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This Is How You Lose the Time War Hardcover – July 16, 2019
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"This book has it all: treachery and love, lyricism and gritty action, existential crisis and space-opera scope, not to mention time traveling superagents. Gladstone's and El-Mohtar's debut collaboration is a fireworks display from two very talented storytellers." -- Madeline Miller, award-winning author of Circe
“Poetry, disguised as genre fiction. I read several sections out loud — this is prose that wants to be more than read. It wants to be heard and tasted.” -- Kelly Sue DeConnick, author of Captain Marvel
“An intimate and lyrical tour of time, myth and history, with a captivating conversation between characters—and authors. Read it.” -- New York Times bestselling author John Scalzi
“A time travel adventure that has as much humanity, grace, and love as it has temporal shenanigans, rewriting history, and temporal agents fighting to the death. Two days from now, you've already devoured it.” -- Ryan North, New York Times Bestselling and Eisner Award winning author of How To Invent Everything: A Survival Guide For The Stranded Time Traveler
"A twisting, sapphic time travel fantasy love story that never stops surprising: El-Mohtar and Gladstone have written the ultimate in enemies-to-lovers romance.”, Booklist, Starred Review
*"Exquisitely crafted... Part epistolary romance, part mind-blowing science fiction adventure, this dazzling story unfolds bit by bit, revealing layers of meaning as it plays with cause and effect, wildly imaginative technologies, and increasingly intricate wordplay. El-Mohtar and Gladstone pack their narrative full of fanciful ideas and poignant moments, weaving a tapestry stretching across the millennia and through multiple realities that’s anchored with raw emotion and a genuine sense of wonder. This short novel warrants multiple readings to fully unlock its complexities. , Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Seditious and seductive, lush and lustrous, allusive and elusive, THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR is one of those rare stories where one struggles to decide whether to heap more praise upon its clever structure and prose or its brilliant ideas and characters.”
—Ken Liu, author of The Grace of Kings and The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories
Tenderness, danger, daring, wit — Time War has them all... In other words, these pages are strewn with myriad delights. -- Nisi Shawl
About the Author
Max Gladstone is the author of the Hugo-nominated Craft Sequence, which Patrick Rothfuss called “stupefyingly good.” The sixth book, Ruin of Angels, was released September 2017. Max’s interactive mobile game Choice of the Deathless was nominated for the XYZZY Award, and his critically acclaimed short fiction has appeared on Tor and in Uncanny Magazine, and in anthologies such as XO Orpheus: Fifty New Myths and The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. John Crowley described Max as “a true star of 21st-century fantasy.” Max has sung in Carnegie Hall and was once thrown from a horse in Mongolia.
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This book basically follows two agents from rival sides in a war across time as they communicate with each other, becoming closer with each letter.
Most of the letters are very uniquely presented, whether in tea leaves, or lava from an erupting volcano about to engulf Atlantis, and so on and so forth. They are in different periods of time, or places on Earth, some of which only happened in some times, and some of which did actually occur in our own timeline, and Red, an agent of The Agency, and Blue, an agent of Garden, always just miss each other, or are observed from afar by the other.
Red and Blue are both strange and interesting people. They are human, or, at least humanoid (most of the time. At least one of them is a shapeshifter, you see). Both female, and both either genetically modified and grown, decanted, and heavily modified with cybernetic implants.
So, it is obviously super unique, and it was, in fact, unlike anything I’ve ever read in my life. Seeing these two women get closer and closer, and their letters get more and more intimate as the book goes on was really, really enthralling. The letters were absolutely stunningly written (but then, so were the parts between them), and I was clamoring for the next one and the next one as the book went on.
There were times that I would have literally no idea what was going on, but, and this is going to sound odd, but stay with me here… it was all part of the experience.
“What is the value of pi to sixty-two decimals?”
“‘The sedge is withered from the lake, / And no birds sing.'”
A fistful of snow skitters across Siri’s face. “If train A leaves Toronto at six p.m. travelling east at one hundred kilometers an hour, and train B leaves Ottawa at seven p.m. travelling west at one hundred twenty kilometers per hour, when will they cross?”
“‘Lo! the spell now works around thee, / And the clankless chain hath bound thee; / O’er thy heart and brain together / Hath the word been pass’d—now wither!'”
This is only part of the scene, but what is basically happening here, is that Blue is responding to mathematical problems by quoting famous poems (Keats and Lord Byron in this case).
But I have no idea why! There is no explanation to why poetry is the solution to math problems in these riddles, only that they are, and that’s just how it is. And at first, I will admit that I stumbled on it, haaard. “What the fffuu-” said I, at first. But I shrugged it off as a weird book being weird and continued on reading. When I finished, and started writing this review, I looked up that quote on my kindle again and was like ‘Heh… awesome.” like it wasn’t the most random event ever. It was just… part of the whole.
