This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This review was originally posted at Goodreads and imported here later on with next to no spell/grammar checking.
This is a book that seemingly everyone in my circle either read and really liked or plans to read.
There are two factions fighting a war across time. Each keeps sending their agents to make changes that tip the scale to their side and undo the work of the enemy agents.
Which is all well and good and stalematey until the best agent on one side (codename: Blue) sends a letter to the her counterpart (codename: Red). And a correspondence develops. And with it, a relationship.
The book is quite short with each chapter (also generally quite short) describing one of the agents mission up to the point where it ends and they discover and read the next letter. The next chapter follows the other agent.
It’s an extremely simple concept, but it feels fresh and it works really well. The letters are amazing. As soon as the first one popped up, full of braziness, taunting, snark, I was hooked completely.
The prose between the letters is mainly about mood setting. Don’t expect any deep technology dives. It’s more flowery and a little vague on purpose. You’ll get the feel for the world and the mission.
It reminds me a little of the City novel by Clifford D. Simak. In the prose, the vagueness, the mystery. The contrasts between what’s happening and what’s written. The fact that the book could have been written in any decade/any century.
But it all comes down to the correspondence here. The book is written by two authors (Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone) and each wrote one of the agents. This gives each character their own glorious personality. Blue’s cockyness and teasing. In contrast with Red’s uncertain, clumsy responses.
In the last five years or so, I’ve been sending written letters (as no other form communication is possible) and a lot of Red’s self-consciousness and awkwardness hit’s really close.
The entire book is a delightfully wild ride. Perfectly paced and well-suited to be consumed in one sitting. I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly from the beginning all the way to the end without a single complaint.
I absolutely recommend picking up the audiobook version if you can. The two narrators make the Red and Blue’s personalities come alive.