Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

36516585That’s a mouthful! ^_^ I had been hearing about this book for a while before it popped up on NetGalley. Just the authors alone made me interested in it, but the premise sounded so interesting that when it did finally show up for request, I was all over it!

So, thanks to the authors, as well as Saga Press via NetGalley for the review copy.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more.

Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

Red rarely sleeps, but when she does, she lies still, eyes closed in the dark, and lets herself see lapis, taste iris petals and ice, hear a blue jay’s shriek. She collects blues and keeps them.

This book is absolutely beautifully written, for starters. It’s also often indescribably weird… but not in a bad way. Not at all.

This book basically follows two agents from rival sides in a war across time as they communicate with each other, becoming closer with each letter.

Most of the letters are very uniquely presented, whether in tea leaves, or lava from an erupting volcano about to engulf Atlantis, and so on and so forth. They are in different periods of time, or places on Earth, some of which only happened in some times, and some of which did actually occur in our own timeline, and Red, an agent of The Agency, and Blue, an agent of Garden, always just miss each other, or are observed from afar by the other.

Red and Blue are both strange and interesting people. They are human, or, at least humanoid (most of the time. At least one of them is a shapeshifter, you see). Both female, and both either genetically modified and grown, decanted, and heavily modified with cybernetic implants.

So, it is obviously super unique, and it was, in fact, unlike anything I’ve ever read in my life. Seeing these two women get closer and closer, and their letters get more and more intimate as the book goes on was really, really enthralling. The letters were absolutely stunningly written (but then, so were the parts between them), and I was clamoring for the next one and the next one as the book went on.

There were times that I would have literally no idea what was going on, but, and this is going to sound odd, but stay with me here… it was all part of the experience.


“What is the value of pi to sixty-two decimals?”

“‘The sedge is withered from the lake, / And no birds sing.'”

A fistful of snow skitters across Siri’s face. “If train A leaves Toronto at six p.m. travelling east at one hundred kilometers an hour, and train B leaves Ottawa at seven p.m. travelling west at one hundred twenty kilometers per hour, when will they cross?”

“‘Lo! the spell now works around thee, / And the clankless chain hath bound thee; / O’er thy heart and brain together / Hath the word been pass’d—now wither!'”

This is only part of the scene, but what is basically happening here, is that Blue is responding to mathematical problems by quoting famous poems (Keats and Lord Byron in this case).

But I have no idea why! There is no explanation to why poetry is the solution to math problems in these riddles, only that they are, and that’s just how it is. And at first, I will admit that I stumbled on it, haaard. “What the fffuu-” said I, at first. But I shrugged it off as a weird book being weird and continued on reading. When I finished, and started writing this review, I looked up that quote on my kindle again and was like ‘Heh… awesome.” like it wasn’t the most random event ever. It was just… part of the whole.

So this book isn’t going to be for everyone, but it was certainly for me, in the end, even if I had to take a bit of time in the beginning to really get my bearings on what exactly was happening. I really enjoyed this book, but like I have no idea why poetry solves math, I have no idea what it was about it (other than the beautiful writing, good gods) that captured me and wouldn’t let me go. But that’s what happened. 4.5/5 stars!


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