The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough: Review, Author Interview & Giveaway

Title: The Game of Love and Death
Author: Martha Brockenbrough
Publisher: Scholastic
Buy this book: Amazon (UK) /  Amazon (US) / Book Depository
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. 

The first I heard of this book was at the Scholastic Blogger Brunch, I was instantly intrigued and eager to read it. I was fascinated by the idea of Love and Death battling for centuries, in a game where death always wins. I wanted to meet these two characters, see what motivated them to play their game, especially Love who was playing a game he had always lost. Love and Death choose their players, and this is where Henry and Flora enter. The game is simple, for Love to win, the two must choose each other over the cost of everything else. If they don't, Death wins, and that will not bode well for either of them.
Someday, everyone you love will die. Everything you love will crumble to ruin. This is the price of life. This is the price of love. It is the only ending for every true story.

When I was offered the chance to review this book I jumped at it. It seemed like it was going to be such a wonderfully unique read and unlike anything I had really read before. And yet it also seemed to have elements to the story that reminded me of other books I had read and absolutely loved. I started the book with a little trepidation, I was excited but had really high hopes and really didn't want to end up disappointed. I am so pleased that I can say that this has been one of my top reads of the year so far, maybe even THE top read of the year so far. And I will start my review by apologising, I have no doubt that this will be a gushy, fangirling type review - I will spew words of love and beg you all to read it. So, if you were hoping for a well written, wonderfully articulated review, look away now!

We do not choose whom we love... We can only choose how well.
I can't do my usual review routine, where I discuss all the things I loved about a book, before opening up about the things I didn't like or vice versa. Finding even one little fault or issue I had with this book is actually impossible. To me, this book was utterly perfect and I couldn't have asked for more. It contains everything I could need or want from a story - unforgettable and diverse characters, a fantastic plot, beautiful romance,  LGBT themes that are handled better than I have seen in a long time. Martha Brocknbrough has truly blown me away with this book and guaranteed I will be hunting down more of her work, whilst eagerly anticipating whatever she releases next.
This same system could condemn injustice, but instead it chooses to condemn something as simple and fundamental as the search for the second half. We are all born wanting this. Why does it matter what shape this second half takes, provided it is the thing that both sides seek. 
I adored the whole cast of characters in this book. Flora sings in a jazz club, but it's not what she wants to do with her life. She dreams of being the next Amelia Earhert but, although she is an exceptional pilot, being African-American during 1937 sees Flora living in a time where her skin colour holds her back. Flora is a resilient, strong and inspiring character who suffers through so much, but never allows it to stop her. I admired her so much and she quickly became one of my favourite heroine, and I don't see her ever getting knocked off that list.
Why choose fear over love? In what world does that make sense?
Henry has lived with the Thorns ever since he lost his family as a child, Mr Thorn was a friend of his father. The Thorns son, Ethan, is Henry's closest friend and they work together on stories for Ethan's fathers paper. Henry was just such a wonderful character, the kind of guy that any girl would be lucky to fall in love with - sweet, romantic and someone who cares deeply. And Ethan is a character dealing with feelings that are seen as unnatural and unacceptable in the times. There were moments where Ethan's hate for himself and everything he is but can't control had me in tears. It was exceptionally written and would strike close to home for anyone who has tried denying their true self just to please others.

I can't do this review without mentioning the fantastic personified versions of Love and Death. I went into this wrongly assuming that Death would be male and Love female. I don't know why, I think it's from other well known personifications I know where that had been the case. I was surprised but delighted that Brockenbrough didn't go down that route. The interactions between these two were fascinating to me, the two have centuries worth of back story and I would probably give up by first born - sorry, future first born! - in order to get a prequel story about those two.
If life didn't end...there would be no need for me. To choose love in the face of death is the ultimate act of  courage. I am the joy, but you are the meaning. Together, we make humanity more than it otherwise might have been. 
This book offered up so much more than I could ever had expected when I first picked it up, clearly I had underestimated the book. There's honestly no better word to describe this book than beautiful - it was completely and utterly beautiful. A unique story that made me feel utter joy one moment, brought tears to my eyes the next, and had me unable to put the book down. This is a story that will enchant you and have you unable to pull yourself out of the story or away from the characters. You will come to truly care for Henry and Flora, as if they were two of your closest friends and you can't bear to see them not end up happy. 

