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

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?

I received an ARC through Netgalley, courtesy of Quercus Books, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

From the moment Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone announced they were co-writing a novella, it immediately became one of my most anticipated SFF releases. I was dying to get this book, blurb unseen – because with these two authors, there was no doubt it would be amazing. And weird.

This is How You Lose the Time War is a love story – the star-crossed kind. Two enemy agents start an unlikely correspondance in the midst of a war through time. The messages are sent through improbable ways, each time a surprise for both the reader and the recipient. The tone is taunting, boasting at first, then it becomes flirty, then achingly beautiful.

It’s a study of contrasts: the horrors of an unending war, the beauty of a blossoming and fragile love. The playfulness of a new relationship, the tension of the outside world where they’re supposed to be mortal enemies. The fear, the wonder, the hope.

The setting is strange. Granted, saying “the setting is strange” when Gladstone and El-Mohtar are involved is very much like saying “water is wet”. There a mix of futuristic elements and a form of dark, fairytale-like magic which makes the reading experience unsettling. But at the same time, we’re grounded with familiar elements to pop culture and classical references. I got Blue by Eiffel 65 stuck in my head for days (thanks Amal, thanks Max…).

Both authors play to their strengths, which gives us this miracle of a book. Poetically nerdy, poignantly romantic. Surprising at every turn. I’ve never read anything like it, and I strongly suspect I never will again.

This is How you Lose the Time War releases on July 16th.

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