I read this book in one sitting on a 9-hour plane to Florida. I thought it was a breathtaking story which really made me fall in love with its unlikely and colourful characters.
Love is more than a game.
Love and Death choose their players in an eternal game. Death has never lost and Love will do anything to win.
Henry and Flora find each other, not knowing they are the players. Can their love be enough to keep them both alive?
Martha Brockenbrough has created a wonderful story here. Set in the 1930s, it follows Love, a sentimental figure with a deep affection for all of his humans, and Death, an often ruthless and yet lonely and misunderstood woman. Every generation or so they come together to play the Game: each one chooses a human to imbibe the qualities and personalities that come with being touched by Love or Death, and then make a bet as to the outcome of their humans’ interactions with each other. This time, Love chooses Henry – a tragedy-stricken, smart young man full of affection and hope, and Death picks Flora, a young black singer whose scepticism does not take away from her fierce ambitions to become a pilot. They will meet and fall in love as destined – but as the deadline rushes ever closer and with both Love and Death having the power to manipulate their story, which will prevail?
Each character has a rich back story which pulls you in immediately. Brockenbrough does a wonderful job of painting the scene: the culture of the 1930s, the dress, the music, the hardship of war and economic instability. You can practically taste the booze, hear the jazz music, feel the fear and intimidation caused by racism and political unrest.
Henry grows up with his best friend Ethan’s family, after a tragic accident kills his parents. Ethan and Henry’s relationship is so touching; their mutual respect and reliance upon one another creates a bond so strong, and you realise that the Henry and Flora tale is just one of the many love stories within the book. Equally, Flora’s relationships with her nan and the people she works with are so rich and yet complicated, they create a real loyalty within the reader. The love between Henry and Flora – his all-encompassing and passionate, hers reluctant but equally as strong – keeps hold of the reader’s attention throughout the book. The language of the narrative is simple, yet beautiful.
Each person in the novel has their own ambitions and passions, strengths and weaknesses, which can be both endearing and frustrating, which is great for entertainment value. What is most pleasantly surprising is that Brockenbrough has given Death a real 3D personality. Little quirks along the way made me laugh –
“Mind if I smoke?”
“Please do,” said Death.
But what is most surprising is how much you end up sympathising with her. She may be ruthless but it is all she knows, and lately, she doesn’t get the same satisfaction from what is supposed to be her nature. She envies Love’s ability to feel and positively influence those around him. How these emotions affect the Game is interesting and keeps the story from falling into that dangerous world of clichés.
This novel has it all: a supernatural element, loveable protagonists, a gripping plot, a unique premise, a fantastic sense of place and time, and a charming narrative style. I don’t want to say too much in fear of giving away the plot of the book, but you are missing out if you don’t give this book a chance. A real 5* novel for me.