It's always fantastic to find a book that has diverse character or deals with LGBTQ issues, so it delighted me to find out that this book tackles both. This book not only has a historical setting, a fantasy element and a romance, it also has diverse characters AND explores LGBTQ themes and how these were viewed back in the 1930s. These different elements came together to make up one beautifully layered story. Brockenbrough explores the issues of race and being LGBTQ in the 1930s, whilst also making it obvious that we've come far now, but maybe not far enough. Watching characters struggle with who they are, and how people treat them for who they are as a person near enough broke my heart when I was reading this book. 
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.
This is a book that has people proclaiming that if you loved The Book Thief then you will love this. It's one of those types of recommendations that I hate, but here it's entirely justified and entirely deserved. This book made me feel so many emotions, it had me joyful one moment and heartbroken the next. It broke my heart and yet filled it up at the same time, just the way that The Book Thief had when I read that. If I could only get my readers to read one book this year then this would be it. Not only because it's an exceptionally amazing piece of YA fiction, but also because it deserves so much more recognition and praise.

To be written into story. That was how even the lost lived on. 

5/5 Butterflies
(But I'd give it a million if I could!)

The Game of Love and Death is an exquisite story that I feel everyone should have the pleasure of reading. It made me sad, angry, hopeful, happy and everything above, beyond and in-between. I fell in love with the unique and individual characters, whose lives I came so wrapped up in that I felt far too heavily invested when I actually remembered they were fictional - they never felt it though. Brockenbrough brought her characters to life in a way that few authors can. I will be rereading this book for years to come, this is a story I will want to find myself getting lost in over and over again. This is a book to make you think and to make you feel, to make you question and look for answers. I couldn't recommend this enough and, even if you hate it, I'd love to hear your thoughts, if and when you get to experience the story for yourself.

*I received a copy of this book from Scholastic in exchange for an honest review.

Author Interview

If you couldn't tell from how much I gushed about it above, I loved this book. I loved it so much that I actually sought an author interview, something I am usually far too nervous to do. But I wanted to do a really great post for this book, and for that I wanted an interview with the talented woman who wrote it. Thankfully, Martha Brockenbrough was wonderful enough to say yes and came back with answers to my questions in less than a day! So, without further ado, it's over to Martha.
1. Hi Martha, I want to start by thanking you for taking the time to join me here on the blog to talk about your wonderful new novel, The Game of Love and Death. It's been my standout read of 2015 so far and I'm so excited to share my love for it with other readers. To get started maybe you could tell us a little bit about yourself?

Reader. Writer. Mother. Nerd. That’s a little about me, and it describes some of my favorite ways of spending time. I also live in Seattle where The Game of Love and Death is set. It’s true what they say about coffee. What is maybe less well known is how many bookstores there are and how many writers there are. If I could go back in time and tell my younger self that I would get to write books and be friends with writers and sometimes even work in cafes, I don’t know that I could have handled the joy. 

I had some crappy jobs when I was younger, and would dread every Monday. Now, I work every day of the week and look forward to it. 

2.  A game between Love and Death is quite a unique concept and one I haven't seen before, so my first question is where you first got the idea for this book from? What inspired you to write the story?

I first started writing this book in 2010, and the game wasn't an aspect of it at the very beginning. Honestly, it started with Love. My books start with characters—sometimes not even the ones I think of initially. But this time, Love came first, dressed in a white linen suit and looking like Robert Redford in his younger days. I watched Love watch human beings, and listened to the commentary he had about love and the ways we fail to understand it, and I knew I had a story. The characters Love was watching turned out to be very young versions of Henry and Flora, but I knew they weren't his true antagonists. 

