This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal Eh-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

Song Pairing: “Linked” by Bonobo Listen Here / 2019 HELLO YELLOW REVIEWS PLAYLIST (Spotify) – Listen Here / 2019 HELLO YELLOW REVIEWS Playlist (Apple)

It’s hard to describe this book adequately without screaming at the top of my lungs, “This is what love is!” I’m going to do my best to justly review this thing without my hyperbolic fits, but describing mountains without awe is impossible, and this is the Swiss Alps of books.

Here’s the issue, the plot is kind of hard to describe. I tried to put it into words when friends asked, “Calm down, stop yelling at me about love, what’s the book actually about?” I would just end up gesticulating wildly and repeating, “It’s love letters throughout time!” which reduces this modern literary masterpiece to the 2006 romance-drama The Lake House (though that movie is delightful, because Keanu Reeves). 

So here’s my best shot: Red and Blue are on opposite sides of a time war. Two enemy factions (one more robot based, one more nature based) send soldiers into the field of time, called the braid. One faction sets a historical landmark in motion (example: saves a man from drowning who will one day father an important philosopher) and the other faction unwinds that butterfly effect (example: returns centuries before that man is born and murders his parents before they meet.) Neither side is described as good or bad, and we’re not privy as readers to their end goals. We just know it’s an endless war waged between factions who control destinies interwoven in time. 

While this war is being waged, Red finds a letter left for her by Blue, a sophisticated warrior from the other side. Their correspondence becomes a rebellious defiance of their factions. Each letter they send is hidden and woven into the fabric of time. Blue writes Red a letter embedded in thousands of years of tree rings, only revealed when the tree is chopped down to build boats in a siege. Red writes Blue a letter in tea leaves, read paragraph by paragraph in the rim of a teacup. Though their factions continue to battle, Red and Blue fall in love over histories of impossibly beautiful love letters. Red and Blue are both referred to by pronouns “she.” It’s being reviewed on Goodreads as a sapphic novel (hooray!), but I would argue it’s just simply about love, in the grand genderless sense of the word.

The novel is written from the perspective of all-knowing time jumpers, so the prose is very foreign to someone looking for a straight-laced Sci-Fi. Honestly, I couldn’t figure out what I was reading until about page 72. It’s what I’m telling people who are preparing to read the book—just hang on, don’t be dissuaded by the experimental language, it’ll all start to knit together. The prose will start to become clear, their episodes of time-weaving more methodical and fluid. It feels like an experiment in what literature can really be—anything. We forget, or maybe only I had forgotten, that mainstream genre and the structure of fiction can and SHOULD be defied. Creativity is not dead. Not every book has already been written, and not every story has already been told.  

I read This Is How You Lose The Time War in a day. I sobbed, I searched backward through the pages for hidden messages, I stared at the ceiling for a long time, contemplating the enormous emotions I was feeling. Then I started screaming, “This is what love is!”

Huge thanks to Bookish First for the pre-pub copy in exchange for an honest review. I cherish my ARC of this and I’ll be buying more copies when it releases July 16th, 2019.

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