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This Is How You Lose the Time War

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  105,263 ratings  ·  21,240 reviews
Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal-El Mohtar and Max Gladstone.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence betwe
Hardcover, 201 pages
Published July 16th 2019 by Gallery / Saga Press
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Amal El-Mohtar Well! The book's been optioned for television and Max and I are drafting a pilot of the first episode, so -- hopefully, though in a different medium!

Well! The book's been optioned for television and Max and I are drafting a pilot of the first episode, so -- hopefully, though in a different medium!

Though I can highly recommend Scott Lynch's fanfic to tide you over in the meantime:
Amal El-Mohtar Great question! The red one is a cardinal and the blue one is an Ultramarine Flycatcher, according to Greg Stadnyk who designed the cover. (I kept thi…moreGreat question! The red one is a cardinal and the blue one is an Ultramarine Flycatcher, according to Greg Stadnyk who designed the cover. (I kept thinking it was either a bluebird or tree swallow, but I was incorrect!)(less)

Community Reviews

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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  105,263 ratings  ·  21,240 reviews

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chai ♡
This Is How You Lose the Time War does not make it easy for any reviewer to describe the experience of reading it. As soon as you start to put words in, you hit a wall. How does one explain the action of the novel without surrendering any spoilers?

I can tell you that the first strand running through this loosely-braided narrative comes in the form of a letter. That the first of its kind is only pretend, an instant of self-indulgence, but that it began a circling of time for Red, the past cuttin
I do not know how to write five star reviews.

Give me a book I hate and I’ll write a full-on thesis on it. Prime example: Just yesterday I spent one human hour on a seven-page one star rant review. And honestly? Time well spent.

But when it comes to something I truly love? I’m illiterate. Can’t read. Can’t write. Call me Jared, 19. What am I doing on this book site? Couldn’t tell you.

I WANT to scream about this from the rooftops. I want each and every one of you to read it, because it is utterly o
2ish stars.

What it comes down to is that I'm simply not enough of a romantic to enjoy this book. The appeal lies squarely in the flowery language written in love poems between two post-human women on opposite sides of a time travel war. I just happen to find love poetry more pretentious and mawkish than amorous or emotive. (Can it even really be considered romantic when one character addresses the other as "Dearest Blue-da-ba-dee?")

The rest of the book (characters, setting, plot) is left intenti
Jun 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the most fun I’ve had reading this writing style in a while! It’s such a creative, abstract, lyrical, and well-written love story that not only did I re-listen to each chapter twice on audiobook, but I also ended up borrowing the ebook just so that I could digest the writing via my eyeballs. There were many sensory experiences and beautifully crafted letters. The cat-and-mouse game between the two female protagonists is fun to read and the intimacy that builds up between them just by the ...more
Victoria Schwab
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Holy shit this was good.
Aug 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Killing Eve but they are time traveling pen pals
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
this book has some truly gorgeous words and the yearning between red and blue is on point, but sci fi and my brain are like oil and water & i was ✨confusion✨ for most of the story

(This was such a thoughtful gift from Melissa!)

this was so perfect i had to reread it again.... and it was even more perfect the second time around. ❤

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Joel Rochester
beautiful, amazing, so gorgeously written
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-story, sci-fi
Almost all my Goodread friends are raving about this. I just didn't like it. I never really understood why the characters fell in love, there's no explanation about what is really going on with the two sides and the writing style was just too... "extra" for me. It's very literary and poetic, it's all words and not much substance. It just wasn't for me. ...more
I want to be a context for you, and you for me.

There is something uniquely affecting when love is painted against the backdrop of the limitlessness of space and time. The effect has been done many times over but nothing can prepare you for the extraordinary beauty in which This is How You Lose the Time War allows you to experience love stretching out and weaving across time and dimensions to examine just how infinite it can possibly be. A spark of emotion that shines through galaxies reduced t
Jack Edwards
A book about communication (both between the characters and the two authors of the novel), as well as yearning and betrayal. Its lyrical prose is mesmerising as it drip-feeds information to the reader.

It's definitely a book of two halves, in that the first 70-ish pages don't really make any sense while you're first reading them. You really have to work through a lot of complicated sci-fi world-building to (eventually) appreciate the plot's mighty crescendo, which is very spectacular. Mixed feeli
Elle (ellexamines)
Congratulations to the 2020 Hugo winner for best novella!

But when I think of you, I want to be alone together. I want to strive against and for. I want to live in contact. I want to be a context for you, and you for me.

I love you, and I love you, and I want to find out what that means together.

This Is How You Lose the Time War is about two women, Red and Blue, on opposite sides of a time war, as they fall in love with each other via love letters. It… was a lot to process. This is mo
This book made me feel really dumb. I don't think it was the book's fault. The combination of high science fiction with poetic literary fiction just didn't click together in my brain. There was never a point in this book where I knew what was going on. I just finished it and have no idea what happened in it. ...more
Lisa of Troy
Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s This is How You Lose The Time War focuses on two time travelers, Blue and Red. These two women work for agencies who want to bend time to their will. While on a mission, Red finds a message, “Burn before Reading.” This sparks a series of correspondence, hidden messages, between the two time travelers. How will this friendship between these two sworn enemies end?

Tons of people just love this book, but I couldn’t get into it. My attention kept wandering off. This
Told from the perspectives of two time-travelers on either side of the battlefield, This is How You Lose the Time War is a haunting, lyrical, abstract love story for the ages.

