Reviewed by Meghan Vermeer
When I first picked up This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, I thought it sounded interesting because I had never read a book about a time war. After the first few pages, I began to see that I was in way over my head with such a futuristic setting, but I kept reading because, well, I didn’t have anything else to do. What I found was a twisting story that captivated me with a unique style. By the time I was finished, I wanted to reread the entire book, searching for clues in the pages that pointed to the ending. If that isn’t a sign of a good book, I don’t know what is!
So what is this crazy book about? In a futuristic world where time travel is the norm, Red and Blue are two of the most sophisticated creatures the world has to offer. Red is basically a cyborg, groomed from the beginning to fight in the time war. Blue has also been trained from a young age for the war, but she lives in a more nature-focused realm. Each of them excels at their job, taking pride in the stealth and skill that they demonstrate as they manipulate time and trigger events in the past that will affect the future in some way. The two, while named similarly, find themselves on opposing sides of the war and quite evenly matched. Eventually, a correspondence of letters begins between the two. It is spiteful and taunting at first, as you might expect of enemies, but as the letters continue, the tone starts to shift.
One of the major themes found in this novel is that people can change. I don’t want to divulge too deeply (spoilers!), but over the course of the novel, both Red and Blue become different than they were in the beginning. Sometimes change is very negative, but this novel illustrates that change can be good, even if it means, as the title suggests, losing the time war.
The letter-writing style of this book reminds me of another. While it is completely different in genre, the letters remain the same. Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters by Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffith also tells the story about a friendship through the use of letters. Readers learn to love the characters through their words, similar to the way readers love the characters in This Is How You Lose the Time War.
The epistolary style of this novel was definitely something to get used to because I simply have not read very many books like this. However, once I got into the style, I found that reading the letters from characters allowed me to see the characters more deeply. I could read their thoughts and feelings. I would consider looking into more books written in this style because of this novel.
This Is How You Lose the Time War is also incredibly complex. Even though the book is only 208 pages, the authors create an entirely different world. It’s still Earth, but everything is so different. Often, it was a little hard to keep up and visualize what was going on, but by the end of the novel, I felt like I knew what was happening most of the time! I would have liked to see more explanation of certain things, but in a short novel, that can be difficult to do.
While the epistolary format of the book is a huge aspect, the futuristic setting is probably the most important part of the novel. For this reason, I recommend this book to people who like to read sci-fi and dystopian books. Several times throughout the novel, it seemed like a combination of every sci-fi/dystopian book or movie I had ever seen, all rolled up into one short novel. If that interests you, this would be a good book to add to your reading list, especially because the letters are so interesting! This Is How You Lose the Time War is a great novel that broadened my reading horizons by introducing me to new ideas and new styles.