This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Hello, it is I, your friendly neighbourhood time travel enthusiast to talk about a unique, delectable, precious offering that the publishing gods have deemed us worthy of reading.
Created by the powerhouse minds of Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, This is How You Lose the Time War is a poetic, bloody, violent, queer and romantic take on time travel, history and above all, love. It is also part epistolary narrative about enemies-turned-lovers which makes this even more catnip to me.
It opens with a letter found in place where it doesn’t belong, found by Red after successfully completing a mission for the Agency, one of the sides in a Time War no one is winning. It is a trap, she thinks, surely it is a trap. But curiosity wins and she reads it. And it is a teasing, bragging letter from an enemy agent from Garden, talking about how the time war (and herself, if is she telling the truth) has been invigorated by Red’s appearance. They have seen each other in other strands, they have undone each other’s works. It is signed: Blue. Blue who is right now undoing some of Red’s works and successes, just as Red is doing the same.
And Red replies. In doing so,Red sets in motion the beginning and the ending.
There is brevity and obscurity to the worldbuilding, but we know there is a time war, we know there are two factions that are different in how they work, how they yield nature and technology and for what purposes, and how they simply are. We know that Red and Blue are from warring sides, both incredibly efficient agents. We also know that if caught communicating with each other, it will be the end. Their complicity is potentially self-destructive, their paper trail (as clever as they are in finding ways of writing to each other), a huge problem.
We don’t really learn the why and wherefores of the world or of the war, we don’t really even know if these two women are humans—I mean, maybe they are? Or maybe they are some sort of concoction of tech, nature and humanity that the future will bring? Who knows, it doesn’t really matter, because the core of the story is very, very human and vulnerable and told with such lyrical grandeur that is difficult to care about what is not there when what is there, is SO MUCH. This is a book about hunger, about change, about freedom, breaking the cycle and just you know, falling in love against all odds.
Worlds and timelines are literally made and unmade by these two veritable forces of nature in search of one another.
I imagine some readers will care and wonder about questions (and answers) and that is fine, because not every book is for everybody. Sometimes, a book needs to find its right reader and it definitely found one in me, just like Blue and Red found each but now I am just sounding maudlin. Forgive me.
Goodness, I had actual goosebumps reading this, my heart fluttering at particular moments in the story, moments that caught me entirely by surprise for their cleverness, hindsight and circular worldbuilding. Everything has a reason, a momentum, a way to connect with the beginning and the ending (and this is how I lost my heart to Red and Blue).
This book? It is really special. And so damn romantic.
In Booksmugglerish – 9 out of 10