This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Published by Saga Press

IN 208 pages, This Is How You Lose The Time War achieves a clarity and immersion in its science-fiction setting and concepts which far longer time-travel novels failed to capture. To bring a reader into a unique and distant world is to carry that responsibility, of integrating its details and boundaries within the story, without them ever coming across as either too simplistic to make sense or too intricate to maintain interest.

This is only one of the challenges made seemingly effortless by El-Mohtar and Gladstone in their lyrical dual-perspective romance told from the front lines of an eternal battlefield. For teenage and new adult readers, in the eloquent expression of both the central characters, there is something simultaneously relatable and distant that awakens the intensity and aching of both a first love, and a last.

In a world in which time travel is possible, it would be almost naive of artists to imagine a utopia. Here, the writers refuse to do so and instead pose fresh questions about the destruction and pain it could be used for, even with the best of intentions.

READ MORE: Glasgow: New restaurant 'coming soon' to Argyle Street

The ruling organisations are divided, with The Agency believing in a path based on technology and The Garden favouring the preservation of nature. In attempts to build the world around their own visions, these sides have engaged in a war spanning across centuries and alternate realities, as they send out time travel agents to ensure or prevent events that will benefit them, or from a more sinister point, damage the other.

In this brutal back and forth, despite their training and place in the world, two of these opposing agents find humanity and commonality within themselves. The book opens as it means to go on, not in peace, and not in the centre of bloodshed, but in the aftermath of a battle, expertly orchestrated by Red of The Agency, processing both the success and the emotional weight of what she has done. It is at this moment that she discovers a letter from an enemy she once made eye contact with on a crossed path, Blue from The Garden.

The letter details respect and intrigue at a worthy opponent, but continues to boast of the win she expects. The structure continues as this, with each of the two women encountering a mission, whether successful or failed, that has been touched by their enemy, with a note hidden from their superiors, and read at the end of each chapter. In not meeting in person, they imagine each other’s reactions to the jokes and unfulfilled threats of spectacular murder which slowly develop into flirtations.

As the reader experiences each of their feelings progress, so too does the threat of their circumstances. Where they first viewed each other as enemies, completely opposite to the values and understanding of the world they were raised with, they become a team all of their own in at turns witty and heartfelt letters.

It is this combination of humour and emotional depth, quotable moments of pain and love that keep Red and Blue etched within the reader’s mind, long after their story ends. This Is How You Lose The Time War serves as a refreshing love story between women that is spectacular – not a quiet love inhibited by real-world issues but a kind of rebellion that can shake the world.

With simplistic and opposing names that inspire a thread of stunning colour symbolism running through every moment, Blue and Red fall in love poetically and fiercely in earnest letters and battlefields.