Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone – This is How You Lose the Time War (Jo Fletcher Books, 2019)
A stylish little adventure. A perfect lazy afternoon read. Highly recommended.
Thankfully, it ends just how we think it will. Because the best thing about time travel narratives is that, as we know right from the start, they will always come right in the end.
Such a forbidden love can only blossom for so long, however, and soon Red and Blue’s respective agencies are closing in. Now we’re double-crossing and triple-crossing all across time.
It will come as no surprise to learn that, as in Ovid, physical transformations produce psychic transformations. Rivalry begets alliance, hate begets love.
All this change keeps things fresh. It has a classical sensibility to it, reminiscent of Ovid. We come to think of the characters as Gods.
Such unity is appreciated, especially when we realise that the time travellers are capable of transformations too. A Victorian gentlewoman one minute and an advisor to Genghis Khan the next. It’s a thrill just trying to keep up.
The prose is stylish, punchy, even poetic. It helps to tie together what could otherwise become disparate. There is an impressive unity of voice between the two writers. On a narrative level, it brings our time travellers closer together too.
You can imagine Amal sitting down to her emails and opening up a fresh chapter from Max. After a moment to process the adventure, she writes an in-character letter, commenting on what she’s read, before setting out to write an even more shocking, even more surprising chapter in response.
Some stories are made for two authors. The back and forth of Red and Blue, outwitting, ambushing, undermining, predicting and pre-empting each other, is witty and surprising in a way that a single-authored piece could never be.
After the next chapter, they’ll write back.
Each chapter gives us another historical scene. After completing their mission, the character finds a letter from their nemesis. They’ve once again been anticipated. They are infuriated, but nevertheless impressed.
The war has been going on for decades (whatever that means in a time war). We enter it just as one agent decides to leave a taunting message for the other. This provokes retaliation, but it also opens a dialogue. And so our narrative begins.
Time is broken into numbered strands and the time agents hop across them. It’s a game of cat and mouse, Red makes one move only to find Blue has already anticipated her, and vice versa.
This is How You Lose the Time War is a time-travel story. Two agents, Red and Blue, travel through time influencing events, planting seeds, sometimes killing, in the hope that this will place their forces in a better position to win their war in the future.
– Joe Darlington