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

“I want to meet you in every place I have loved. I don’t know how it’s done between such as us, Red. But I can’t wait to find out together.”

This Is How You Lose the Time War is at its core lyrical and poetic, telling an intricate and delicately crafted love story between individuals on opposing sides of a time war. This is a story of forbidden love that is expertly and beautifully weaved through a whole multitude of timelines, and a deliberately abstract, vague and poetic tone indicates that perhaps the whole novel is effectively a love letter. The subsequent love that is depicted in this love letter is one that is incredibly complex; it is about longing, desire, and survival of a situation that seems doomed from the start. This makes for a truly beautiful novella, and though it is not for everyone and is not without its faults, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As mentioned above this is a story of desperate love and desire, and so it logically follows that this love be the key focus of the novel. This blooming romance took such prominence as to make for a lack of anything else; the love was all consuming, and so it consumes the entirety of the narrative. This is perhaps best seen in the lack of focus on any character that is not Red or Blue– though others are mentioned, the authors make the deliberate decision to not linger, barely focusing on them at all. This made for a dynamic and romance that I couldn’t help but become consumed by, willingly losing myself to the blooming relationship that desperately sought to defy all odds and succeed in the face of adversity.

That said, there was a small yet persistent nagging within me that desperately wished for more regarding the world building and background of the conflict that took root in this reality. Here is where I am torn, for I loved the all consuming nature of the romance but there was a part of me that wished for another novel in which there would be further development of a war that, at its core, was about environment vs. technology, but in which both are presented as having a capacity for brutality that renders neither inherently good/ bad. However, I can’t help but feel that my wish for this to be implemented in a book separate from this one indicates that this book served its purpose as it is, and this is something that wasn’t absolutely needed.

Returning to the idea of love letters, one of my favorite aspects of the novel was it being a largely epistolary tale. This novel was structured so that we not only saw the actions of the characters, but we also gained an intimate insight into the developing relationship between them. The means by which these individuals from opposing sides of the war gave their letters to one another had to be incredibly subtle; sometimes through a bee sting, and sometimes through the rings of trees and the pellets from owls. This became an aspect of the novel that was poetic and touching in its depiction of devotion through each character’s patience and willingness to spend so long crafting letters that would reach its recipient years later. The prose that accompanied these letters was in no way a hindrance to this love story, instead allowing the reader to visit a multitude of places and events in history, and allowing an insight into the ways subtle differences in huge historical events can impact the future of multiple dimensions. This made for an overall structure that, alongside the prose, left me in complete awe!

The prose used is perhaps the most distinct aspect of this novel and for good reason! Though at first it was quite jarring and evoked a disorientation that was aided by the ‘in medias res’ nature of the opening, the prose became something that I slowly took delight in coming to understand. Though it was extremely flowery, sometimes in a way that felt a little unnecessary, I can’t imagine this novel being written in any other way. It was vague in its metaphors and long- winded descriptions but this was something that was intentional. The story begins to feel almost dream- like and vaguely confused, which oddly became an aspect that I absolutely loved. I can understand that for many this prose remains an issue, but for me personally it worked in creating an abstract yet powerful tale of forbidden love.

Overall, this was a novel that I was unsure of at first, but was one that slowly but surely won me over! It is not a novel that I would recommend to absolutely anyone; if you dislike vagueness and flowery prose, or if you’re expecting more of a sci- fi element, then I would perhaps hesitate in recommending this one to you. If, however, you like those aspects of a novel, then I would highly recommend reading this! I feel that it will be on my mind for a long time, and is definitely a novel I’ll have to pick up again!


“And what we’ve done will stand, no matter how they weave the world against us. It’s done now, and forever.”

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