“I wish sometimes I could be less fierce with you. No- I feel sometimes like I ought to want to be less fierce with you.”
Rating: 5 stars
It is so unusual for me to give a romance story five stars, and while This Is How You Lose the Time War is also a time-travel sci-fi novella it is definitely a romance book. But I’ve also never read a romance novel quite so compelling as this. The story premise is simple, and beautiful. Red is part of the Agency, and Blue is part of the Garden. They are on opposite sides of the time war, working against each other to travel through time and alter events to sway the war to their sides’ advantage. The Garden are all natural, growing their agents from a seed, and the Agency are mechanical, technological. By all accounts Red and Blue are in direct opposition, and they begin to leave taunting letters for each other that slowly develop into something more.
For such a short novel, only 200 pages, This Is How You Lose The Time War feels timeless and endless. The story stretches thousands and thousands of years, all lived in the wrong order. I’m a sucker for epistolary at the best of times and this book is the best of times. The way that Red and Blue talk to each other feels so real, even in a setting that is wild and unrecognisable, and a lot of that is due to El-Mohtar and Gladstone’s impressive writing. This book is a future classic, and I know that already because I found myself carefully putting sticky tabs to mark beautifully written passages as if I was still studying English Literature and prepping for an exam. I would love to write an exam on this book, actually, because I could talk about the symbolism and the parallels for days. It’s a book that I can imagine myself coming back to over and over on a quiet afternoon to read in one sitting and gorge myself on their words.
At the crux of it, this book made me feel love-sick, and I’m aromantic. If that doesn’t tell you how well written it was, nothing will. I fell in love with both women, and in love with their love, and like they carved out a space to hide their letters, I’m carving out a space in my heart to hide the post-war future I’m dreaming of for them.