So this book isn’t going to be for everyone, but it was certainly for me, in the end, even if I had to take a bit of time in the beginning to really get my bearings on what exactly was happening. I really enjoyed this book, but like I have no idea why poetry solves math, I have no idea what it was about it (other than the beautiful writing, good gods) that captured me and wouldn’t let me go. But that’s what happened.
Thanks to the authors, as well as Saga Press via NetGalley for the review copy.
Time War tells the story of Blue and Red, two agents who are on opposite sides of the titular time war, a temporal battle that finds them traveling on the strands of time through history and place. From the myriad Atlantises that Red despises to the perfect London Blue loves and to which other Londons can only aspire, we travel with these two agents and read letters that begin as taunts but which evolve into the deepest of bonds- love and respect. Red, in all her earnest lethality, is enriched (infiltrated? flipped?) by Blue's appreciation of the niceties of tea, honey, fine writing paper, scented ink, and her philosophical approach to a war that rapidly becomes secondary to their obsessive relationship with one another. Red and Blue are in some ways trapped in the battle between the technotopia known as the Agency, and the vast organic consciousness known as the Garden, having to cover their tracks to obscure their growing bond and their growing questions about what winning the time war would really mean. What if winning a war could cost you everything you care about most? Where do their loyalties lie? Can they find a way to game the system they are entangled in, and change the paradigm of their leaders' respective wars? Is there a way to win?
Full of deft writing, terrible puns, love, heartbreak, and hope, This is How You Lose the Time War is a beautiful novella, unlike anything I've ever read. It's going to receive great acclaim and a slew of award nominations, as it deserves.
I received a Digital Review Copy and a paper review copy from Saga Press in exchange for an honest review.
Top international reviews
Then it just clicked into place just after halfway through. The words were spun in such a way that kept me reading, long past times when I should have stopped. A finale so perfect that not to have read it would have been a crime in itself.
I loved this book. The characters were perfect as they fell in love through ingeniously created letters to each other; the traps, the Shadow, just all of it.
It's difficult to know how a book will grab you at the end. Had this book been longer, I might have stopped reading it. I'm glad I didn't, and I would certainly recommend you read it.
For the way this book caught me in the second half, I would have awarded five stars, "but I reserve a star, to encourage reach exceeding grasp."
The main positive I found was the stunning prose. I have never read a more beautifully written book. It reads like poetry, like Shakespeare. The words ooze from the page like a meandering river of molten gold. For that alone I can recommend this book to at least experience this! The descriptions just make you feel good, the effect the same as looking at a beautiful painting or a sunset over the ocean.
The problem is, the abundance of flowery language can border on whimsical and pretentious, especially when prioritised at the expense of the plot. Eventually it becomes exhausting and overbearing. I found myself becoming frustrated with the lack of focus on the story and subsequently not appreciating the beauty of the prose.
On the plot, for the first half of the book at least, it feels pretty vague. Where in most stories the plot is at least in part a driving force, it feels more of an afterthought here, more of a “how can we fit a story around the interactions of these two characters and base it on time travel?” It is a backdrop for the story of the two characters’ developing relationship, which is the only thing looked at in detail.
The time travelling aspect for example, which was one of the main marketing sells, wasn’t explored in any depth. There was even a point where an Apatosaurus (a genus of Sauropod – not one of the dinosaur groups theorised to have feathers) was described as “ruffling its feathers” which suggests that the time travel wasn’t taken all that seriously. There was no real explanation into how it worked, what the agents were doing exactly or what the characters of Red and Blue were really trying to achieve (other than playing their part in the minimally described war between the Garden and the Agency in influencing and guiding their preferred version of history.) These historical and future events could have been explored to add more substance to the book, especially given in the synopsis the characters are apparently “hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions.” Within the space of about 5 letters they seem to have disregarded the importance of this war and their role within it, consumed by their blossoming romance. Despite this, the romance is a plus point in many ways and it is enjoyable to witness a mutual intelligence and appreciation for the nuances of life drive two opposing agents towards one another. It is at times heartwarming, and heart wrenching, and you do definitely feel a strong desire to see Red and Blue find happiness and a solution to their situation.
