Title: Out of Position
Author: Kyell Gold
Publisher: Sofawolf Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Out of Position
Genre: M/M Contemporary Anthropomorphic Romance, Sports
Length: Novel (324 pages)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Cole
Review Summary: An incredibly touching, exciting, and emotionally epic story of a fox and tiger’s journey into love and the world of professional football.
Dev is a football player at Forester University, a small liberal arts college where he and his teammates get to strut around and have their pick of the girls on Friday nights. That’s as good as it gets—until he meets Lee, a fox with a quick wit and an attractive body.
Problem is, Lee’s not a girl. He’s a gay fox, an activist who never dreamed he’d fall for a football player. As their attraction deepens into romance, it’s hard enough for them to handle each other, let alone their inquisitive friends, family, and co-workers. And if school is bad, the hyper- masculine world of professional sports that awaits Dev after graduation will be a hundred times worse.
Going it alone would make everything easier. If only they could stop fighting long enough to break up.
With cover and interior illustrations by Blotch.
I’d like to say first, that Out of Position is the first anthropomorphic novel that I have ever read. For those of you who are not familiar, the literal meaning of anthropomorphism is the attribution of human qualities and characteristics onto animals or any non-living object. In M/M romance, this translates to the animation of animals in a human way — animals that walk, talk, act and have a society like humans, depending on the variance of the story. Many readers of M/M romance often read shapeshifter stories, but this is very different. In essence, these characters are always animals, yet they have human qualities. I think this is a largely unexplored area in M/M romance, and I was intrigued by Out of Position by Kyell Gold and the beautiful illustrations by Blotch within its pages (some of which you can see here, on the Sofawolf website) and I thought I should give this a try. I was elated to find a wonderful story with extremely real characters, and even more surprised to find that this story showed me a new way to understand American Football and its players — a sport, which I must admit, has often baffled me and only ever given me the pleasure of watching hunky men with tight butts ram each other in testosterone overload. In honor of tomorrow’s Superbowl, I have moved this review up a few days, so that those of you who are football fans can make a weekend out of this, and those of you who do not understand football, might just gain some insight about the game from reading this novel, just as I did.
Out of Position tells the story of two males: Dev the tiger, a football player and all-around jock at Forester University, and Lee the fox, a queer activist who has a score to settle with the football team. They are both juniors (though most of their time in college takes place as seniors) and while Dev is skating through school picking up a new vixen every week at the local bar after the game with his buddies and floating on the small amount of fame he gets at their small, liberal college, Lee is still reeling from the gay-bashing and beating of his best friend Brian the previous year. Brian and Lee were almost too much alike, feeding off of each others ideals of queer activism and leading their local chapter of FLAG, the queer activist group on campus. Then, one night, under circumstances that are still not completely known, Brian gets cornered after a verbal altercation with a few member of the football team, then beaten. Now Lee is all alone, Brian having moved away, and his anger at those football players has spread to all of the jocks, who he knows are one and the same. He comes up with a plan: he will dress in drag, as he makes a very convincing vixen, go out and bag a football player. Then, when they get back to his place, he will show one of them how they’d been attracted to another male — that they are at least a little bit queer themselves. What he doesn’t expect when he bags Dev and brings him home, is that after he convinces him to sleep with him that Dev will want to stay and get to know him. This is how their secret affair begins, already leading to an uneasy relationship between a tiger who has never felt this way for another male and cannot come out lest he ruin his reputation and playing career, and a fox who never expected this tryst to become a relationship, much less one that forces him back into the closet and completely turns his life in a new direction. However, those are not the only problems. These problems are compounded by Lee’s insitance that Dev has the talent to make the pros, and if that becomes a reality, if they will ever be able to have an open relationship. Even more, Brian has his own revenge to make, and his activist spirit has become maddeningly fueled by his renewed hatred of football players. No matter the collateral damage, even to his friend Lee, Brian will do anything to show the world that one out player will make it easier for gay sports players everywhere to come out. But can an out player even have a career in football, or will he become lost in the bureaucracy of pro football?
