This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This Is How You Lose the Time War is an incredible, intricately composed story of two rival agents, Red and Blue, going forwards and backwards millennia in time repeatedly trying to undo and outmanoeuvre each other’s attempts to win an endless war. The book is a masterclass in quality over quantity; without exaggeration it can be said that every line is important and beautifully written. Elegant to the point of poetry, sentences often end up being read multiple times. The reader can easily find themselves just enjoying each intricately alluring sentence before realising they’ve ignored the plot for paragraphs at a time. At only 200 pages, the time to read easily equals that of a traditional 400-page novel when the reader is almost forced to slow down and savour each word.

As is reflective of the characters’ personalities themselves, there is no hand holding here in any aspect of the storytelling. The epistolary structure is set up through increasingly intricate means that do not need to be understood to be enjoyed. The lore is vaguely teased out when one agent happens to find it necessary to preclude a taunt with some context. And the time travel system is not forgotten but rather scoffed at. There are mentions here and there of how time is braided together, reminiscent of Red and Blue, two lines of a helix pattern that never meet, but the mechanics are unimportant, not even given the formality of a brief explanation.

Ultimately, the book is truly a unique experience in and of itself. Incapable of being described in the format of ‘x meets y’, it is wholly and truly its own thing. It is bizarre and different and unclear and exceedingly original. This Is How You Lose the Time War may not be for everyone, but it is objectively something individual and undeniably breathtaking.

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