Book Review: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Usually, I hate being confused, but This Is How You Lose the Time War is such a good book that honestly, I didn’t much mind. Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone did a bang-up job in making me emotionally invested in both Red and Blue, two agents pitted against each other in a seemingly endless war across times and realities. Discovering how their world(s) work is part of the fun of the book, so I won’t give too much away, but I will say that I appreciated how the characters casually discussed traveling to and from different worlds, and different versions of those worlds. Moreover, the delicate balance that the worlds are held in, dependent on the different ways that time is interpreted, are as dexterous as they are dynamic. 

I can safely say that I’ve never read a book that caught me and drew me in quite like This Is How You Lose the Time War. Short though it is, this novella lasted both forever and only an instant, packing depth and intrigue into its pressed pages, with not a word wasted and no corners cut. This Is How You Lose the Time War is the kind of book that I want to simultaneously recommend to everyone and also hold close to my chest, keeping the story personal to myself for just a little longer as I marvel at the intricacy of the prose. 

Perhaps I’m getting a little flowery here, but this book is just so weird and brilliant in ways that I’m not quite sure how to describe. I completely loved it, and I do think that This Is How You Lose the Time War is the kind of book that will stand the test of, and indeed requires and near demands, many returning reads.

One thing that I particularly appreciated about this book with regard to inclusion is that while the main characters, who are both at war and in love with one another, are both gendered as female throughout the text it’s made clear that this is a personal preference for them. That is to say, the flexibility of the worlds in which they exist is such that gender’s only real importance is functional and arbitrary besides. At no point in the text is the gender of either character anything but an afterthought, as there is nothing that they need to overcome because of it. There are much bigger obstacles stopping the main characters from being together, which overwhelm the plot. As much as I love books that tackle the issues that are brought up by being in relationships that fall outside of the heteronormative realm, it was refreshing to read a book that treated such a relationship as unmarked, rather than as a departure from the norm.

The way that this text is structured and the role of language in the narrative is also fascinating to me. Each vignette opens with either Red or Blue on some kind of mission, and at some point throughout the scene they encounter an object that acts as a coded letter to the other. The way that the letters are coded varies—some burn, some are eaten as seeds. Reading most definitely stretched, yet never managed to break, my imagination, such was the detail with which El-Mohtar and Gladstone poured into the text. The immediately following section is the letter itself, before repeating the structure from the perspective of the alternate protagonist.

All told, this book was a thrilling, invigorating read, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I spent between the pages. There is a part of me that wishes it was longer, but at the same time, This Is How You Lose the Time War is the kind of book that exists at the perfect length, where any more would actually be too much of a good thing. I was perfectly happy with where things ended (or begun, if you take a certain view.)

Happy reading!

Cheers,

Talia

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