This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone did not make for the easiest reading but there is certainly something very engaging about it. I loved the creativity and imagination that went into it. It’s a very unique story and one I think I’ll be re reading at some point.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more.
Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?
I loved the originality in this story but while the writing was wonderfully descriptive and imaginative I must admit I did not find this the easiest book to read. This was in part my own fault as I picked absolutely the wrong time to read this, work was busy, I was tired, stressed and having difficulty focusing on anything for any length of time, but both the concepts and the language made this a feel like a challenge rather than a pleasure at times.
From the very start you’re thrown in to the deep end of this story, no explanation, no scene setting and very little in the way of background. It quickly becomes clear that there are two factions in a war across time (yes the clue is in the title). One faction is seeking to influence the timeline to promote technology and progress, the other is looking for a return to nature. Each employs agents who hop back and forward in time, trying to influence the various different strands of time to their own ends by whatever means available.
Two of these agents are Red and Blue from whose points of view the story is told. They operate for rival factions but begin a correspondence which begins with a sort of taunting, challenging tone but quickly becomes something more. Given they come from opposing sides of the war however can they really trust each other, is a relationship of any kind possible or is it doomed to end in tragedy?
I really loved the creativity and imagination that went into the story. I loved the very different ways Red and Blue found to correspond with each other in the different times and places they visit. I loved the contents of the letters themselves and how the tone of them changes over the course of the book as they start to realize their feelings for each other. I loved the relationship that develops between them, there’s something very Romeo and Juliet about two people from warring factions who develop a bond despite their differences.
I even loved the little snippets of what they’re doing to subtly alter the timeline to their own ends, one through sudden force and violence, the other through slower more invasive means. I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of time travel and the various theories surrounding (paradox theory, the multiverse etc) so I find pretty much every story featuring it intriguing. I just wish we’d gotten a little more of this. More of the background to these two factions, who are they, what are they and how do they do what they do? Over the course of the story there are more and more details revealed about the societies Red and Blue come from but it wasn’t enough and somehow seemed to raise more questions than it answered. Even by the end I couldn’t figure out what Red and Blue were, they certainly didn’t seem to be human. I spent a lot of the story just sort of going with it.
I also felt like the voices of the two leads were lacking distinctiveness, it sometimes took me a few pages to figure out whose story I was in. This was no doubt in part due to the complexity of the language used by both authors which took up most of my concentration. It’s very flowery and very deliberately plays with words and phrases, something I’m really not sure I liked. I could certainly appreciate it but I did feel like it took something away from the underlying story and I spent more time trying to understand the words used than the underlying meaning and emotion behind them. This was not helped by the occasional wandering off on tangents within the letters themselves as I found my concentration wandering off on a tangent all of it’s own.
As I say though I was very tired and having difficulty focusing on pretty much anything for any length of time when reading this. It is however a fairly short book at only 200 odd pages so it didn’t take me too long to read it. I was left with a slight feeling of confusion at the end though and I do think it’s one I may re read at some point (when I’m less tired) as I feel like I’ve missed some things that I’ll pick up on a second reading.
Overall therefore a wonderfully unique read that I’m glad I’ve read even if I found it a challenging read at times. I would recommend this to anyone but maybe wait till you can give it your full focus.