✨ Spoiler Free ✨
Publication year: 2019
Content warnings: War, violence, animal killings and self-harm.
This is How You Lose the Time War follows Red and Blue, two agents on opposing sides of a time war. When they begin exchanging letters, a profound relationship develops between them which neither could’ve predicted taking them from enemies to lovers.
What I liked
- Writing style
- Relationship between Red and Blue
- The letters
- Its uniqueness
What I disliked
- Ambiguous world building
- Confusing structure (at times)
- Use of flowery language
Plot and Structure
The plot primarily focused on the developing relationship between Red and Blue but had some elements of the time war scattered throughout. Initially, I was disorientated and struggled to follow the plot because I felt like I’d been dropped into the middle of a story and a universe that I knew nothing about. In terms of world-building, there was very little of what I’d consider the “traditional” world-building that I’m familiar with in other scifi and fantasy novels. Instead, everything was very abstract and ambigious. As the plot developed, it became more focused on the relationship between Red and Blue and less on the time war itself, which I preferred and found easier to follow.
Similar to the world-building the structure was abstract, jumping through time and space often with little explanation. However, the chapters did follow a general format, beginning with a description of where Red or Blue were and ending with a letter. I enjoyed the epistolary format and the letters were the highlight of each chapter for me. Not only did they propel the plot forward immeasurably, but they helped ground me in the world.
This book evoked such a strong reaction from me based on the writing alone. Initially, I really didn’t like it and found it pretentious but it slowly grew on me. It has a lyrical style with flowery language and purple prose. I think this is likely to be the main aspect of the book that could turn readers away, particularly those that don’t like classics since the style is more aligned with what I’d expect from a classic than a contemporary. I do think that the book requires a second reading to fully comprehend and appreciate the complexities of the language and writing style. Nonetheless, El-Mohtar and Gladstone were very intentional with what they wrote. The style fits perfectly within the world they crafted and although I struggled with it at first, I came to love it and the expression of emotion served the romance wonderfully.
“I love you. If you’ve come this far, that’s all I can say. I love you and I love you and I love you, on battlefields, in shadows, in fading ink, on cold ice splashed with the blood of seals. In the rings of trees. In the wreckage of a planet crumbling to space. In bubbling water. In bee stings and dragonfly wings, in stars. In the depths of lonely woods where I wandered in my youth, staring up—and even then you watched me. You slid back through my life, and I have known you since before I knew you.”
Characters and Relationships
Red and Blue are the main characters and their relationship is the focus throughout. This enabled lots of time and attention to be spent developing them as individuals and their relationship. I loved how the letters they exchanged were used to provide insight into their personalities, motivations, desires and fears. Their letters had a unique voice (helped by the fact that El-Mohtar wrote Blue’s letters and Gladstone wrote Red’s letters) and reading the letters anchored me to the characters, their relationship and the wider setting. Since this is a novella, more time could’ve been taken to develop the characters, but I appreciated what we were given considering the page count.
The relationship between Red and Blue might be one of my favourite fictional romances I’ve ever read. Although the enemies to lovers trope usually isn’t my cup of tea, the execution was so original that I couldn’t help but love it. The first letters they exchanged were borne of a vague curiosity and unconcious loneliness, but developed into deep and philosophical conversations about their identities, passions, war, the world and love. Their loneliness and isolation made them both feel detached and isolated, and despite being on opposing sides of a war, ironically the only constant in their life was each other. Their love story was dramatic and emotive; an epic star-crossed, enemies to lovers tale and I loved every second of it (I blame my recent newfound love for Shakespeare for this).
This Is How You Lose the Time War is one of the most divisive books I’ve ever read. I have never changed my opinion on a book so dramatically from beginning to end. Around the 20% mark I was convinced I was going to DNF it, but by the end I was screaming with emotion (literally) and came away loving it. This book is proof that sometimes persevering to the end of a book is worth it. The story, world, writing style, characters and romance were all so unique that I wouldn’t be surprised if one day it’s considered a classic. There’s so much depth and meaning packed into such a short book which provides plenty for readers to dissect, analyse and reflect on. Although the writing style did create some issues for me at the beginning, I came to love it for the way that it immersed me into the abstract world and Red and Blue’s passionate love story. I have never and probably will never read another book like this and I admire what the authors did immensely. They capitalised on familiar tropes but put a different spin on them, creating their own unique story with a lot of heart and soul.
I’d recommend This is How You Lose the Time War if:
You’re looking for an utterly unique Killing Eve/Romeo and Juliet-esque star-crossed lovers tale set in an abstract fantastical, time-travelling universe with intentional and thoughtful prose.
Have you read This is How You Lose the Time War or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!
Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.