Saturday, July 16, 2016

Book Review: The Game of Love and Death

Well, I'm honestly not sure why this book was on my to-read list. Clearly I put it on since I heard good recommendations about it but honestly Helen, this is obviously going be a romance and those aren't your thing! I tried to trust my past self and hope that whatever they had read about the book was amazing but, there were a few problems here.

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough 

For eons, Love and Death have played a game. They select two champions and place a bet, if they fall in love then Love wins, if they don't fall in love then Death wins and one or both of the players die. This time the hapless two participants are marked from birth in a variety of ways, both Flora and Henry grow up orphaned and feeling slightly out of place for it. Henry wonders at what he wants to do as he works for his Uncle's newspaper (and helps out his cousin who doesn't seem quite ready to take it over) and Flora sings at her parent's old jazz nightclub even though she wants to be a pilot (where she has both her gender and her race working against her). The 1920s are not kind to interracial couples, even when they don't have forces of nature working against them, and they will have to choose separately and together what their paths will be.

I obviously can't complain that I disliked a romance in a book that says from the get-go it's a romance (there was nothing bad about the romance itself honestly, although I found it a bit rote) and so my main complaint about the book is this: this is not "a game of love and death" where love and death are ideas, this is "a game played by love and death"  which is a valid interpretation of the word "of" in English but not the one I expected.

Since Flora and Henry do come from such different backgrounds I would have been fine if the story had a couple of deus ex machina moments to introduce these two to each other, even in a story that doesn't have personified forces of the universe present I would have accepted this. However, Love and Death go far beyond and meddle so much in Henry and Flora's lives that it didn't feel like the characters were acting of their agency by the end. Death impersonates Henry's cousin to put him in a more compromising position, Love seduces someone close to Henry to try and help the situation, Death sabotages Flora's life to make her more mentally and emotionally unstable etc. I know that the author was going for "despite these oppositions, the characters overcame in the name of love!" but how could I connect with these characters when they are clearly having to operate well outside of what they would normally, in-character, do? There's no triumph in this and romances are about triumph in a way.

Also, to be rather petty, I do occasionally come across YA that is a tragedy/involves a lot of tragic elements. However, even then these stories will end merely bittersweet, it's nothing like the ending of Hamlet which my first thought whenever I think "tragedy". So I could've bought into this book if there was a chance one character would die in the end, however I seem to recall that early on the bet was altered so that if one character failed both would die. I could be misremembering but that's how I read the book and I can't remember ever coming across a story where both point of view characters are dead at the end, nobody kills off ALL of the point of view characters. (you could argue that Love and Death are also POV characters and while yes they are, having the story end with the two of them standing over the dead couple doesn't sound like anything I would find in YA) So that killed the suspense for me and that knowledge is supposed to give the reader an extra reason to be nervous throughout. For me this story failed at a couple of "here's how to make all of the pieces fit together" levels and that really keeps me from recommending this book.

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