploding on impact like a fireball, and he keeps right on going - brilliant, intense. Andrew is much harder. Lord Andrew is a playboy, a political strategist - or at least a chip on the board - and one of Scotland's Up And Comers. Andrew, under that, is softer. He's engaging, he is a force, absolutely, but it is much the opposite to Colin - where Colin thunders and is easy to describe, Andrew... Andrew is like fog. And really, how do you describe fog accurately to someone who has never seen it?
Despite the setting, the book stands solidly. This is not to mean that the setting is in any way faulty. What I mean is that telling a tale of #indyref in Scotland could easily overwhelm the characters. It could quickly become less a story of people, and more a story of sides. Ms Cockburn keeps that line firmly in place - immersing you in the time, the place, the people, the feel... while still keeping the primary focus on Colin, Andrew, their differences, their similarities, and what struggle lies ahead of Colin, Andrew, and Lord Andrew-the-persona are going to have any kind of long-term relationship.
All told, the story is less angsty than Playing for Keeps - or maybe it feels a little less angsty because of the will-they-won't-they start - but full of a good deal more fire. Colin and Andrew both are real-feeling men, capable, competent, and it can be a bit of a struggle to remember they are, in fact, fictional. The story is vivid and engaging, and I didn't set it down but for emergencies... BOTH times I read it. It holds, even after you know how it's going to end. Wonderful story (and, by the by, hotter than blazes!), spectacular series, and absolutely worth the time.