The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
Published: 28.04.2015 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
Rating: 5/5 stars – ★★★★★
Synopsis: Antony and Cleopatra. Helen of Troy and Paris. Romeo and Juliet. And now… Henry and Flora.
For centuries Love and Death have chosen their players. They have set the rules, rolled the dice, and kept close, ready to influence, angling for supremacy. And Death has always won. Always.
Could there ever be one time, one place, one pair whose love would truly tip the balance?
Meet Flora Saudade, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart by day and sings in the smoky jazz clubs of Seattle by night. Meet Henry Bishop, born a few blocks and a million worlds away, a white boy with his future assured—a wealthy adoptive family in the midst of the Great Depression, a college scholarship, and all the opportunities in the world seemingly available to him.
The players have been chosen. The dice have been rolled. But when human beings make moves of their own, what happens next is anyone’s guess.
Where do I even start on this book? Honestly. This had been on my shelf for a few months. I bought it because I’d seen some great reviews on it -and because the cover is gorgeous. But I didn’t truly know what it was about. So in my attempt to get you to read this book, I’ll tell you all about it.
Here’s what I didn’t know before I started. This is actually a historical fiction novel. The story starts in 1920, when Love and Death each choose a player. Every so often, Love and Death play the Game. Each chooses a player, without telling them about the game. At birth (in 1920 for our main characters) they mark them, and so the Game begins. Love chooses Henry to be his player, and Death then chooses Flora.
Most of the story takes place in 1937 however, when Henry and Flora are 17 years old. It plays out in Seattle. Here’s what’s so interesting about the setting. Henry is an orphan, and white. He was taken in by this rich family, who have a son of the same age. He goes to private school and helps out at the newspaper the Dad owns, even though all he really wants to do is play music and baseball. Flora is a mechanic, a pilot, a singer, and a girl of color. She’s African-American girl, in a time where there was even more racial tension/repression than now. All she has ever wanted is to be a pilot and have her own plane.
I loved that this book was not only beautiful, but included diverse aspects too. There is a lot of mention of discrimination, both explicit and implicit. The “racial lines” are clearly drawn in society, and it makes me so angry to read about. It makes me angry in real life too, by the way.
I think the setting of this story was incredible. Not only the time period, but the places too. I could imagine the airfield Flora worked at, the jazz bar she partly owned and worked at. I could imagine Henry playing music in his room, and watching Flora sing. It was beautifully written.
As I said, Love and Death each choose a player. The game ends when either of them wins. When the players choose to be with each other regardless of the consequences, Love wins. When they don’t, Death wins and she takes them both. Neither of the players are aware of that, however.
I adored watching this story unfold. To watch Henry and Flora grow into themselves, and get to know each other. My heart ached at times, and at other times it was filled with hope. There is so much loss, grief, hope and courage in this story. I can’t even express to you how much I loved reading it.
Ah, the aspect in which this novel TRULY shines. The characters. I adored Henry. His optimism. His music. His hope and faith in others. His willingness to help. I adored Flora. Her strong will. Her beautiful voice. Her big dreams. Her hard work. Her love and devotion to her family.
This book is not only beautiful in its characters and story, but the writing is incredible too. At a certain point in time, Henry writes a song for Flora. When you’re reading the book, you really can only see it in poem-form though. I mean, kind of. They’re still lyrics, but it looks more like a poem because you have no clue what the music sounds like. And the song he wrote may seem cheesy, but I thought it was absolutely beautiful. There’s still something about two of the lines in it that sticks with me. I’ll put those lines in bold for you.
You are the moon
And I am the sea
Wherever you are
You’ve got pull over me
The whole of the sky
Wants to keep us apart
The distance is wearing
A hole in my heart
Someday your moonlight
Will blanket my skin
Someday my waves
Will pull all of you in
Someday I promise
The moon and the sea
Will be together
Forever you and me
Both characters are truly incredible. But there are a lot of side characters that are worth a mention too. Like Ethan. Ethan is the son of the people who took in Henry. He’s dyslexic, something he has kept hidden his entire life, as he is supposed to take over his dad’s newspaper one day. He really cares for Henry. At times, it truly shows he was raised by rich, white people. He can be snobbish and racist at times. And it’s important to recognize that. But he also has his own struggles that are important.
I also had mixed feelings about Love and Death. At times, I admired Love. At other times, I hated how he used these mortal lives and manipulated them like it meant nothing. How he played with feelings like only Love can. I felt the same way about Death though.
There’s one other character I want to mention: Helen. I HATE what happened to her. If you’ve read this book, message me on Twitter so I can talk to you about it!
All in all, I would highly recommend this book. It was my first 5 star read of the year. Not only is the setting gorgeous, and are the characters incredible, the writing itself is beautiful too. Please, go read this book. I beg you.