Review of This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Updated: Aug 2, 2020
[It's] my viney-hivey elfworld, as you say, versus your techy-mechy dystopia.
This premise was intriguing. In This is How You Lose the Time War, authors El-Mohtar and Gladstone present rival elite agents, Red and Blue, who exist on opposite sides of an immense futuristic war. The battle spans threads of time over centuries and various branching strands of reality. One warring creature comes from a technologically based world; the other is from a world of gardens and earthiness.
Red and Blue each appear to be the other's antithesis. They are inevitably set against each other. But grudging respect and intrigue lead Red and Blue to begin corresponding in clever, increasingly showy and intricate ways through space and time, at times focusing more on the exceptionally elaborate crafting of messages to each other (hidden in the rings of trees over many years; within enchanted tea leaves; magically inscribed along goose feathers, and many others) than on their assigned missions. Each becomes fascinated with the other's perspective, forming a unique bond only they can truly understand.
This is How You Lose the Time War is only about 200 pages, and there are some clever twists toward the end (which also resolved my minor but growing annoyance with the unexplained Seeker who appears at the end of each action scene to ingest the remains of the outlandish modes of communication).
The premise was completely up my alley. But I had a hard time locking onto the ethereal, sometimes abstract, often poetically beautiful text and the shallow dive into a far-flung set of locations, missions, and realizations occurring within multiple time strands, points in space, and realities. It was exceptionally romantic, yet I couldn’t get grounded within it or feel anything in particular about it. I could appreciate many elements here, but this one just wasn’t for me.
What did you think?
Gladstone wrote the sections of the book that are in Red's point of view, and El-Mohtar wrote those from Blue--but it didn't feel to me like two authors had contributed to the fluid style. If you read it, what did you think?