This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. . 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. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war.
So, I really enjoyed a lot of this novel. I thought that plot and story were brilliant. Two agencies, fighting across time, with agents who subtly influence world events and fall in love? Amazing. It was really interesting to read about Red and Blue fighting in the war and their different tactics.
I also really enjoyed the letter format. Half the chapter will be about either Red or Blue, discovering the letter the other left for them. The other half of the chapter will be said letter. I’ve always liked letters in books, and it really worked in this one. I really liked the alternating format, too.
However, I hated the prose. It’s very flowery and dense. I actually think this book is really well-written. Flowery writing can often be over-written and self-indulgent, but El-Mohtar and Gladstone are really talented authors, so it never seemed over-written or self-indulgent. But it was too flowery for my taste. I’m a simple person, and I like simple writing. Because of the density, it took me over four days to read it despite this book being less than 200 pages. I could only read it in small amounts.
Additionally, Red and Blue didn’t have two distinct voices. I would be reading one of their letters, and I couldn’t tell who wrote the letter and who was reading it. Their voices were almost completely interchangeable. They both wrote in the same flowery, dense way.
I also wish there was some sort of ultimate goal of both sides. Both sides of the war are fighting to win the war, but what that entails or why they’re fighting or what the stakes are was never explored. So it made the action seem low-stakes, and it was hard for me to get invested in that. I know this book is character-focused rather than plot-focused, but even a little bit more plot would have made this book stronger, especially considering the characters were nearly completely interchangeable. You could make the argument that these aspects were choices by the authors, and that it was some comment on how war is pointless and the two sides are interchangeable and aren’t all that different from each other. But that was never explored in the book, or was in the slightest possible way. If you want to make that point, make it clear.
All in all, I definitely still recommend this book. I know a lot of people love flowery writing, and if you’re one of them, you would definitely love this book. It has such a great story and idea and was really well-written, it just didn’t work for me.
But those are just my thoughts! Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you plan on reading it? Let me know!