Georgiana Derwent's Reviews > This Is How You Lose the Time War

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar
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bookshelves: adult, sci-fi

This is a really quite unusual book, which combines elements of fairly hard sci-fic, romance, and experimental literary fiction. As it happens, I enjoy all three of those genres, and I really love books that blur the edges between literary and genre fiction. Sadly though, while I’ve got to admire the pair of authors for trying something different and while I enjoyed this in parts, it didn’t totally work for me.

The basic premise is that in the far future, there are two parallel timelines. One, generally referred to as “Agency” is hyper technological, with most people living in pods and virtual reality and/or being heavily cybernetically enhanced. The other, usually called “Garden” is more bucolic and environmental, albeit still backed up with plenty of technology and with its inhabitants not being quite what we’d generally think of as human. Operatives from the two futures go back and forth in time, changing small events, to try and merge together all the thousands of different timelines so that only their future exists, often having to fight off representatives of the other side in the process. Or at least, that’s my rough understanding. A lot of this isn’t very spelt out and you have to work to piece together what’s going on.

The story is mostly told via “letters” between Red, from Agency, and Blue, from Garden, as they battle to undermine each other’s time-changing efforts. I’ve put the word in inverted commas as very few of these missives involve ink on paper or even pixels on a screen — it’s things like rings in tree trunks or the elemental composition of a glass of liquid (in-universe at least — thankfully readers get to see them as simple words on the page!) These messages start with mockery and provocation, move through curiosity, understanding and friendship, and then start to move towards love. The letters are interspersed with brief scenes of adventures in different timelines and time periods, which are interesting too, but it’s the correspondence where the real meat of the story happens.

The book in general and the letters in particular are beautifully, imaginatively and cleverly written, with lots of puns; scientific, historical and literary references; and cross-references to earlier missives. There are also lots of intriguing little bits of detail about the two futures and the mechanics of the timewar, but I found them frustratingly sparse. I appreciate it wasn’t really the point of the book, but I was aching to know a bit more about how it all worked. In particular, I struggled to understand the limitations of what the two main characters could or couldn’t do. My main complaint though is that the first half of the book, despite its smart writing, felt very repetitive and slow moving and there wasn’t enough of the twisty, mind-bending stuff that I enjoy about a well done time travel narrative. Later on, things picked up, but there was still not all that much plot. That said, in the last few chapters, there were some nice twists and a bit more use was made out of the time travel element and out of passing references made earlier.

Overall, this is a three star read for me, but it’s got some great qualities, and if this sounds interesting to you I would suggest giving it a go.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 10, 2020 – Finished Reading
March 8, 2020 – Shelved
March 8, 2020 – Shelved as: adult
March 8, 2020 – Shelved as: sci-fi

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

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Cecily You're right about the frustrating gaps of explanation. I was fortunate that the mood of the book was so amazing, I didn't mind.


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