This Is How You Lose The Time War is poetry in prose. A Sapphic love story embroiled amidst war and time. That sounds cliché I know but it’s true. Few books I’ve read have as much heft packed into so few pages as this exquisite novella. Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone have given us something beautiful and worthy of all the praise it has received.
“Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war.” – Goodreads Blurb
It’s almost the end of the year, I’m starting to think about my “best reads of 2020” list and I realized I hadn’t written this review. I read the book back in May. And I’m just now reviewing it. WHY? WHY you ask Well…2020.
Because Its been so long from read to review this will probably be a shorter post. Thank goodness I wrote up notes as I read that I can refer back to in order to fill in the gaps between, “I loved this book!” and, “You should read it!”
I should admit that I probably wouldn’t have picked up This Is How You Lose The Time War if it weren’t for the fact it was nominated for the Nebula and Hugo Awards for best Novella. You see I decided to give myself a challenge this year to read and review all the nominees. It hasn’t gone well, but hey the year isn’t over.
*glances at calendar…back to camera…back to calendar…back to camera…*
Anyway I’ll finish the challenge at some point. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is I wouldn’t have read the book without the challenge and OH MY GOD THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN A HORRIBLE DECISION! I truly loved this book. Which is fitting because it’s a love story. A love story not bound by time or place. An enemies to lovers story. A wartime love story. A love story between two characters whose feelings develop through shared experiences and correspondence. One of sacrifice, and yearning, and of dogged devotion. One we get to experience through their letters to each other. Oof…it’s just so wonderful.
“I want to meet you in every place I have loved.” Blue to Red, p. 142
This Is How You Lose The Time War is an epistulatory novel. Normally I hate these so it says something that I love this book as much as I do. It’s El-Mohtar and Gladstone’s writing which did it, not just the story. I mean the story is cool – two rival agents fighting a war while hopping along time strands and altering events in the past and future until one writes the other a letter and romance happens. It’s a cool story. But it’s the way they tell it that makes it so great. The prose is…well like poetry like I said above. But there’s so much more to it than that. It’s hard for me to put it in words. It’s the style, the phrasing, the build-up, all of it coalescing into this beautiful story that may even leave you with a tear dripping down your cheek.
“They lived for so long without knowing one another, warring through time. They were separate, they did not speak, but each shaped the other, even as they were shaped in turn.” p. 154
I also loved some of the quirky things they did with the letters between Red and Blue. Like the way they each refer to the other in the salutations starting with a simple “Red” or “Blue” they evolve into the silly like “Dearest Blue-da-ba-dee” to “My Apple Tree, my Brightness”, all themes on a color, all indicating a mood or feeling. Then there’s the subtle and not so subtle references to cultural touchpoints sprinkled in each. There’s the blue salutation just mentioned, to references to other books (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep), to music (Ain’t No Mountain High Enough), to politics “I know Socrates…I served with Socrates…and you Senator…” and so on. It became a fun little game to try to find as many of those references as I could and something that I’ll take on again when I read the book a second time. Because yes, this book is worthy of another read.
This Is How You Lose The Time War won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards for Best Novella, plus a slew of others. I can tell you I agree wholeheartedly with the selection. It’s a book that is genre fiction yet transcends it. It is lyrical and seductive and fun, yet also brutal and poignant and heartfelt. It’s both a sunrise to begin your day, and a sunset to close it out, all filled with light and beauty and fire, portending joy and sadness, good and evil, life and death. This will be on my best reads of 2020, and also my best reads period.
5 of 5 Stars
Authors: Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication Date: July 16, 2019