Red and Blue, rival agents in a dystopian world, are polar opposites. Red works for the Agency, an ultramodern society where hunger has been eradicated by technology. Blue belongs to Garden, an entity that exists in organic matter everywhere. When Red finds a mocking, sardonic letter from Blue in the ashes of a war zone, t
Re-Read 12/17/19:

I've been thinking about this novella for months since I read it last. It just kept sticking to the roof of my mouth and I loved the flavor sooo much. :)

It's poetry. A tragic romance written as a super-hard-SF spy vs spy. And it's poetry. :)

I LOVE this so much.

Original review:

Damn excellent SF novella. I won't have any problems nominating this for next year's Hugo. It's poetical, yo. Not only poetical, but delightfully unforced in its romance... even as the time war rages betwe
mina reads™️
Aug 05, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sff, wlw
if you gave this book anything less than five stars your third eye wasn’t open wide enough
A divide - organic or artificial - sometimes seems made for reaching out across, for sifting through the abyss of difference to find the threads that braid us together.

This is a story we crave - of bridging the gap, of mending the rift, of star-crossed lovers surmounting the insurmountable.
“She climbs upthread and down; she braids and unbraids history’s hair.
Red rarely sleeps, but when she does, she lies still, eyes closed in the dark, and lets herself see lapis, taste iris petals and ice, he
Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd)
This is a book so beautifully written and perfectly conceived that I know any words I write about it will pale in comparison. If you want an ambitious, complex, utterly unique romeo and juliet f/f romance set amidst a centuries long time war (and how could you not want that?) then this is the book for you. I want this entire book tattooed over every inch of my body so that I can remember every single word forever.
Mary ~Ravager of Tomes~
Actual Rating: 1.5 Stars

Well I’m incredibly sad that I didn’t enjoy this more given all the rave reviews & what sounded like a super intriguing premise.

Agents of two opposing factions, time traveling through what is described as “braids” of alternate realities & dimensions, falling in love against their better judgement. Also they’re queer. Literally no part of this premise sounds bad to me.

Unfortunately it’s the execution of this idea that sends this book into a nosedive for me.

Normally I don’t
"All good stories travel from the outside."

This is a passionate, genre-storming prose poem about temptation and the paradox of opposites that are not: of hunter and prey, tempter and victim - one and the same.

I want to chase you, find you, I want to be eluded and teased and adored; I want to be defeated and victorious - I want you to cut me, sharpen me.


The first temptation is to defy the instruction to "Burn before reading", and the climax hinges on whether or not to succumb to t
Apr 29, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Okay. So. Hmm. I loved the love story aspect of it and generally got the gist of what was going on, but there was some big-picture world building that either went completely over my head (likely) or was missing (possible). Being dumped into the middle of a story that has been going on, off the page, for who-knows-how-long can be disorienting. And maybe it was meant to be. Or maybe I'm just not smart enough for this book. Or maybe it was a mis-step on the part of the authors. Whatever the reason ...more
Wow! Whether you end up enjoying this book or not, I think you will have to admit it is a very unique and poetic approach to such a dark and gritty sci-fi war drama. In fact, I am not sure that everyone that finds themselves usually enjoying sci-fi will enjoy this one because it is not what you would normally expect.

I really liked this book overall. I cannot say that in the end I understood everything that happened, but I think that is okay in this case. The poetry, the character development, an
Chelsea (chelseadolling reads)
Feb 19, 2020 marked it as did-not-finish
DNF @20%: I totally see where everyone is coming from saying that this book is beautifully written, but the plot just wasn't for me (and that's okay!). ...more
Despite struggling for the first 50 pages, I eventually got into the flow of this book and I absolutely fell in love.
Every single sentence of every letter made me want to burst into tears. The writing of this was the most poetic, lyrical writing I have EVER read.
Despite barely knowing blue and red (and only knowing them for 200 pages), they become people I can think of say “I know them”.
To say this book is amazing is an understatement and I’m so glad I pushed through the beginning.
Lucy Tonks
”Hope may be a dream. But she will fight to make it real.”

I'm not sure what I've just read. This has to be one of the most beautiful books I have read in a very long time. There were so many elements added to this story and I just loved how uniquely it was told. I've never ever read something like this.

This Is How You Lose The Time War is an abstract and lyrical story told from the perspectives of two time-travelers that find themselves on different sides of a War. Red and Blue are enemies
3.5 stars

I actually finished this book 2 days ago but had no idea what I wanted to rate it.

This book is a sapphic love story between two rival spies on different sides of a war fought through time. Chapters consist of short periods of time war plot with letter correspondence between the two happening between chapters. It’s beautifully written, particularly the letters and the ending. But I did find the ending to be a bit predictable and the overall plot, while interesting at times, wasn’t real
I want to meet you in every place I ever loved. Listen to me. I am your echo. I would rather break the world than lose you.
I want to chase you, find you, I want to be eluded and teased and adored; I want to be defeated and victorious—I want you to cut me, sharpen me. I want to drink tea beside you in ten years or a thousand. Flowers grow far away on a planet they’ll call Cephalus, and these flowers bloom once a century, when the living star and its black-hole binary enter conjunction. I want
Sep 15, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Me: No one could ever make a story about two genetically engineered super soldiers fighting a time-travel war boring.

El-Mohtar and Gladstone: Hold our pretentious beverage
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