Review: “This Is How You Lose the Time War,” Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone

Pros: Stunning!
Rating: 5 out of 5

Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone bring us the gorgeous novella (short novel?), This Is How You Lose the Time War. Red is an elite time-traveling agent working for the Agency. Blue is an elite time-traveling agent working for the Agency’s rival, the Garden. When Blue leaves a message for Red on a battlefield (“Burn before reading”), the two begin a clandestine relationship that starts off by gleefully thwarting each other and ends up with the two women falling in love. They go to extreme lengths to keep their agencies from noticing the communication, but eventually the higher-ups realize something is amiss.

The time-travel is carefree and surreal, with strands and braids and upthread and downthread and… frankly, I still don’t understand it. Know why that’s okay? Because it’s only the framework for the relationship between these two women, and we don’t need to understand it. It’s exactly as detailed as it needs to be. And I’m grateful for that, because it means my brain’s tendency to produce logical doubts about time travel didn’t kick in.

Much of the story is in the form of letters between Red and Blue–strange, unique letters that they hide and encode in all sorts of bizarre ways. It’s poetic. It’s lyrical. It’s so delightful to watch the relationship between these two grow. There’s also still plenty of material on bits and pieces of the time war to keep things exciting. Something seems to be chasing Red through the time streams, and Blue has a plan that would give her side a real advantage. Could Blue simply be trying to groom Red in order to turn her traitor? Could Red really be trying to kill Blue? Only time will tell.

I got so caught up in this story that I could barely breathe for the last half-hour of it. I’m so grateful that I heard about this book all over book-Twitter, because I would have hated to miss it! It’s unusual, extraordinary, and positively stunning.

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