One of the most incredible things about this novel is its portrayal of the sport. We know that Dev is a player, but Lee is a very big fan also. So we get to see the sport from two, often very different, perspectives. The story shows us the art of football, how graceful and intelligent of a sport it can be. It also does this in a way that someone completely ignorant of the sport can understand. I knew only a small bit about how the game is played and though a large portion of the book deals with the sport and the games in which Dev plays, I never felt left behind in the action. Here is how Lee describes the sport in his small chapter “Lee’s Guide to Football”:
Even though I was still at that age where I wanted to be like my dad, I didn’t have much interest in football. But with the championship coming up, he thought it was the perfect time to get me started. Whatever else he’s done in his life—and I’ve run through the list more than once—he got me into football. So if you’re one of those kids who likes chess and books, listen up, because reading this story you’re in the middle of is like growing up in Nicholas Dempsey Middle School. You don’t have to like football to get through it, as my dad told me, but it helps.
See, what I always hated about football was that I was bad at it. I’d only played one football game up to then, at camp. I didn’t understand the rules. To me, it was just a stupid excuse for big kids to beat up little kids. What my dad told me is that football is actually like a chess game.
What Lee said is exactly true about this story: “You don’t have to like football to get through it…but it helps.” Football fans will certainly love this story, but there is so much more here than the sport — especially the navigation through the bureaucracy of the league later in the novel and the evolution of Dev and Lee’s relationship throughout their difficult journey to an HFN — that this story is not only for sports fans.
I must say, though, that however much I loved this story for its portrayal of the sport, the real power of this story is in its characterizations. Dev and Lee are given so much room to grow, and they have such powerful voices in the way they alternately tell their story, that they became much more than fully-fledged characters to me, so much that I often found myself blurring the lines between their animalism and humanity. The other characters are especially filled out as well, and there are a whole slew of them. The secondary cast is quite large, as this story moves through almost three years of their relationship, in their journey from small college town to the big leagues. Sometimes, because of the POV, the characters were an enigma, and only later did I come to understand them by their actions. Lee, in fact, is often an enigma himself. I suppose this is due to his fox nature, which is sly and cunning and the fact that he often goes from stubborn to depressed to proud to angry. I liked that I had to work to understand him, just as I had to work to understand Brian through Lee’s memories and experiences with him (though Brian is a skunk). It wasn’t to easy to get to know the characters (although Dev is an exception, as he is often an open book, genuine and heartbreakingly honest at times). By the time the novel came to a close, I felt like I understood them better that I would have if I had been told, rather than shown through how they think, about who they really are. They were more real.
There is often such a huge difference in the way that Dev and Lee think that it creates problems in their relationship where no problem would have normally occured. They clash so often that this is not your typical romance story, though that is more of a critique of many middle-of-the-road romances in this genre than of this novel. Dev and Lee work very hard and go through some very difficult times in their relationship to progress to where they can finally be open and honest with each other. Lee, for being “out” and proud, is often the most closed off because of his fear and anger. Sometimes Dev is clueless that there is a problem at all, not used to being in a relationship, especially not with another male and/or species, that this creates problems in itself. Also, both Dev and Lee often keep things from the other in an effort to protect them, though, like this would in most relationships, doesn’t end up working too well for them. This is a bit of a long book at 300+ pages, that with its sequel (at 400+ pages) could be called an epic journey, for all that they reside in a world mostly like our own, with the exception of animals as people. There are almost always reminders that they are animals, which I loved, although I sometimes wondered just how sloppy their kisses were and how dangerous preparing someone for sex would be with claws. Yeesh! However, after getting into the groove of the story, I relaxed and allowed myself to go with it. This isn’t always light tale, but neither is despairing. In my opinion, it is quite uplifting and truly worth the effort.
The beautiful illustrations only add more the story, and I’ve included some here to give you an example of what is included in the story. The sequel to this novel, Isolation Play, picks up about 5 minutes after this one ends, with a very interesting cliffhanger. Luckily, you won’t have to wait for the sequel, as it came out last week and I will be reviewing it next week (though you should be warned that as it was just released, for now it is only available in paperback). I absolutely loved this story, especially getting to know Lee and Dev (as well as Fisher and Salim, who I really loved) and I think you will as well. I highly recommend this story, especially to football fans, though no love of the sport is needed.
I will be reviewing Isolation Play next Wednesday, February 9. You can find the book and look at some of the illustrations from it here (although I warn you that there are spoilers in the blurb for those of you who have not read the first installment).
The illustrations included here were posted with the permission of Kyell Gold and the artist, Blotch. You can visit Kyell’s website here, and Blotch’s website here. Note: The ebook format of this book does not include illustrations.