Wednesday, October 7, 2020

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

My daughter is a fan of time travel so when I saw this novella, I decided, as any good mom would, that I would get it for her and read it myself when she finished it. I should have taken note that she handed it back to me with a shrug and a "You can keep it." Not the world's biggest endorsement. And I have to say that I am sad to report that I agree with her assessment. Despite a promising premise, a lesbian Romeo and Juliet story set across time, a love story unbounded by our reality, This Is How You Lose the Time War just didn't deliver for me. (As it won this year's Hugo Award for a Novella, apparently those in the know disagree with me!)

On a dying world, an operative from the Agency finds a letter from Garden's agent. Red and Blue work for different entities in this all out war. They are supposed to be sworn enemies. Over vast quantities of time and space, traveling through different realities, these two post-human women have come across each other again and again, each agent trying to foil her opposite. Red and Blue slip through time backwards and forwards to make large and small impacts that will win battles for their respective sides and ultimately win the war. They are each other's equal and after catching sight of one another once upon a time, Blue writes to Red, offering respect and gratitude for the deadly game they have been engaging in. As they weave through time, they exchange more and more letters, offering tiny bits of their reality to each other and ultimately falling deeply in love, despite fighting for opposing sides. If they are found out, they cannot possibly survive.

The details of the world Red and Blue live in, many stranded as it seems to be, are left hazy and indistinct. Red and Blue themselves are also indistinct, giving no real sense of their characters beyond their desperate yearning for each other. Plot is minimal. All of this gives the entire novella an otherworldly, dream-like feel that can be frustrating to read. The language is lush, poetic, and descriptive but there's no there behind it; it all just becomes too much, too overwrought, too florid. Although the reader is told again and again that is would be catastrophic for Red and Blue to be discovered, there is never any actual sense of danger until the odd and sinister climax that comes out of the blue (yeah, bad pun). The unusual delivery of the letters between the two women is creative but does nothing beyond highlighting their repeated cleverness. In the end, I didn't care which side won the war. I had no idea what they were fighting for or over or even who the two sides really were. I didn't care about Red and Blue or their love. In fact, I didn't even care whether love won and this, I think, sums up why I didn't enjoy the novella. The reader should care. But after 198 pages, I just couldn't. And that's a shame because I think there was a kernel of something there. Maybe in another timeline.

1 comment:

  1. Ha. Try listening to the audio. I tried to like it as it was for a book club, and sometimes the lush words would float pleasantly by, but then I'd realize that I had no idea what (if anything) had happened. And it was on CD so I couldn't even speed it up.

    It had some interesting images but this was not what I voted for. And the time travel was kind of a cheat what with all the timelines and the complete lack of interest in how the zipping around happened (or why).


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts