This is How you Lose the Time War: Book Review

“There’s a kind of time travel in letters, isn’t there? I imagine you laughing at my small joke; I imagine you groaning; I imagine you throwing my words away. Do I have you still? Do I address empty air and the flies that will eat this carcass? You could leave me for five years, you could return never–and I have to write the rest of this not knowing.”

-Amal El-Mohtar/Max Gladstone

In this electrifying science fiction adventure melded with an unexpectedly exquisite romance, enemy agents Red and Blue serve as endlessly entertaining and enigmatic foils who seek to one-up each other in a centuries-long game of cat-and-mouse played out on battlefields and in London tea-shops. What neither agent could have predicted is the fragile love that blooms when they begin a correspondence. Connected by the war that situates them as enemies, neither of them can resist the pull of attraction and intrigue as they continuously impress one another with their wordplay, battle tactics, and tricks pulled in time-threads across numerous decades.

Red and Blue aren’t the only ones chasing one another, however, and their relationship is threatened by their very existence as agents of opposing factions in an endless war. With their new and precarious, yet fierce, love stringing Red and Blue together across centuries and time-threads, only one question remains: is their love and their wit enough to keep them one step ahead of their enemies or is the fight to be together the one battle they can’t win?

With a fast-moving plot and expansive world-building, This is How you Lose the Time War keeps you on your toes, dipping you into histories and legends we know, and worlds and science systems we don’t — all before whisking you off to the next time-thread and adventure. All the while, mysteries unfold while the past unravels and the tender love between Red and Blue keeps the story grounded within an ever-changing narrative of past, present, and future.

“I love you. I love you. I love you. I’ll write it in waves. In skies. In my heart. You’ll never see, but you will know. I’ll be all the poets, I’ll kill them all and take each one’s place in turn, and every time love’s written in all the strands it will be to you.”

-Amal El-Mohtar/Max Gladstone

Reading This is How you Lose the Time War is truly an unforgettable experience. Immediately thrown into the action, and with much of the narrative coming through written and exchanged letters, rather than dialogue, world-building is given in crumbs and in bites too big to eat. It’s up to readers to center themselves in ever-changing realities and new species and sciences. While this lack of hand holding presents a challenge to readers, the unique style certainly pays off and the letters Red and Blue exchange hold a deep, vulnerable intimacy that not even dialogue can replace. Their letters are filled with quips and clever wordplay, evocative and emotional declarations that speak of a boundless love untethered by ideas of time or distance.

Filled with twists and turns, This is How you Lose the Time War never has a dull moment, nor is it overwhelming in its action. The narrative builds with a slow, graceful crescendo before bursting into a tremendous finale. Through it all, Red and Blue’s achingly beautiful and tender relationship provides a compelling and engaging story that had my heart glowing and racing. This is How you Lose the Time War is truly an incredible novella that packs in a dazzling sapphic romance and a fascinating sci-fi adventure into its limited pages, and will have me thinking about it for months to come.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

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