Cover of The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brokenbrough. A red hand and a white hand wrestle over an airplane

About the Book

Title: The Game of Love and Death
Published: 2015

Cover Story: The Hand of Fate
Drinking Buddy: God Yes
Testosterone Level: 1937
Talky Talk: Jazz Age
Bonus Factor: Forbidden Love
Bromance Status: Buds for Life

Cover Story: The Hand of Fate

It’s good, it’s topical, it’s relevant. I don’t like it. Boring.

The Deal:

Love and Death have a little game going. Every so often, they each pick a random mortal champion. Love tries to get the pair to fall in love. Death tries to break them apart. Love uses his powers to show the couple that they can overcome any obstacle to be together. Death uses her power to sew tragedy into their lives, driving them apart. If Love wins, the couple will live happily ever after. If Death wins, then her champion dies.

Death always wins. Always.

The year is 1937. Love has chosen Henry Bishop as his player, a white orphan living with a wealthy Seattle family. He’s an aspiring musician, a dreamer, and uncomfortable playing sidekick to Ethan, his foster brother and best friend.

Death picks Flora, a young African-American jazz singer and pilot. An orphan as well, she lives with her grandmother and dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart.

Can the couple make things work, or are they going down like Helen and Paris did back in the day?

Drinking Buddy: God Yes

Two pints of beer cheersing

Very nice depth to these characters. Henry is the head-in-the-clouds dreamer, who isn’t in love with the idea of marrying Ethan’s crazy cousin in order to be a real part of the family. When he meets Flora, he’s willing to give up his gilded cage in order to make music with her. Flora is more pragmatic, realizing that society will never accept the two of them together, and it can only cost her the hard won dream of being a pilot.

The secondary characters were pretty awesome as well. Ethan, the rich kid, terrified that his newspaper magnate father will realize that he can’t read (Henry covers for him). Helen, Ethan’s libertine cousin. Flora’s aviation instructor, a macho Frenchman who lost his arm while serving with her father during the Great War.

All pawns in the greater game. Death and Love take on the forms of various humans and animals in order to ensure that their champion is the winner…or loser.

Testosterone Level: 1937

That must have been one awesome, intense year. Jazz is becoming mainstream. Prohibition has ended (Flora’s family runs a nightclub, and constantly has to pay off the G-men to stay open). The bombing of Guernica. The Hindenburg disaster. The disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Death is mooching around all these events, orchestrating them.

Enter Henry and Flora, a couple of kids who’d be great together. There’s some pretty intense longing going on, with Death, society, their families, and their own fears holding them back. They can never succeed…can they? And can’t Death cut Henry and Flora a little slack? After all, she’ll have all the souls she could ever want in a couple of years.

Also, I was getting kind of a sexual tension vibe between Death and Love. They’ve known each other for thousands of years, you have to think they’ve at least thought about it.

Talky Talk: Jazz Age

This was a great period piece, and despite the supernatural angle, a neat love story. Flora, whose dreams are constantly crushed by bad luck and societal racism, finds it hard to believe Henry is as nice as he seems. And Henry can’t understand why Flora (who has to grit her teeth and smile while being sexually harassed by the liquor license guy) won’t act on her growing attraction.

Plus it’s fun to travel back to the thirties, in the days before rock and roll, when aviation was very dangerous, and hobo encampments were so large they had a bit of political power. It’s fun to imagine being in Flora’s underground club, listening to her sing while Henry accompanies her on the bass (not the guitar, but one of those huge violin looking things).

Bonus Factor: Forbidden Love

Kirk and Uhura about to kiss in the Star Trek episode 'Plato's Children'

Though the racial divide in this country is large today, it’s nothing compared to things eighty years ago. It may be hard for teens today to realize that there was a time when a relationship between Henry and Flora simply would not have been permitted. Every time someone sees Henry with Flora, they assume she’s a prostitute (and not a musician, pilot, and businesswoman). When Henry tries to visit Flora, her uncle assumes he’s going to expect more than dinner and pleasant conversation. The pair must face down a world full of small-minded people. But sometimes a fight like that is worth it.

Meanwhile, Henry’s foster brother Ethan is having uncomfortable feelings about Henry. Feelings he can never discuss, feelings he wish would go away. Feelings about a kind of love even less accepted than Flora and Henry’s. It’s only when Love takes Ethan by the hand (in the guise of a young, handsome hobo), that Ethan realizes there’s nothing wrong with him.

Not that he’d be able to express himself until the 1970s, but still.

Bromance Status: Buds for Life

I can see myself recommending this book for years, to fans of historical fiction, supernatural romance, and just plain romance. You rock…er, jazz.

FTC full disclosure: I received neither money nor flying lessons for writing this review.


Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.