A trippy love story through the ages…
Genre: Science Fiction
No. of pages: 224
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.
This was beautiful and quaint. Packed with story and subtext. Told in alternating perspectives, Blue and Red are epyphonous creatures and hard to pin down, as is the mulit-verse and multi-dimensional landscape in which they travel. While romantic and full of colourful, this ethereal tone did make it hard for me to truly connect with the characters and the world. Everything is so changeable, malleable. While brilliant and a masterstroke in storytelling it did leave me feeling like I wasn’t quite grounded in the story. I struggled at the start to find my footing. To make sense of it all. But war is messy (not to mention jumping around in different points of time) so I guess the chaotic nature of battle marries the format of the novella.
Some may find this hard to get into. It is a dense read. There’s a lot to decipher in story and subtext. Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mothar’s writing style is embellished, melodic, and a little pretentious. It didn’t flow easily for me… I had to really concentrate to work out who each character was and who they are in relevance to the world at large – I think this may isolate some readers (depending on your reading level.)
The romance at the heart of the book is gorgeous, visceral, and all encompassing. I really enjoyed it, but at times the flowery language had me skipping forward. And I felt like I wanted more story. More exploration of strange new world’s that held symbolism or secondary storylines.
There is a lot to unpack ‘This is How You Lose the Time War’ is a weighted read. I loved the allegory of the Mobius strip, the symbolism of the seed… but I still grapple with questions of who/what are red and blue? Who/what are Garden and Commandant and why are they at war? What is there to gain? I understand it’s to control the time line, but to what end? So many questions but all we get is a snapshot (a millennia long) of a part of Blue and Red’s budding relationship and covert measures.
I love the concept more than the writing style. I can see this isolating some readers. It’s like reading mid-century poetry… hidden meanings and symbolism, subtext, and needing to look up the definition of words. For some this will be a roadblock, but for more experienced readers this will feel melodic and whimsical.
Overall feeling: kaleidoscopic
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