A Review of: This Is How You Lose The Time War, By Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

Firstly – I loved this book. It was creative, unique, interesting, beautiful, and left me wanting more. My biggest gripe about this book – is it was way too short! There were many places I felt that would have benefited from more description, more detail, more … everything. 

This Is How You Lose The Time War – a novella with two main characters. Red, and Blue (The names left me a little lacking. They’re obviously opposites – but surely we could have found names more interesting, more suitable, more luscious – like the rest of the prose of the story- to illustrate their oppositeness.) 

We learn quickly, that Red and Blue are warriors of some sort, fighting for the direction future; by changing past events. They travel up and down time threads, effecting changes in past, present, future. Varying iterations in the multiverse – sometimes visiting the same historical character, or place, or time, in many multiverse iterations – to effect change. As example they visit Atlantis. Some good, some bad, some futuristic, some not…. Influencing little details to effect bigger shifts, sometimes centuries into that future. Red touches one event to sway it, Blue edits something else to sway it back. 

The story seems to span multitudes of centuries, across time, space and multiverse. 

We’re given bits of detail about each home/lifestyle/consciousness type/ruling principle of each – and the opposite nature they each strive to ‘win the war’. It isn’t just Blue and Red, but armies from each civilization, fighting this battle, all places, all times, striving for the foothold to move them into the winner’s circle. There seems no way for one to gain over the other. 

The story telling of the actions and the battles, though it all are so intriguing, they whet your curiosity –and have enough fire detail to satisfy – but could have been so much more depth and intricate without hurting the story – bringing in to a full fledged novel. 

But the Time War is not the main plot of the story. It is the background on to which the real story unfolds. We are first introduced to Red, and her battlefield. (in which – often the battle Is one sides agents coming into a time/place, and effecting things- which might mean killing off a person, a town of people, a nation, and even an entire planet. Not typically a battle so to speak with the other side’s agents. It’s a battle more – to see which one can affect the change of the thread of direction; without the other undoing it, or getting there first, etc., etc. That’s why it is so interesting, and so intriguing. The subtleness. A war without a war.) Red, has just slayed an entire place. She is combing the battle field to make sure there are no survivors – to make sure the change sticks. She knows what to expect, because she travels time, and has seen the events, like viewing a movie, studying, knowing each move, each moment, each placement. Following her skills to execute to perfection as it has been studied. But a good soldier checks their work. Hence: checking to be sure all are dead, as is intended. When, she finds a black swan of things – something not meant to be there. A change. A letter, on the ground, amongst the dead. 

Enter the quandary. The other side is the reason it is there – it is time to escape, before the other side arrives, and tries to eliminate them – as throughout the story – each side seems to just manage to slip from the others grasp; to live another day, and change another fate. 

Red’s curiosity wins, and she reads the letter. Which can only be read after lighting it aflame. In the ashes, and the burns of her hands, she finds the words. Her first contact with Blue. Who can’t help but leave the letter gloating, of being there first, and changing just enough that means Red did not succeed, but failed. Taunts her even, about watching… Thus begins the correspondence between them. As Romeo & Juliet as it sounds, they begin a dance, a volley back and forth, through time and place, each reading a letter left, and responding. But the letters are not ink words on paper. They are the most creative delivering you can not begin to imagine. The words unfurling into existence, from the blood of a killed duck. The letters are obviously created magically – but the authors deny us by not giving any details on this. Just the deliverance – and they are so, so, so, so. Interesting! I WANT MORE! But there is none. You must use your mind to fill in the details. 

Over the course of the story, each letter is more intimate, more deep, more honest. More needing, and more wanting; more curious, and more compassion; more longing, and more haunting. This is pure true mastery in writing. This makes the story brilliant, haunting – a thing that will linger in your mind for days, weeks. A thread you can’t let go of. The intrigue is off the chart, and the prose is a heavenly treat for your brain – the writing style so beautiful, so thoughtful, so creative. 

Obviously, as each letter builds their connection – they become entwined. Each still doing their job to the fullest – to win the war – but falling deeply for the other. Can they succeed at winning the war, and also building the reality to end up together? 

There is a grand and mind blowing plot twist, sneakily tying all the random seeming pieces of the story together, wrapping it up in the end. Artistry in plot twisting threads! [pun intended?] I do wish there was also more time devoted to the endgame, and the latter part of the story – more depth, more details, and most importantly – I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT. Needs to know! Clearly, I need the thread climbing skills in order to know the details I desire. 

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