So who was? 

We often think the opposite of love is hate. But to me, it’s death, metaphorically and actually. Love dies from inattention or from wilfully not seeing the truth of others. This is where Death came from, and when she first visited, she was so angry. Why would an immortal being with unlimited power be angry? I spent time understanding her rage, and the book answers this question. 

As far as the game itself, this notion came to me pretty early on, and I think is not a great leap from realizing you have two eternal opponents. Opponents can fight — or they can play. To me, play is a far more interesting thing than a fight. 

Figuring out how the game worked was tough for me. I considered a lot of different types of games. I knew I didn't want it to be chess. That felt clichéd. And I also didn't want a chess piece on the cover of the book, because that is a purely intellectual game and this particular game isn't. Let’s just say the list of discarded concepts is long, and I didn't come up with the final solution until I had one week left to send in my manuscript. It was a long week, taking the book apart and stitching it back together. But it was the right thing to do, and when you know you’re doing the right thing, feverish 14-hour days are endurable. 

Overall, though, the book was inspired by my desire to write a love letter to humanity. We all die. What makes life mean anything at all? The choices we make—and of those, love is the most important. Who am I to say this? I sometimes ask myself that. But we are all mortal, all equal in our fragility, and I have chosen to be a writer, and I want the words I write to inhabit the hearts and minds of readers, the way other writers stories have inhabited me. My job is to love the flawed and broken world, and if I can illuminate the beauty of the flaws and heal one or two of the breaks, my time will have been well spent.  

3. Before I started the book, I'd assumed that Death would be the male character and Love the female, I liked that it turned out not to be the case. Did you purposely choose to do the opposite from the majority of personifications of these characters? If so, why? 

I did! I read a lot of Greek mythology when I was a kid, and I loved the way the immortal gods (who sometimes shape-shifted) were personifications of various things: wisdom, victory in battle, the hunt. Sometimes the Greeks defied expectations. For me, though, I like doing the opposite of what is expected because I find it opens up new paths for stories. I don’t want my work to be predictable. I want it to surprise and feel inevitable at the same time, and I find I can get there by examining my assumptions and flipping them from time to time. 

4. Could you tell us a little more about the characters of Love and Death, as well as Henry and Flora?

Love and Death are shape-shifting immortals. This isn't in the book, but Death came first, and Love arrived later—humans were so afraid of death that they summoned love out of fear and as their armour. Since then, Love and Death have been each other’s constant companions, and they have a complicated relationship. The Game emerged as a response to the complexity and imbalance of their relationship. 

Henry and Flora are the players Love and Death have chosen for this round. Henry is white, the adopted son of a wealthy family during the Depression. Chosen as an infant by Love, Henry is a musician (for me, music is one of the languages of love). Because he was chosen by Love, he is wired to love, even as he has to learn what that means—that it’s not just a feeling; it is a choice and an action. 

Flora is also a musician, but she has higher ambitions—literally. She wants to be a pilot. (My inspiration here was Bessie Coleman, a pioneering aviatrix.) As Death’s player, she is naturally inclined to be aware of death and its toll, and to fear being hurt by that.   

5. I am eager to read more of your work, so what else have you written and what are you currently working on, if you can tell us anything about that?

I have had sort of a weird writing career and have written a lot of different types of things, much of it comedy. My debut novel, DEVINE INTERVENTION, is in many ways different from GAME. It’s a buddy comedy about the world’s worst guardian angel and the girl he accidentally kills, and the 24 hours they have to sneak her soul into heaven before it disappears forever. It does ask some of the same questions about love and friendship and what we owe each other and ourselves. 

I am working on a couple of things. Ethan’s story is one of them. I’m also working on another story with music at its core as well as a surprising and unusual narrator. There are no guarantees either will be published. But I can say that my goal with each is to write a surprising, beautiful book that keeps readers company long after they've closed the covers. 

