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After the Gold by Erin McRae and Racheline Maltese

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After the Gold

by Erin McRae
June 12, 2018 · Avian30
Contemporary RomanceRomance

Sometimes a book is pretty much exactly what you think it’s going to be, and that’s not a bad thing! When I started reading After The Gold, I was expecting a high-drama sports romance with lots of angst both about sports and not-sports, and this book totally delivered.

After the Gold follows a figure skating pair team, Katie and Brendan, who are trying to figure out what to do both personally and professionally now that they’ve won an Olympic gold medal and are planning on retiring from competition. They have been skating partners for something like twenty years and completely have the hots for each other, which is established basically on page 1. However, they briefly dated eight years before and this romance temporarily imploded their professional partnership, so after reuniting as a skating pair they decide to put any adult relationship shenanigans on ice (GET IT????) and just focus on winning a gold medal.

Now that they have that gold, they are on an exhibition tour across the US with a bunch of other Olympians and everything between them is boiling over. Meanwhile, Katie has sustained a knee injury that may seriously inhibit her skating abilities going forward and Katie and Brendan are facing a plethora of various sponsorship and professional offers they are not sure how to choose from to create the post-competition life they want. It’s…a lot.

Katie and Brendan are a compelling pair, and I quickly became invested in their romance. They clearly love each other and are very attracted to each other, but have also both hurt each other a lot throughout their 20 years of friendship/partnership/quasi-romance and struggle to reconcile all of those things. This means there is a lot of back-and-forth and push-pull in their relationship. Brendan wants to be with Katie and does not fully understand what’s holding her back, though he’s conscious of not wanting to pressure her. Katie is too freaked out by the possible end not just of her competition career but of her elite-level skating ability altogether to be able to devote energy to actually figuring out her relationship with Brendan. To that end, there’s a lot of making out and then yelling at each other or yelling at each other and then making out.

I suspect that for some readers the angst factor may be too high; if you are annoyed by romantic indecisiveness and characters who are categorically unable to have a prolonged conversation about their feelings to hash things out, this isn’t the book for you. But if you are like me and you love mess, the way the seesawing tension builds and builds to a fever pitch is a feature, not a bug.

As high-drama as every interpersonal interaction in this book is, it also has a lot of charm. The ice-skating elements gave the story a pleasantly wintry feel. I made myself some fancy hot chocolate and read most of this book in one afternoon, curled up on the couch with my hot beverage. There is also a farm featured heavily in the third act which gave me cozy cottagecore feelings (even though I actually have 0 interest in the labor and early mornings that come with a farm!)

I thought that ice skating was well-incorporated into the story. I LOVE figure skating (it’s my favorite Olympic sport to watch by far) but it is definitely a highly visual medium, so I enjoyed that the descriptions of skating focused primarily on the feelings associated with athletic competition and performance.

As a former college athlete whose sports career was actually ended by an injury coupled with extremely slow surgery recovery, I thought After the Gold accurately captured a lot of the emotions associated with high stakes competition sports. Truthfully, minus the codependent athletic/personal partnership part, I saw so much of myself as an athlete in Katie (although I was nowhere near Olympic caliber!). The combination of obsessive perfectionism, superstitious ritualism, and the adrenaline/endorphin rushes of training and competition as seen through Katie’s eyes were incredibly familiar to me, and I think a lot of current and former athletes will feel the same way. The feral anxiety and anger Katie feels about her serious joint injury was also a bit like looking in a mirror. I felt a bit like this book was reading me, actually! (Brendan is a lot more laid-back as an athlete and person, which, frankly, I could not relate to at all. Ha!)

Of course, part of Katie’s journey is realizing that her relationship to ice skating is totally unhealthy and she needs to restructure how her sport figures into her self-concept, whether she can recover from her injury or not. I think this will also feel familiar to anyone who has ever worked incredibly hard to be good at something and poured a lot of their self and identity into it and then faced some kind of major setback.

I enjoyed the romance and the sports quite a bit and Katie’s arc in particular really resonated with me. The only thing that ultimately stopped me from giving this book a higher grade was the slightly wonky pacing. When Brendan and Katie do finally work out their “will-they-or-won’t-they” (obviously they will!!) in the third act, it feels fairly abrupt and a little arbitrary. While it’s clear they have both done some personal work through the course of the story that enables them to be together, it’s not quite clear in the actual moment what has changed to make them decide right then that they can finally be together, especially for Katie. After that, there is a VERY long denouement for such a short book detailing everything about how they are arranging their post-competition lives; I felt that this dragged.

Overall, though, this was a book that pleasantly met my expectations for high-stakes sports shenanigans and intense romantic turmoil. I was also genuinely moved by Katie’s character arc as she tries to deal with being an elite athlete who is past her competition peak. I recommend this book to anyone who likes sports romance, relates to struggles with perfectionism, and/or likes a bit of a relational roller coaster ride on the way to the HEA.

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