The Game of Love and Death
Arthur A. Levine Books, April 2015
Aren’t we all sometimes pawns in the game of life? Love and Death have been playing the same game over and over since the time of Cleopatra. Each chooses an infant, one male, one female who will meet when they’re older and fall in love…maybe. If love persists, Love wins, if love falters, Death wins and claims her chosen as a victim.
It’s 1920 and the latest round is about to begin, this time in Seattle with two babies who couldn’t be further apart given the times. Love chooses first by appearing in the nursery where Henry Bishop, a Caucasian, lies in his crib. Love pricks his finger and lets baby Henry suckle on his blood, thus setting his part of the game in motion.
One night later in a much poorer neighborhood, Death picks up a baby girl of African-American heritage named Flora Saudade. After carrying the child to the window where they watch snow falling, Death sheds one black tear which she captures on her fingertip, using it to write the word someday on the infant’s forehead. Thus is the game sealed.
While the rules of the game often seem arbitrary and stacked in Death’s favor, Love harbors little ill will toward his opponent (Love is male, Death, female). Both can assume whatever shape they choose, even appearing for extended periods as people familiar to their chosen players. In fact it is this very ability that factors into how both Flora and Henry interact when they meet seventeen years later.
By then, Flora’s parents have been dead a very long time, having perished when hit by a drunken police officer the night Death chose her. Henry is likewise an orphan. His mother and sister perished in an influenza outbreak and his father, terribly distraught by their loss, jumped to his death, leaving Henry to be taken in by his father’s best friend, the owner of the Seattle newspaper.
Flora has fallen in love with flying and has been taken under the wing of a French war hero who owns a fancy biplane that she maintains and flies whenever she’s allowed. Her other source of income comes from singing jazz in the club she and her uncle own, the only legacy left after her parents’ death. She’s an amazing singer, something Henry discovers when he convinces his best friend and son of his benefactor, Ethan, that they should check out the club. This isn’t the first time Henry has seen Flora. Ethan took him along when he went to do a feature on the plane and Flora was running a preflight check on it. Henry is also someone who has music in his blood as he plays the bass and loves to improvise.
While Death has never lost, there’s something about this match that worries her, so she pulls out all the stops, as if the fact that blacks and whites simply don’t mix in 1937 wasn’t sufficient to doom any sort of spark between Flora and Henry. The roadblocks thrown up in front of each lover, the direness of the times and all the gyrations both the players and their manipulators must go through by the end of the story will keep most readers enthralled. While the pace might be a bit slow for some, I loved this book, the characters and the sense of elegance it creates. Astute readers will also appreciate the relationship and insight Love and Death have with and about each other. Teens and adults who like an offbeat love story with some decidedly paranormal aspects will enjoy this book.
Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, September 2015.