The cover of This is How You Lose the Time War.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is an adult literary science fiction novella. It’s focused on two secret agents, Red and Blue, from opposing organizations who wish to control the timeline. Or, many timelines. There are oodles of parallel threads of time that the agents move around, tweaking and prodding so events eventually turn in their organization’s favor. They touch on Victorian England, Genghis Khan era East Asia, the far future, and even the far past with dinosaurs. It’s mostly in epistolary style (aka letters) between Red and Blue, with some short scenes of discovering the letters—which are often anything but ink on paper—in between.
The story was well done. Classic opposing spies falling in love, with the time travel twist. The literary wording was beautiful and the plot was clear enough to follow, though it certainly made you work to piece things together. It was also a short read, as a novella.
The downside is that sometimes the literary prose ran purple for me—but of course, this is a subjective opinion. The book also rarely described how the characters or even places looked in those rare scenes between letters, so I had trouble picturing them. I’ll also be honest and say I didn’t get the romance between the main characters. There wasn’t enough interaction between Red and Blue for me to feel the sparks, but this is often a problem I have with romance-via-letters stories.
Overall, this was a well written book and I see why it’s won so many awards and so much praise. Alas, it was just not my taste, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see it being someone else’s. It’s for you if you love a literary bent on your reading, if you are into science fiction spies, and if you’re into time travel stories. It’s not for you if you’re looking for epic romance, traditional prose storytelling, or less literary/flowery writing.
Have you read This is How You Lose the Time War? How about other time travel novellas? Do you love literary or do you want an author to just cut to the chase? Let’s discuss in the comments!