Honestly, I do not understand why I love this series so much, what it is about it that keeps me captivated. It’s about a sport I have zero interest in, there’s barely any romance, and yet I can’t get enough. Which is lucky as only half of the series has been released so far, or will have been next week with this book.
Sophie has won everything there is to win but she’s still not considered as valuable as male players. Home Ice Advantage opens on a rather strong and infuriating scene (which you can read on the publisher’s website), with Sophie arguing with her agent over how much to ask for and how many years when her contract is renewed. If she asks for too much, she’s ungrateful. If the amount she agrees to is too low, she’s making things more difficult for other female players. On this, she can’t win so she does her best. As she tells Lexie, “I’m the one who cracks the door. You, Elsa, Gabrielle, you’re the ones who kick it open”, referring to the other women playing on NAHL teams.
Sophie’s careful facade on these issues comes down slightly more often now. She’s still as talented at not answering journalists’ questions, but she’s not as scared of the fallout. And she’s still one of the best players on ice, a smart captain who leads by example. I have no idea how the author managed to make me look forward to game descriptions, but she did.
Beyond hockey, the focus of this fourth book is on Sophie’s relationship with Elsa. The shared bed, the snuggles, the closeness. No wonder some of their teammates think they’re together, especially after Sophie takes a powerful stance against any kind of homophobic trash talk in the locker room. Sophie laughs the rumours off but when Elsa brings a woman home, she’s faced with her jealousy and her contradictions. Basically, she’s okay knowing Elsa isn’t hers but she doesn’t want to share her, be it with teammates or lovers. That their coach messes up their line, leading to a lot less time together on the ice, or that they have to play opposite each other at the Winter Games in Helsinki doesn’t help. I loved seeing that side of Sophie, the vulnerable, human young woman. In the first books, Sophie had so much to prove, to others but also to herself, that she sometimes came across as cold, closed off. She was determined and driven in an almost hard way. As she grows older, more confident, not in her strengths but in the way she’s seen, she opens up. First to Dima, the Russian player the NAHL tried to pitch as her rival, then to some of her teammates, then to Elsa with whom she couldn’t wait to play. There’s something extremely touching in being allowed to witness that.
And with the Games, she gets to experience – and the reader with her – what being part of a team where everyone is “like her”, a team of women feels like. She gets to play while entirely focused on her play, not on how a woman in a men’s game will be judged. She gets to have a taste of shared locker rooms, evenings spent cuddling with the team, kisses that convey respect and kindness. She gets to be herself.
And I think I enjoyed this episode even more because I had the opportunity to read Gabrielle’s story a few weeks ago. Not only did it allow me glimpses of Sophie through someone else’s eyes, but it also – and mostly – introduced me to another character, a very different player and a very different person, another journey. I think I’ve written it in reviews before, I really love this series as much as it frustrates me. It’s only frustrating because I care so much about the characters. Beyond sports, beyond everything that’s on the surface, K.R. Collins writes in-depth, fascinating, endearing characters. For someone who’s as character-driven as I am, there’s nothing better.