The series of letters, which is what most of the book consists of, is a novel technique and certainly has its merits. It does stop it reading like a traditional novel/novella though which may affect the feeling of immersion for some readers. As mentioned above this also limits the worldbuilding or overall depth of the story and world this is taking place in. It’s certainly possible that the authors never intended to do much worldbuilding or give much information about the world, clearly choosing to focus on the characters. For me personally, I just couldn’t fully enjoy it due to an enticing and intriguing time travel war only being a backdrop to the story. If you don’t care about the events or the Time War so much as this character relationship told within it, this could be a 5 star read for you. And for those who don’t mind a divergence from the story but are looking for a page turner, after the 50% mark, it does get more exciting and more things do actually happen in the story. Just don’t expect a great deal of focus on anything past the love of the two characters or for their thoughts to be on anything but the other one of them.
For readers looking for the ‘fast paced’ ‘tour through time,’ ‘science fiction adventure’ described in this book’s description, you’d probably be better looking elsewhere.
For centuries, Blue and Red have clashed as their respective sides - Garden and Commandant - battle over the right to shape the future from by rearranging the past. Not that time means very much to a time traveller, of course. Blue and Red have met many times and in a long and wearying war, something new begins to grow between them. An enmity which blossoms into wary admiration and then in to something more. Of course they must hide their connection because discovery would mean annihilation for both of them. This is an enemies to lovers story that transcends form, gender, background and even time itself. It's beautiful and lyrical. I found it utterly compulsive. I imagine the literary bent of the story will mean that it won't be for everyone - it does pay you the compliment of expecting you to be able to keep up for a start. It's well worth persevering because the rewards of that ending are just *chef's kiss*
Highly recommend. A stunning sci-fi time travel romance that isn't the least bit soft. (The audiobook is also excellent.)
Anyway, the main plot is about time travel, two different authorities sending agents into the timeline to mess with things in the hope that they'll come out on top. Two particular agents, referred to as Red and Blue all the way through the novella, start a correspondence alongside their efforts to mess with each other's plans and end up falling in love. That's a very bare bones recital of a much more twisty plotline that really can't be explained without spoiling the whole thing.
In the end, I think for me the problem I had was that I liked the time travel aspect but really couldn't care less about the romance storyline, and then the whole thing was told in language that was at points intentionally opaque. If I wanted verbiage I needed to untangle, I'd stick to literary fiction, so I'm really not the audience for this novella. Best of luck to both authors, whose individual works I've really enjoyed, but this book just makes me have to work way too hard and I'm not here for that.
This is How You Lose the Time War follows two spies, Red and Blue, of warring time factions, chasing each other along the braids of life. What starts as a boastful correspondence, soon turns to understanding, and then so much more. What starts out as funny soon turns beautiful, then heart-wrenching.⠀
This science fiction novella is divided between chapters from Red and Blue's POVs and the letters they send each other through creative means -- I think the seal and the goose are my favourites, though the latter makes me cry.⠀
The prose is absolutely stunning, and you can see the poet's touch in it. I kept turning back to reread particularly beautiful sentences, none of which I will type here or I'll start sobbing. I think this ultimately will be what gets the novel into the hands of non science fiction readers -- fans of literary fiction will find much to like.⠀
I love it so much that as soon as I finished it, I put it back on my TBR pile, and immediately bought the audiobook so I can listen to my favourite bits whenever I can. ⠀
This is a beautiful little novelette, flicking between viewpoints, with the letters acting as buffers. There's an easy lyricism and rhythm to the writing. This is a book of mood and feeling, rather than action, so the writing style really pushes the book on, so that the pages just flow. I wouldn't want every book to be like this, but I am really pleased this one exists
If I had to criticise at all I can only say that the powerful sense of inevitability about the core of the story works against the drama - but perhaps that was just me projecting madly :)
My only complaint as such is I think some of the novel descends into abstract description and I personally would have preferred to dwell on exactly what the limitations of the characters were, if any. That part I found hard to picture. Maybe if this were a novel and not a novella that would be possible; wordcount is a constraint here.
But it is a minor complaint and not nearly enough to stop me loving the book.
Loved the interweaving across the time lines and how different universes have different perspectives on historical items or how shoes changed from tragedies or comedies. The story is well written and the journey back and forth through time was well thought out.
Would recommend and it was book for our sci- fi
Setting: time war
Characters: 2 agents / warriors of the opposing sides of the war
Plot: These 2 agents meet as they go against each other in this time war. They start to leave letters to taunt each other. But! Through their letters, they get to know each other - and fall in love.
The writing in these short 200 pages is superb. The idea, the execution, the grace in this slow dance and then wild chase. The structure of the book follows the same patter through the book and gives a familiar tempo, which helped me focus on the beautiful prose and on the emotions.
This futuristic, F/F Romeo & Juliet is among the best books I've read in 2019 and one I will reread.
I was so drawn into the world of their time braids that after reading the last page I became a time traveller myself and immediately returned to the first page to reread it - not because I skimmed it in haste the first time but to enjoy again the intricacy of the tapestry and the many references and word tricks in the letters.