THE PLOT: ‘This Is How You Lose the Time War’ by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is a literary sci-fi novella. Mostly told in an epistolary format, two futuristic super-agents known as Red and Blue send letters to each other through different strands in time. It is implied that these rivals come from different futures (Red comes from a future where computers reign whereas Blue comes from a future where the natural world is prized) and they routinely go into the past to change the outcome of history. This results in different strands of time (aka multiverse theory). However, what starts as rivals taunting each other develops into an epic love story.
RATING: This is such a hard book to rate but I’m giving it three and a half stars. I really admire what the authors have created and this book feels unique yet, ironically, timeless. It’s the ultimate enemies to lovers; Romeo and Juliet somehow simultaneously set in the past and future. I particularly loved the chapters in Atlantis, Victorian(?) London and pre-colonial America, and felt most connected to this book in the historical elements. However, I think it might have been too much of a love story for my taste as I wanted to learn more about how the warring factions developed and less about their relationship. I’d definitely recommend this book to others because it’s incredibly sophisticated work of literature. However, I’m just a bit basic and would’ve preferred this to be an action movie rather than a love story.
GOOD BITS: I love innovative novels and the structure of this book intrigued and delighted me. Both authors are very skilled as they use an extremely clever epistolary technique while hitting key story beats to create a satisfying narrative. In particular, I enjoyed how the story tied together at the end. I also like how this is a book that makes you think about philosophy, the world and our place in it. For a while, I didn’t really know what was happening but I’m glad I stuck it out and went along for the ride.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: This is totally a matter of personal taste but as the letters evolved into flowery prose declaring undying love, I became bored. TBH, I would’ve rather seen more “robots duelling it out in the future” than “star-crossed lovers”. I think the heart of my problem is that the love story feels a little bit rushed and pointless. During the book, the constant manipulation of time by both factions just results in endless versions of history. Therefore, the war is unending because the universe and timelines are infinite. So, in my opinion, their love didn’t really matter… because life doesn’t really matter… Yes, this book is a mindfuck.
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘The Starless Sea’ by Erin Morgenstern, ‘Earthlings’ by Sayaka Murata and ‘The Time Machine’ by H.G. Wells. I think it will appeal to readers of literary fiction who like philosophical themes, rather than straight down the line sci-fi fans.
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