Review: “This Is How You Lose the Time War” by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone


Release Date: July 19, 2019
Publisher: Saga Press
Genre: Science Fiction


“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?”


My Thoughts


I have died and gone to literary heaven. This Is How You Lose the Time War is as much a queer romance between two deadly women as it is a rollicking time travel adventure story. It is at once gorgeously lyrical and bloodthirsty. And it’s so. fucking. great.

Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone have crafted a story that unspools in so many different directions, I literally cannot begin to fathom how they knotted everything together in the first place. At its barest, it is a story about two opposing factions – the Garden and the Agency – seeking domination over, well, everything. Each send agents into the past to change things, sometimes big and sometimes small, to ensure their control of the future. Agents stay for a few moments or for decades, depending on the plan. Of all the assassins and spies on each side, the best are Blue (of the Garden) and Red (of the Agency).

Eventually the two women begin a correspondence across time and space and alternate realities, and that is how the novella is written, as a series of increasingly intimate letters and the scenes showing the writers’ discovering or leaving their missives. The more the women learn about each other, the more they learn about their jobs and their bosses and the roles they play. What will they do to their organizations when they finally realize the truth about it all? What will they do to each other? What will they do to themselves?

This Is How You Lose the Time War is like nothing else on earth. It is a gift from whatever god you believe in, or a human creation so well-forged that the gods quake on their thrones. It is a miracle, a ticking time bomb, a poem, a drug-induced chant, a scream of rage, a howl of terror, a moan of ecstasy. And best of all, it’s gloriously, cunningly, deliciously queer. Simply put, it is one of the best adult SFF books I’ve read in ages.

When Red wins, she stands alone.

Blood slicks her hair. She breathes out steam in the last night of this dying world.

This was fun, she thinks, but the thought sours in the framing. It was clean, at least. Climb up time’s threads into the past and make sure no one survives this battle to muddle the futures her Agency’s arranged – the futures in which her Agency rules, in which Red herself is possible. She’s come to knot this strand of history and sear it until it melts.

Thanks to Saga Press for sending me a review copy.

Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or borrow it from your public library.

4 thoughts on “Review: “This Is How You Lose the Time War” by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

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