Nathan reviews This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, Saga Press, 2019, 209 pages (ebook)

I have never been one to give the romance genre much of a try, but I have wanted to change that for some time. I decided to aimlessly browse Goodreads for help. Something about this cover catches my eye, so I read the short introduction, which boasts an “unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions.” Battlefield taunting grows and develops into something immensely more. The novel has also won or been nominated for several science-fiction awards. I’m sold! This is my “romance” book to get me started.

Red and Blue leave one another quite creative letters, bragging about how one foiled another’s plan or recounting catching a glimpse of the other. With each new volley, the letters get longer and more intimate. These are not letters in the traditional sense either. Last I checked, USPS does not deliver through the different strands of time. Rather, these letters come in drastically inventive forms. One is even written in the rings of a tree! Imagine the patience and know-how for that one; a misspelled word would be a nightmare! In an age of app-based flirting, this is rather impressive and bizarrely intimate given the circumstances.

Upon the discovery of each of these letters, Red and Blue each seem flustered. Compared to their traditional calm, cool infiltrator agent mannerisms that so smoothly blend in, they practically buzz with anticipation and intrigue. With as much as there is to look forward to in the next letter, the when (a big thing for time-traveling saboteurs) and how is nearly as enticing. As the narrative progresses, the letters go from being cold and just trying to feel out the other to much more intimate and poetic, letting down the walls that so many years of training and missions had built. Despite the thrill and rush of each forbidden correspondence, an entity of potential danger lurks just a step behind each agent: the seeker.

From the very beginning, I was intrigued by this narrative. Usually when opening a new book, I know what to expect, but I am glad to say that I had no real clue what to expect with This Is How You Lose the Time War. I awaited the next turn anxiously, not knowing which feeling would fit the coming development. I could easily call this an emotional roller coaster, but I do not think the phrase fits well enough. The descriptive and poetic writing as well as just the way the story is told had me wholeheartedly invested from the beginning. This novella is a beautiful yet bizarre story.