This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max GladstoneThis is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is a lyrical masterpiece of a love story set against the backdrop of a war woven across the braids of time.

The world is divided. The Agency is a “techy-mechy dystopian” society determined to alter history so that they can rule the future. Garden is organic, a “viney-hivey elfworld” that is more natural and shares a collective consciousness. The war for supremacy between the disparate sides is eternal. It spans across time as each side disassembles and reforms history to design a future where only their side remains.

Red is an elite operative for the Agency. Groomed to serve as a lethal weapon, she is the best agent they have. Blue is an elite operative for Garden, the very best agent among their ranks. The two find themselves entangled in a constant battle to alter history or to undo the alterations the other side has made.

Neither side is willing to relent in their pursuit for dominance, but when Red discovers a letter addressed to her in the scorched remains of a battlefield, she can’t help but read it. And once she reads it, she can’t help but respond. A dangerous correspondence begins between the two agents that will blur the lines of loyalty, purpose and cause them to question their own futures and what exactly it is they are fighting for.

The Characters

Red and Blue are lethal agents of destruction in a war that is being waged across the threads of time. They excel at what they do, top agents for their respective sides. Everything about them is a contrast to one another from their ideologies to their names. Yet for all their differences, they share a loneliness, a sense of desperation and dissolution, and a deep yearning for something more.

The relationship between Red and Blue serves as the moor in a story that weaves through history and across timelines. We are pulled into their insecurities as they wrestle with trusting the sincerity of one another and as they question whether this in an intricate plot to turn or ultimately destroy them. We bear witness as they ponder if they even care anymore because they just want to feel something. What I really enjoyed about the characters was that I became so immersed in their love story that I began to share in the anticipation they must have felt waiting for the next letter to come. I couldn’t read fast enough!

The Writing Style

The narrative is almost entirely character driven, focusing on the beautiful evolution of Red and Blue’s relationship. Each mission brings with it another letter and each new letter peels back more layers of themselves for the other (and the reader) to see. Through each interaction, we are given glimpses into their world, how it has shaped them and how they now shape it. It is an intricate and vivid world. Visceral and graphic in its depiction of war. But there is a smorgasbord of delicacies as well for all the senses, and I found myself entirely enveloped in it, savouring every morsel.

The language throughout the book is so seductive. It is entirely immersive and will completely wrap you in its intensely rich imagery. And when you listen to the audio, the beauty of the language is magnified tenfold. There are some wonderful puns as well to round everything out perfectly.

The Narration

The narrators capture the emotion behind the words beautifully. The sensuality of their voices at times, the passion and yearning they are able to infuse into the words makes listening to the audio recording of the book an experience. Having different narrators for each character helps to easily distinguish between them and each narrator captures the idiosyncrasies of their character perfectly.

The Pros

The letters! The letters, that must be hidden (Red and Blue are enemies after all), are ingeniously encoded into different objects. Intricate and requiring complex methods of revealing their contents, each letter underscores the beauty of what written communication could and should be. The cultural differences and references, the mediums used, the locations where they are found, are all such important facets of each letter and underscore the intent and emotions behind them. I’ve always been in love with writing and this book has reinforced that love more than I can say.

The Cons

Narrowing it down to just three quotes for tweets was soooo hard. The writing is just that incredible.

Michelle's Favourite Bookstaras favourite lesbian booksThe Conclusion

The idea of cause and effect, the time war itself, and its implications are enough to keep your brain occupied while you lose your heart and soul in the beauty of the written word. If you yearn to submerge yourself entirely in the language of love, then you need to read this book. The sheer beauty and sensuality of the writing, its emotional poignancy will cause your heart to nearly burst.

Excerpt from This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

It is not like Garden’s players to meet Red on the same field at the same time. Shadows and sure things are more their style. But there is one who would. Red knows her, though they have never met. Each player has their signature. She recognizes patterns of audacity and risk.

Red may be mistaken. She rarely is.

Her enemy would relish such a magic trick: twisting to her own ends all Red’s grand work of murder. But it’s not enough to suspect. Red must find proof.

So she wanders the charnel field of victory and seeks the seeds of her defeat.

A tremor passes through the soil – do not call it earth. The planet dies. Crickets chirp. Crickets survive, for now among the crashed ships and broken bodies on this crumbling plain. Silver moss devours steel, and violet flowers choke the dead guns. If the planet lasted long enough, the vines that sprout from the corpses’ mouths would grow berries.

It won’t, and neither will they.

On a span of blasted ground, she finds the letter.

It does not belong. Here there should be bodies mounded between the wrecks of ships that once sailed the stars. Here there should be the death and dirt and blood of a successful op. there should be moons disintegrating overhead, ships aflame in orbit.

There should not be a sheet of cream-colored paper, clean save a single line in a long, trailing hand: Burn before reading.

Red likes to feel. It is a fetish. Now she feels fear. And eagerness.

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Bits and Bobs

ISBN number: 978-1534430990
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Audiobook Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Narrator: Cynthia Farrell and Emily Woo Zeller
Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone Online

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Note: I own a copy of This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. No money was exchanged for this review. When you use our links to buy we get a small commission which supports the running of this site

I live in Ontario, Canada. If I’m not seeking out my own adventures, I am reveling in the reading of the adventures of others.