This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epistolary novella by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone.
Finished on: 04.6.2021
Red is an agent of the Commandant, Blue is an agent of Garden, two sides in a war that spans all times. It is both Red’s and Blue’s job to make sure that certain events happen or don’t happen in the course of time to benefit their respective sides. After one of these missions, Red finds a letter on the battlefield. A letter from Blue. A letter taunting her. Red hesitates at first, but then replies and the ensuing back-and-forth between two enemy agents turns them into something else.
It took me a bit to get into This is How You Lose the Time War, but once I did, I absolutely loved it. It’s a beautifully written and inventive story that takes you somewhere else.
This Is How You Lose the Time War throws you in the deep end of its world. That means that at the beginning, you have to push through a bit of confusion. But by the third or fourth letter, I had settled into the groove and into the world enough to be able to focus on the story more. Which is not to say that there aren’t new elements in the world-building after that anymore – because there constantly are. But by then there is enough of an established baseline that not everything throws you anymore.
In any case, I think what I loved most about the book, is its language. It’s not always easy, it has a lyrical slant and it does contribute to the confusion of the beginning (confusion in itself is not a bad thing, though). And it is so very expressive and beautiful, creating an inescapable draw that mirrors the draw that Red and Blue feel toward each other. Here too, in the beginning I was struggling a little to get used to it, but then quite suddenly it’s perfect.
Of course, I also loved that it is a sapphic love story. We definitely need more of those. Especially of the epic variety, and stories where it’s a non-issue, especially stories that are set in different times/worlds don’t always need to reproduce the homomisia of ours.
In short, This Is How You Lose the Time War deserves all the accolades it got, and I can see myself re-visiting it pretty soon.