This is How You Lose the Time War is filled with more hope and emotion than you’d think you could get in a 200 page book, but every word is sheer perfection and every moment of reading is spent in a kind of desperate longing and despair that culminates in the perfect twist.
Rating: 5 Stars
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is the kind of story that is very rare and very precious. At times it is a cat and mouse game of two enemy combatants. Other times, a look at humanity’s war machine. But it is always about hope. Hope to win the day. Hope to find peace in one you love. Hope that you can beat a system that has kept you down your whole life.
I will be honest, I went into this novella without even reading the synopsis. As a Doctor Who fan, the phrase “Time War” was enough to draw me in, but there was also the recommendation of some book people I trust. And I think going in blind is perhaps the best way to go about reading this unique story (Which is why I didn’t put the full synopsis in the beginning of this post like normal). So, maybe, if you haven’t read the book yet, stop here. While there won’t be any spoilers, I also don’t want to rob anyone the joy of wonder as they watch the story unfold in it’s most beautiful way.
Red and Blue are on opposite sides of a nameless time war. Both the best of their faction, they begin to taunt each other through a series of uniquely delivered letters, scattered through time. But if their correspondence is discovered it could mean death for them both. And in the shadows lurks an ever present threat that changes everything for past, present,and future of Red and Blue.
The aforementioned letters are the best part of this story. Starting from snarky taunts, then growing into heart wrenching discovery, the letters bring us into the minds and hearts of two time traveling soldiers, fighting a war that never ends. Red and Blue are two very different creatures, yet through their correspondence, we see how they grow and how they compliment each other. As the story progressed, I found myself longing to read a new letter in the same way the characters did.
The story between the letters was equally fascinating, if not nearly as emotional. While the war and the factions of each side always felt nebulous and vague, it worked for the story that was being told. Big nameless governments controlling wars with the sacrifice of the individuals, not unlike the wars being fought in our time. Speaking of time, let’s talk about the time travel. Not to go all Whovian on you, but this story is very timey-wimey. Red and Blue skip through time and realities through Strands. While very rarely specifying the era they are trying to evoke, the author subtly paint a hundred different versions of our reality with the grave of a master artist. We never see the end result, only vague mentions of victories or defeats from either side of the war. Part of me wanted more background information, but that’s not what this story is.
It’s been a long time since a book has hit me this hard in my emotions. While it didn’t make me cry, my standard gauge of book enjoyment, this story has woven itself into me. I keep finding myself thinking of Red and Blue, skipping through time, leaving letters for each other and then twisting in anticipation for their next discovery of correspondence. This is How You Lose the Time War was the first book I read in 2020, and I can say with almost perfect certainty, it will remain my favorite read of this year.