6. This book could make one stunning movie, do you have a dream cast in mind for any of your characters? Or a dream director? If so, who?

I love movies and often when I am writing think about how a scene would look from a director’s point of view. I am terrible at dream casting. I invite you to do so. My two daughters, who are 11 and 14, have their ideas about it, and it amuses me greatly. Their ideas of the characters are so different from mine, and it’s a good reminder that I am writing one book—and everyone who reads it is reading their own version. 

7. What was the easiest and hardest part of writing this book?

The easiest part of writing for me were the music and the death scenes. I am a musician (of the feeble variety), but I have performed a fair amount and know how it feels and know what I want to say when I am playing an instrument. As far as writing death scenes goes, I enjoy killing people off with as much love as possible. And it’s entirely legal to do as long as the keyboard is my weapon. Hooray! (Death and I have a lot in common, I suppose.)

There were a lot of hard parts. It took me years to do, and I had to keep thinking and revising, because the whole thing is weird and complicated and had a lot of details and moving parts. I didn't set out to write a historical novel, for example. The first draft was contemporary. But for a variety of reasons moving it back in time was imperative, and I had to lie to myself a bit and say that I wasn't writing a historical novel, because I don’t consider myself an expert in history, or in aviation, or in jazz music, or even the history of my city. I came to really enjoy the research, though—right down to the moon phases, all of which are accurate. I am certain I made errors with things. When you don’t know what you don’t know, you don’t know to look something up. But this is part of being human. We don’t know most things. We can learn a lot from each other. Staying open to that helps me accept my many flaws—and then get on with the work of doing better every day. 
8. What five books would you say first inspired you to start writing? 

I have always loved books. I decided to become an author when I was 8 and I realized that there was such a thing—and that books didn't just magically appear on the shelves of the library. I had no idea how to go about doing it, though. And I was afraid I wasn't going to be any good, so I didn't start trying to write until I was 30 and had a child of my own and realized I’d be a shabby parent if I didn't show her what courage and persistence looked like. (It’s one thing to talk about these things. It’s another to do them.) 

All of that said, a few books really influenced my worldview: 

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss made me care about the environment, and showed me that my actions could make a difference. 

The Diary of Anne Frank made me ask myself whether I would choose courage or cruelty, and what cost I’d be willing to pay for my principles. I still ask myself these questions, and have tried to live a principled life (and have quit jobs over such matters).

The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander showed me the difference friends can make. My favorite character was Fflewddur Fflam, the bard.  He had a harp whose strings would break every time he stretched the truth—his music made him a better man. And when a desperate moment came and he and his friends were freezing and all he could do was burn his harp to keep them warm, he did. And it played one last, beautiful song. And for me, this is a metaphor of what I am willing to give for those I love: the best part of me. And I will give it completely. 

In an entirely different vein is The Elements of Style by E.B. White, which showed me a path to being a better writer. And of course, Charlotte’s Web, which has one of the most beautiful last lines I’ve ever read, and honestly, words I’d like to live by: 

It is not often someone comes along that's a true friend and good writer. Charlotte was both.

I can't begin to thank Martha enough for doing this. And also for providing me with fantastic answers, that have given me, and you, much more of an insight into the story. I am so excited to hear that she is working on Ethan's story, something I would kill to get my hands on. I hope that develops into a book she can release, or even a novella if it isn't a full novel. I am also terrible at dream casting because no actor I can think of would make the perfect Henry or Flora. They will always seem like their own people to me, someone I have never met yet. Imagining someone playing them just doesn't work in my head, but I'd love to see them brought to life on screen. 

