cover image The Book of Love

The Book of Love

Kelly Link. Random House, $31 (640p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9658-6

Pulitzer finalist Link (White Cat, Black Dog) makes a dazzling full-length debut that proves her gloriously idiosyncratic style shines just as brightly at scale. A year after high schoolers Laura, Daniel, and Mo died, they’re brought back to life (alongside one other, much older ghost) by their band teacher, Mr. Anabin, the unlikely possessor of powerful magic. He and his counterpart, Bogomil, who held the quartet captive in the dark realm of death, decide to play a game. The winners will stay alive; the losers will die once more. To succeed, the teens must learn magic and remember the murky circumstances of their own deaths, all while navigating fraught relationships with loved ones, especially Laura’s temperamental sister, Susannah. For much of the plot, the protagonists are batted about by supernatural forces far larger than themselves, including Anabin, Bogomil, and the glamorous, enigmatic Mallo Mogge. In less capable hands, the amount of uncertainty both characters and readers must endure before answers are revealed might grow frustrating, but Link makes the slow trickle of information both tense and tantalizing. Striking visuals and nimble characterization are delivered with poetry, wry humor, and a remarkable clarity of detail. (Susannah “was a new bruise. The world was always pressing on her”; Laura “was practically a gothic piñata stuffed with bone shards, dead rabbits, secrets so secret not even she understood them.”) Link dexterously somersaults between tonal registers—from playfully whimsical (love and magic are both explained via a comparison to asparagus) to hair-raising and uncanny (a cat goes from grooming itself to devouring itself whole)—without ever missing a step. This is a masterpiece. (Feb.)