Review: The Book of Love by Kelly LinkThe Book of Love by Kelly Link
Published by Random House Publishing Group on February 13, 2024
Genres: Coming of Age, Fantasy
Pages: 640
Format: ARC, Audiobook
Source: Received from publisher

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • In the long-awaited first novel from short story virtuoso and Pulitzer Prize finalist Kelly Link, three teenagers become pawns in a supernatural power struggle.

“A dreamlike, profoundly beautiful novel [that] pushes our understanding of what a fantasy novel can be.”—Amal El-Mohtar, The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

“Imagine a ring of David Mitchell and Stephen King books dancing around a fire until something new, brave, and wonderful rose up from the flames.”—Isaac Fitzgerald, Today (Spring Pick!)

The Book of Love showcases Kelly Link at the height of her powers, channeling potent magic and attuned to all varieties of love—from friendship to romance to abiding family ties—with her trademark compassion, wit, and literary derring-do. Readers will find joy (and a little terror) and an affirmation that love goes on, even when we cannot.

Late one night, Laura, Daniel, and Mo find themselves beneath the fluorescent lights of a high school classroom, almost a year after disappearing from their hometown, the small seaside community of Lovesend, Massachusetts, having long been presumed dead. Which, in fact, they are.

With them in the room is their previously unremarkable high school music teacher, who seems to know something about their disappearance—and what has brought them back again. Desperate to reclaim their lives, the three agree to the terms of the bargain their music teacher proposes. They will be given a series of magical tasks; while they undertake them, they may return to their families and friends, but they can tell no one where they’ve been. In the end, there will be winners and there will be losers.

But their resurrection has attracted the notice of other supernatural figures, all with their own agendas. As Laura, Daniel, and Mo grapple with the pieces of the lives they left behind, and Laura’s sister, Susannah, attempts to reconcile what she remembers with what she fears, these mysterious others begin to arrive, engulfing their community in danger and chaos, and it becomes imperative that the teens solve the mystery of their deaths to avert a looming disaster.

Welcome to Kelly Link’s incomparable Lovesend, where you’ll encounter love and loss, laughter and dread, magic and karaoke, and some really good pizza.

Beloved short story writer Kelly Link’s first novel, The Book of Love, will be polarizing. It is character-driven, meandering, philosophical, and really quite strange. Many readers will find that this isn’t for them. In news that should surprise no one, I ate it up.

It’s almost impossible to describe what this book is actually “about,” but I’ll take a stab at it. Four friends on the cusp of adulthood stumble into a centuries-old magical feud. Before the events of the story, three of them die. The story itself chronicles them coming back to life, trying to keep the secret of their death/resurrection from the fourth friend, and battling two cunning old guys and their petty, vengeful, moon goddess mistress. There’s a grimy otherworld where characters run around as wolves. There’s a little girl who turns into a unicorn. There’s a deceased romance novelist whose creations come to life. There’s a character who, in an adolescent tantrum, turns himself into the Atlantic Ocean. And yet it all works somehow?!

The writing, the themes, the vision! Kelly Link, I apologize. I wasn’t familiar with your game. The Book of Love is tender and wry, generous and cutting. It’s existential and deeply embodied. I could see, smell, and hear the environment, the characters, and their magic. But what I loved most were the characters: flawed, annoying, hilarious, stupid, stubborn, generous, and trying their best to be good. I loved them all (even Laura, who never quite has the self-awareness to realize how awful she can be), but Mo claimed a special place in my heart. A young, Black, gay guy living in a small town? Grieving, vulnerable, but tough? Obsessed with opera, has a crew of fun queer besties, and enough charisma to pull “straight” guys and a centuries-old hottie? Yeah. He’s a king. Wishing only the best for you and your murder boyfriend, buddy.

With its slow pace, sweeping scope, and experimental structure, this book won't be a hit for everyone. But for me, it was damn near perfect.

The Book of Love is not a page-turner – it’s a slow-burner. There are a ton of plot threads here and Link is in no hurry to help readers put them together. She simply trusts that you will – and I did. The first act had me confused about what was happening, where the story was going, and what the structure would be, but when I started to understand it felt like I was being lit up from the inside out. This is a story about stories, about life, love, and loss, about choices and how they can hurt or heal people. It’s also a story about intense teenaged musicians and romance novels. Is it any wonder that I loved it?!

I devoured this book in a few short days, which I attribute primarily to January Lavoy’s masterful performance as the audiobook narrator. Lavoy does an excellent job voicing each of the POV characters — which is saying something, because there are about a dozen. Her performance perfectly highlights the humour, heart, angst, and even some of the gentle absurdity of the story. The almost 24-hour long production absolutely flew by, and I’m not sure that the text alone would’ve done the same. Highly recommend giving the audiobook a go.

The Book of Love isn’t for every reader. It’s complex, slow, and somewhat opaque (at least initially). But those readers out there who actually like those things? Readers like me? You’re going to love it. One of my favourites of the year so far.