I want to be able to share this story with at least some of you, although I hope my review is enough to convince you all to go out and grab a copy! I am going to giveaway two copies of the book, which I will get from Book Depository - so, as long as they ship to your county, this is open to everyone! The two winners can choose whether they want a paperback or a hardback.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Great interview!! I really want to read this book.. I love how it seems to have a mix of historical and that element of death I know I love o.o hehe.
    Of the quotes u pictures my favorite it : "We do not choose whom we love... We can only choose how well. "
    It’s so true! And all of the quotes r so nice. It’s hard to choose my fav book quote of all time..ok, very near impossible! I would say though it’d be like from Harry Potter :) Don’t ask which one, I wouldn’t be able to tell you one..maybe 100!

    Thanks for the great giveaway. And I love your blog design—I don’t know when you changed it but It’s lovely :)

    Diamond @ Dee’s Reads

    1. Thank you!!! :) I loved this book and really recommend it.

  2. One of my favourite quotes is: “Rise, red as the dawn.” ― Victoria Aveyard, Red Queen. Thanks for the giveaway! (Valentina B. -on the raffle)

  3. Great review and interview, I would love to read this book!

  4. Oh this is a fabulous review and a fabulous interview! This is one of my most anticipated books on my TBR- it looks at me from my shelf BEGGING to be read, and your review... my goodness, if I didn't have ARCs to review, I would be dropping everything immediately! I actually teared up over the QUOTES you posted! That says a lot about a book. And the diversity and amazing characters and... I just cannot wait to read this! You've convinced me that I NEED to carve out some time ASAP to read this.
    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight

    1. It's a truly amazing read. I really hope you get to it very soon :) :) :) Oh, and that you LOVE it when you do.

  5. Shakespeare: "This above all - to thine own self be true," HAMLET :)

  6. ERMAGERD I WANT THIS. I DO SO BADLY. I really love the Book Thief and (like you said) hehe, those kind of descriptions UUUUUSALLY scare me. But if you say it's as good: I TRUST YA. (Don't let me down now, Charnell. ;-) hehe no pressure. *ahem* I also am so so intrigued by the game and these personified characters. ERK. *goes to drool over goodreads* I love the quotes from Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Like 90% of that book is beautifully quotable.

    1. I hope I do not disappoint you, otherwise that will suck. But now I feel I have made your expectations far too high and now you're going to read it, hate it and then blame me.

  7. I had seen this one around quite a bit but I hadn't heard of it a lot. I now finally get to read a review, and boy does this sound like it is going to be an interesting book. I have to admire that the Love and Death gender roles were reversed from what I think a lot of people would assume it to be. It just sounds like such an interesting premise, and I am adding it to my TBR now!

    1. It's an interesting and AMAZING read. I really hope you get to read it and that you love it when you do.

  8. Thank you for this giveaway! :) My favorite book quote is "Life is a book and there are a thousand pages I have not yet read." - Clockwork Princess, Cassandra Clare.

  9. This sounds so good! I've been wanting to read this for forever and your review has me even more excited! Thanks for the giveaway! I really don't have any favorite quotes, there are just soooo many good ones :)

    Asma @ IceyBooks

  10. You know what? I've had this book since it's release but haven't had time to get to it yet. It's intrigued me since the plot and cover was released. But your gushing and fangirling is definitely making me need to move this up my TBR. I really hope I can fit it in in August. And than love it as much as you. Great review!

    Happy reading!
    Brittany @ This is the Story of My(Reading) Life

    1. Oh hurry up and get to it!!! I want to see if you love it as much as I do!!! :) :) :)

  11. Lovely review!! The title intrigued me when I first saw it and after reading your review I am totally convinced! This sounds like a really great book.

    One of my favorite quotes: “Life is an ocean, and most everyone’s hanging on to some kind of dream to keep afloat.” -- Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now

  12. One of my favorites is from Tolkien: "Not all those who wander are lost."

  13. This book looks SO AWESOME! I can't wait to get my hands on it. Thanks for the epic review! :) For that I give you cake *virtual cake is exchanged*
    -Fossil Green (from

  14. "Imperfections define perfection" ― Slammed by Colleen Hoover
    “Hope strengthens. Fear kills.” ― Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning

    Betul E.


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