Can Ethan have his own book? Please? It’s not every day I come across an amazing secondary character, and the end of this book didn’t have enough Ethan. What happens to him next? I need to know! I finished this book a week ago, but I’m still mildly obsessed with this character.
Now, with that out of the way, I can wonder why it took me so long to get around to reading The Game of Love and Death. It sat on my To-Be-Read shelf for over a year before I picked it up. I think there are two reasons for this:
1. It’s romance-heavy, which is not something I usually enjoy.
2. A lot of people have compared it to The Book Thief, which is one of my favorite books ever, and I didn’t want to make comparisons and be unfair to The Game of Love and Death. Not much can top The Book Thief in my world.
I shouldn’t have hesitated with The Game of Love and Death. No, it’s not The Book Thief, but I really liked it.
This historical fantasy novel follows four characters, Henry, Flora, Love, and Death. Henry is a rich white boy whose adoptive family isn’t feeling the sting of the Great Depression. Flora is an African-American girl who dreams of flying airplanes but is struggling to make a living as a jazz singer. Henry and Flora are the players in Love and Death’s game. Love tries to bring them together while Death struggles to pull them apart. If Henry and Flora don’t fall in love by the end of the game, their lives could be in danger.
“We do not choose whom we love . . . We can only choose how well.” – The Game of Love and Death
This is one of those books I could blather about for days. I have way too many thoughts. This review is going to be all over the place because we need to discuss everything.
The characters have huge personalities. Henry’s bond with his adopted siblings, Ethan and Annabel, is very sweet. You get the sense they’d do anything for each other. Flora is much quieter than Henry, but she’s also a realistic character. Life has not always been kind to her. She’s a tough loner who gets scared when Henry’s charm starts breaking down her walls. Love and Death surprised me because the author took their characters in unexpected directions. Love is sometimes a massive jerk who will do anything to win the game. Death is not always as cold-hearted as she appears.
The dialogue—especially Henry and Ethan’s dialogue—is snappy. I actually laughed out loud a few times. Here’s a sample of its witty brilliance:
“‘Are you thirsty?’ she asked.
‘Like a camel,’ Henry said.
She led him to a chair by the window. Then she went to the kitchen, wishing she had something better than water to serve. She filled a glass.
‘Are you hungry?’ Food, she had.
‘Like a camel that hasn’t eaten anything in days.’
‘Ham or casserole?’
‘No self-respecting camel eats casserole. It could contain a relative.’” - The Game of Love and Death
The Game of Love and Death is a historical fiction book, and it manages to capture many issues of the 1930s without completely overwhelming the reader. It discusses Hoovervilles, corruption, poverty, racism, homophobia, and classism. If you’re leery of historical fiction, I’d recommend starting here. The plot and characters are gripping enough that you can learn some US history without feeling like you’re being force-fed a textbook.
I already want to reread this novel (mostly because I miss Ethan), but I do have quite a few issues with it. First, I don’t really understand Love and Death. They’re supposed to be mysterious mythical creatures, but I want to know more about them and why they’re playing this game. The rules of the game could be clearer.
My next issue might be an “it’s-not-you-it’s-me” problem. Since I’m a romance hater, the middle of the book is too long for me. It mostly consists of Henry saying, “Please love me!” and Flora saying, “No.” It gets repetitive.
Finally, the story lost me at the end. I know this is fantasy/magical realism, but it gets a bit too bizarre for my tastes. The characters easily believe things that real humans probably wouldn’t. The end also tries very, very hard to drive home the point of the story. The message is “Even though death always wins in the end, love makes life worth living.” That’s a simple and beautiful theme. I didn’t need all that weirdness to make me believe it.
“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 Game of Love and Death
Despite a few issues, I can see myself rereading this book in the future. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.