This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
”The twist of you in me. The writhe. You’re a whip uncoiling in my veins, and I write between the rearing and the snap.”
This is an unusual book. A series of letters between two operatives on opposite sides of the Time War. One side The Garden, one side The Agency, both changing events throughout time to push the thread toward each’s preferred future, the one in which that side thrives.
Imagine that each mission breaks a piece of the time thread off, makes a new thread. Hundreds, thousands of threads, operatives working in each to cut them off or turn them in a way that suits their needs. Operatives that can change their form and jump through time at will.
The two greatest of these operatives fighting against each other’s victories, coming before them to cut them off or after to change the loss into a win. A letter, sent as a nod of respect and a taunt. A reply, sent at great danger of looking like collusion to higher-ups, but she cannot let the taunt go unanswered. That is how it begins.
This is not a sit down and devour in one reading novel. There is the suspense of being caught by their superiors, but each letter needs to be read, devoured, digested, and absorbed. The prose is sometimes difficult to understand, the paradox of time travel adding to the strangeness. It reads almost like futuristic Shakespeare. That is intended to be a compliment. But I digress.
Are you a writer? I am not. But it’s books like this that make me wish I was. That someone could take such immensity of thought and feeling and put it into words is awe inspiring. There is an almost Romeo and Juliet quality to it. And the fact that Red and Blue, the operatives, are both women, made it even better. And not with a “look I’m writing about gay people!” way, but a way that makes it seem as easy and as natural as breathing, secondary to the plot itself, as if it has always been the way of things, that no one should blink at it or think anything of it. I loved it, I adored it, I admired it.
I don’t think that everyone will love this book. It’s format is ususual and it’s plot strange, it’s prose beautifully woven but slow to absorb. There is not violence or sex, nothing of a sensitive nature, but this is written at a very high level. So if you want to challenge yourself, and you want to read some of the most beautiful love letters ever written, bordering on poetic, pick this up. Read it slowly and enjoy it. Sob at the end.
5/5, I am filled with admiration for Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone.