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Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandment 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, becomes something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean the death of each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win. That’s how war works, right?Amazon
This is my book review for This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El Mohtar and Max Gladstone
I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.
Atmosphere / Writing Style / Plot / Characters
I am not sure how to talk about one aspect without talking about them all. This book is weird. Deeply weird. Not unsettling weird or uncomfortably weird. Just… weird. There is a linear narration (which is actually a bit surprising due to the subject matter) and I, personally, didn’t have any trouble following the plot. That said… it was weird.
Ok, I will try to break it down a bit.
Time travel is a thing and so we move around in time a lot. We also move around in different timelines a lot. So… think about a multiverse on speed. And while the descriptions of those timelines are interesting, they are only sprinkled in because the real story is all about the relationship between Red and Blue told through letters. Which brings us to…
This book is like a poem. It is lyrical and sing-song at time…. It is lush with the descriptions of details it decides to impart. The prose is beautiful even if sometimes it gets a little thick. It is cerebral with lots of character introspection and not a lot of action.
Plot/ / Pacing
The first third of the book is really great at getting us set in the type of world(s) we are inhabiting and setting up the will-they / won’t-they tension (Fall in love? Get caught? Kill each other?) The second act does drag a bit and get a bit repetitive. The letters themselves and the methods by which they are gifted to each other is interesting but the formula of a letter is read, the letter is delivered, the Seeker arrives and does her Seeker thing, a new letter is written, it is delivered, read, Seeker, new letter… etc… all that starts to lull you into a dreamy sleepy sort of space and the book almost (almost) grinds to a halt. Thankfully the third ct saves us from our slumber and awakens within us hope and angst as we near the very end which… I won’t spoil but I did enjoy it.
I think that The Seep was going for something very similar in terms of tone and writing style…. But it ended up just being boring while this book did drag in the middle, but it ultimately had tension, stakes we cared about, and a more interesting resolution.
Like the ever-shifting setting, our characters are themselves ever-shifting and both paramount to the story and sort of superficially important. We don’t get a lot of character growth per sey, but we do get character studies… they are just studies of characters that are beyond our normal human concept of what a character should be that it feels like an unfair expectation. There is an aspect of these characters that I was all ready to complain about and call a plot hole or failure on the part of the authors… until I got to the end and instead got my moment of enlightenment. If you want to discuss this, let me know in the comments and I would be happy to… but as always, I keep my reviews spoiler-free.
Yes… except for the drag in the middle. Honestly, if nothing else, I hope my review will give you the needed security that the ending is worth the bit of mid-book sleepiness that threatens to cause quitting. It was weird… but interesting. I think it says a lot about relationships and about queer culture without it being a paint by numbers queer love story. Does it matter that Red and Blue and female? I think it does actually. It adds nuance. I think they could just as easily been nongendered… but I am unsure if the world is quite ready for a non-binary love story… which is a shame because this sort of weird speculative fiction sort of story is the perfect place to showcase it.
Would I recommend it?
Yes… but only if you are okay with weird speculative fiction books that feature a lot, a LOT, of poetic prose and not a lot of action. No lesbian sex scenes in this lesbian love story. And… well, it does walk very close to one of the more problematic tropes of queer literature. Ultimately though, yes. Read it. It is worth your time.
Why THIS Book?
It’s still #Pride month and I am still reading queer literature to celebrate. Back to the comforting well of speculative fiction… and unlike my last foray into that land, this time I was very glad for the journey.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?