Title: This is how you lose the Time War
Authors: Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
E.S.C.A.P.E Score: 56
(see below for breakdown)
From Goodreads: Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
And 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.
Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?
This is where Sci-fi becomes magical. This epistolary novella, following two agents of opposing sides in a great time war, reads almost like an epic poem. It flows and weaves like time itself, creating the most beautiful imagery and gorgeous love story. There love just unfolds in front of the reader, as they reveal a little more of themselves to each other.
This is all done in the midst of a confusion of space and time that is almost disorientating. There is not a lot of world building detail. We don’t how the time war started, how long it has been faught or even the greater extent of the races of our two protagonists but it isn’t needed at all. We get everything to be swept along in those letters. It is so inventive with tiny details of alternate histories, technologies, cultures slotted in just to give the reader a taste, while focusing firmly on the emotions of the characters and taking the reader into that emotion to.
The bittersweet ending is just everything, it kept me emotionally invested long after I closed the cover. I wanted to immediately go re-read, re-discover and find every missed detail. A universe that you don’t want to leave even when it is at war, a book you don’t want to put down even when it had ended. El-Mohtar and Gladstone have created something truly magical. Just read it!