I actually picked up this book at Beth’s suggestion, and I cannot be more happy about my choice! It’s an unconventional romance, in many ways, with an extra plot line that makes it even more intriguing. I think I sped read this in a couple days during Winter Break- I just could not put it down!
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.
Achingly romantic and brilliantly imagined, The Game of Love and Death is a love story you will never forget.
Just take a second and look at this plot. IT’S A LOVE STORY TOLD BY LOVE AND DEATH. All these famous love stories that end so horribly have now been explained- it’s all a game. Which is such a cool premise. And of course you go into this book rooting for Love to FINALLY win, because Death has always won, and it seems so cruel that true love has to die. But (not that you ever really root for Death to win), new elements are introduced and you get some more understanding at least.
It kind of echoes my favorite book of all time, The Book Thief, with how it talks about humans in context of these great superhuman beings. Not only a love story, it is a story that celebrates humans– their spontaneity, their compassion, their emotions, their actions. And that in of itself is also beautiful.
But back to the original plot. So basically every so often Love and Death meet up and they have a little bet. It’s kind of a “who is stronger” type of game, with humans as pawns. They each choose a player, and bet on if they will choose each other or walk away when life gets hard. This time they choose Henry and Flora. Henry and Flora seem to be completely different- Henry white, intelligent, and wealthy, and Flora African American and poor. In the 1930s, these differences mean everything. And there is a little bit of insta love at first, or more like insta infatuation. Henry becomes infatuated with Flora after hearing her sing for the first time, and refuses to give up. And against all odds, they fall in love.
Of course, the game can’t be that easy. Love and Death can’t directly manipulate their players, but all bets are off when it comes to the characters around them. So not only are their lives in danger, but their family’s, friends’, even people they barely know. And not only that, but each have their own dreams they want to accomplish, and things like that can get in the way. As all these problems add up, it seems unlikely that they can ever stay in love. And, well, that is love. Not just something that happens to you, but something you have to choose, and continue to choose every single day.
The plot doesn’t only just deal with their love. It is very cognizant of its time period, and deals with aspects related to that, such as racism, sexism, homosexuality, and more.
A quick summary: I adored them. All of them. Henry and Flora and the side characters were all so fleshed out and written beautifully.
Out of the two of them, Henry is the idealistic one. Right from the start he believes in their love, even though he is white and she is black and it is the 1930s. And while he is somewhat privileged, he is lacking where Flora is abundant: family. He lives with the Thornbushes in a guest house, and isn’t really a true member of their family. He doesn’t get unconditional love, and has to hide his true self. For example, he loves music. Specifically jazz. But that isn’t “practical”, and jazz was also most popular among African Americans, so that wasn’t allowed. As the story progresses so does Henry’s depth, and we can see that he isn’t just a privileged white boy. What gets me most about him, though, is his kindness and genuineness. He looks past Flora’s race right away and treats everyone with the utmost respect and care.
Flora, on the other hand, is a firecracker. She is also the realist. She resists Henry’s advances and claims that their love would be impossible. She is Death’s player, and therefore has had her whole life shaped by death. While Henry thrives on love, she is always anticipating the “someday”. The “someday” her life falls apart, “someday” someone close to her dies, “someday” she herself dies. She also has a beautiful voice, and sings at her family’s Jazz club. But her true passion lies in the air. She has always wanted to fly, to be a woman pilot and cross the globe. She wants to follow in the footsteps of Amelia Earhart. She is strong and inspiring and courageous.
Their romance is honestly very cute and sweet, even with all the societal problems thrown their way. It develops fast, but feels genuine at the same time. You can see how much they are both fighting for each other, and it makes your heart hurt that they have to be a part of this game. Some reviewers thought that the romance feels cheapened by the fact that they were specifically shaped for each other by Love and Death, but personally I liked it. I believe in soulmates, and that means someone out there is shaped to complement you. And Henry and Flora were undoubtedly each others’ soulmates, literally chosen to be in love.
As I mentioned earlier, the side characters are not lacking. Ethan is Henry’s friend. At first he seems even more quintessentially privileged than Henry, but people are always deeper than their appearances. Throughout the book, he struggles with his identity and morality and societal norms. My heart aches for him and all he has to go through. Some parts of the story were even told from his perspective, and it added some more richness to the narrative. My only complaint is he disappeared from the story much to quickly. In my Goodreads review, I also mentioned liking someone named Annabel, but I honestly cannot remember who she is. If you read this book though, remember I liked her!
Obviously, Love is meant to be the audience’s favorite. Death is cold, calculating, and literally betting on other people to die. But just like in The Book Thief, Death grows on you. I’m not sure how, but some scenes where I felt the most emotional were the ones between Love and Death, not Henry and Flora or Ethan. While Love is a figure everyone heralds and desires, Death is always feared. She never gets to feel true emotion, never gets to see someone’s happiness. She always has to be the end, never the beginning. And it wears down on her. I just thought it was very interesting that the book was able to elicit sympathy and empathy for Death. If you’re looking for a morally gray, ambiguous character, Death is a pretty good one.
Okay, the writing style really was very gorgeous. I’ve included just a couple of the beautiful quotes, because 1.) I love quotes and 2.) Maybe they will help give you more of an idea of what the book is really about.
- “We do not choose whom we love…We can only choose how well.”
- “Game or no, she would someday die, as all living beings did. But that wasn’t the tragedy. Nor was there tragedy in being a pawn. All souls are, if not of eternal beings, then as pawns of their own bodies. The game, whatever shape it takes, lasts only as long as the body holds out. The tragedy, every time, is choosing something other than love.”
- “Some people, like some songs, simply added up to more than the sum of their parts.”
- “If life didn’t end,’ he said, ‘There would be no need for me. To choose love in the face if death is the ultimate act of courage. I am the joy, but you are the meaning. Together, we make humanity more that it otherwise might have been.’”
Overall, this book is just about humans. What it means to love, what it means to live, what it means to lose someone. What it means to follow your dreams and what it means to make hard decisions. Really, just what it means to be human.
Have you read this book? What did you think? What do you think of the premise? Do you have any cool 1930s book suggestions for me?