Book Review: This Is How You Lose the Time War

There is a war going on; isn't there always? And all is fair in war. This war takes place throughout all of history, both past and future. There are two factions. To keep it simple, let’s call one faction the Agency and the other the Garden. Each faction has a host of highly trained agents acting to try to make their preferred version of the future come to pass by altering specific points along the time line. Some agents are the best of the best, the James Bonds of their particular trade.

This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, is about two of these elite agents, Red and Blue, from competing factions. Red works for the Agency and is tasked with bringing about a time line that will ensure the existence of the Agency’s high-tech future, and Blue works for the Garden and is trying her hardest to promote a history that will result in the Garden’s Edenic and organic future. Are you with me so far? Good; now it gets complicated.

It seems that Red and Blue, who are mortal enemies locked in actual and existential combat throughout all of time, have come to admire each other’s work. This novel is their story as told through their letters.

Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mohtar have written a revolutionary new science fiction novel using the grand old traditional structure of the epistolary novel, and it is the best example of the form I have read since Emma Bull and Steven Brust wrote Freedom and Necessity more than 20 years ago. It is a grand and sweeping novel of intrigue, temporal paradoxes, war, and philosophy with a huge sense of fun and clearly written with a Byronesque and Austen-like Romantic sensibility.

The language walks the line between prose and poetry beautifully, and the plot is intricately designed and well carried out. The characters, though referred to only by the names Red and Blue, are fully realized beings, representing the motivations of both their respective factions and their innermost selves. I loved it, and Amal and Max are to be congratulated on this literary achievement.

Oh, and did I mention it is fun? Because it is. Very! I found it a pure joy to read, and it has stuck with me to the point that I still find myself thinking about it now and again a couple of months later.

This Is How You Lose the Time War releases on July 16, 2019, but you can buy it on July 14 here at Pandemonium as part of our multiauthor post-Readercon event.


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