Review: This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

this is how you lose the time war amal el-mohtar max gladstoneRating: ★★★★★

Genres: Science Fiction, Literary Fiction


In This is How You Lose the Time War, Red is fighting the war on the side of the Commandant. She is the most lethal agent and is used to winning. The only one who could possibly beat her is Blue,an agent working for the Garden, and Red knows her signature well. As they try to sabotage each other’s mission, and send taunting letters to each other, the unthinkable happens: Red and Blue start to bond. No one must know of this treason. And yet, how could they ever survive it?

This gorgeous work of science fiction is one of my favorite reads of this year. On one side you have Red, part of a world that belongs in a space opera, created to be a machine, unfeeling and lethal, a weapon in the time war. On the other there is Blue, who was grown by the Garden and is sophisticated, subtle, but equally deadly. Jumping from one moment in history to the next, and going through myths, stars and long forgotten strands in time, they change history to turn the tide of the war to their favor.

They start writing letters to each other, and slowly find themselves falling in love with the other, unlearning prejudices from each side and finding beautiful, creative ways to send letters that their superiors can never know about. A letter to be burned before read, a seed, a feather. A lot of this book reads like this: a flash of scene of their last mission (sinking Atlantis, killing troops, assassinating a politician) and a letter found. For fans of hard sci-fi and thrillers it will be a difficult book to recommend, and in fact the writing is so lyrical, and the plot rather slow, that it’s easier to recommend this book for literary fiction fans than sci-fi fans in my opinion.

This is a subtle book, to be savored word by word. I had a bit of a difficult time in the first chapters until I got used to the writing style, and to jumping from one scene to the next without too much world building or context. You get used to it as the book goes on, but I think it’s good for the reader to know not to expect a very clearly explained world, or how the time travelling works. You get crumbles of information here and there, and by the end you have a picture of what the world looks like, how it works, but this book rewards patience and careful reading. I look forward to re-reading this and catching on details I missed the first time around.

8 thoughts on “Review: This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

    • It’s so good I’m still crying about it!! But I think it’s a difficult book to recommend. Not only scifi time travel adventure, not only literary, not only romance, not only historical fiction, I thought it was brilliant… but a bit “too much” for most readers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, it’s hard to look at all of those genres and elements and not feel a bit overwhelmed, but I usually really like books that do something totally unique/different and it sounds like it fits that bill! So I’m perhaps still on the fence, but I’ll definitely be keeping this one on my radar in case a good opportunity to check it out comes along!


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