This Is How You Lose the Time War

By: Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

In the ashes of a dying world, Red finds a letter marked “Burn before reading. Signed, Blue.”

So begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents in a war that stretches through the vast reaches of time and space.

Red belongs to the Agency, a post-singularity technotopia. Blue belongs to Garden, a single vast consciousness embedded in all organic matter. Their pasts are bloody and their futures mutually exclusive. They have nothing in common—save that they’re the best, and they’re alone.

Now what began as a battlefield boast grows into a dangerous game, one both Red and Blue are determined to win. Because winning is the goal of war. Isn’t it?

For the very first page, I could tell this book was different. I never thought I would experience a high-concept sci-fi romance that transcends time and space, but here we are. In general, I typically detest romances, but this one was great because it’s not framed as a romance at all. This story is about Red and Blue, two agents on opposite sides of the future who get to know each other through gloating letters and foiled plots. As the letters stretch through time, each one takes longer to find as the plans to strike at the other become more complex. As their challenges grow, so too does their admiration for one another.   

I appreciate stories that loop back in on themselves as the narrative unfolds, and This Is How You Lose the Time War does this gimmick exceptionally well. The more I read, the more I realized the authors’ intentions and stylistic choices made sense, and I wasn’t just falling through the years with the characters going “what the hell is happening and why.” 

However, as I already mentioned, this novella is high-concept. With a complicated narrative full of “strands” and “braids” and the two enemy factions of the Agency and Garden constantly struggling to make their future a reality, trust me when I say it can be a little much at times. If you are not interested in a story that will make you think to try and understand it, you probably shouldn’t read this book. If nothing else, I can safely say it’s “out there.”

I did really enjoy this story and only wished that it could have been a bit longer to help flush out Red and Blue’s rivalry a little more. Regardless, if you are a science fiction fan, I recommend picking this book up.

Overall rating: 4.5

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