Once upon a time, there were two futures. Each possible future was a paradise, but these futures could never coexist with the other. Each future sends time-travelling agents up and down the time stream to make the changes need to bring about their future. Let me be clear, this is a war and the only way to succeed is to make sure the other side can never exist.
Once upon a time correction, an agent on one side leaves a taunting letter for an agent on the other side. Is it a trap? Is it simply a boast? Or is it pure curiosity? Whatever the reason, talking to the enemy is forbidden and yet these two continue to exchange letters. Over time, their relationship changes and they fall in love.
That’s a cool idea, but what elevates “This is How You Lose the Time War” by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is the magnificent creativity and sweeping scale that is on every page. Some time travel stories impress you with their knowledge of historical details, hinging key plot points on what a specific historical figure had for breakfast on a certain day. This book treats time travel as something to be played with and used to awe and inspire. Characters visit Atlantis. They travel to bone yard temples of beings that predate human history. They witness fleets of starships crashing against one another. It is less Time Traveling History Lesson, and more like Time Space Opera.
And these two agents don’t send normal letters. No, one might write on the scales of a fish that will be eaten by a seal that they know the other agent will cut open. A letter might be written in the coded flashes of a lave burst. Each letter is an impossibility, which reinforces how special and creative this story is.
Half the book is the letters the two agents send to each other. The other half of the book is what amazing things the agents were doing when they come across a letter. It makes for a fast read and a rather breathless one. Their growing romance feels real and I was deeply invested in them.
This is a book I am looking forward to re-reading every year. I think you will too.