With a title like that – how could I resist? Though I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting… Whatever it was – it wasn’t what I got.
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?
So… no set battles. No gripping accounts of being adrift in unfamiliar time threads with climactic chases between adversaries. This is an essentially epistolary novel where the two protagonists communicate by letters they hide for each other. Expert assassin Blue, for vague reasons she isn’t wholly aware of – reaches out to her opposite number, Red, whose work she knows well and admires. Slightly burnt out with all the violence of her assignments, she wants something… more. And that is how the correspondence starts. I don’t think I’m providing any major spoilers if I disclose the Red doesn’t ignore the letter – or report it to her superiors.
What makes this book an extraordinary read is the poetical beauty of the prose, juxtaposed with some of grim, bloody tasks both Blue and Red are tasked with. And while both are slightly alienated by aspects of their work – there’s no getting away from the fact that they do both revel in their skills, too.
The sheer delicacy of their communication, sharply contrasted by the gory reality of their daily round made this a constantly surprising read – it isn’t often these days that I get absolutely no sense where a book is going. Although, there were a couple of clues – I still wasn’t sure if the authors had seeded a couple of false trails and there would be a different sort of ending. And no… I’m not disclosing anything more – this is one where I think it’s important that the reader fully experiences the story without any spoilery expectations. So kudos to the blurb-writer who respected that imperative – I was pleasantly surprised to be able to include the whole backcover copy without having to edit it.
So did I enjoy it? Oh yes – this is a triumph. Splendidly ambitious and quirky, only exceptionally talented writers could pull this off. This savage, sublimely beautiful book will stay with me for a long, long time as I ponder what it says about our need for connection with someone who can understand. Highly recommended for science fiction fans who enjoy lush poetical prose and flawed desperation. The ebook arc copy of This is How You Lose the Time War was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
I agree, this book was masterful in every sense. I’m not sure I enjoyed it as much as you did. I think having no expectations before I went into it hurt me in this case. I struggled in the beginning because it was so frustratingly fractured. But the magic did eventually happen for me! Lovely review😁
Thank you for your comments – yes… we were rather tipped sideways into this one, weren’t we? I am a sucker for epistolary stories so as soon as I realised that’s what we were in for, I was on board:)
Oh my gosh, Sarah, this review is making me fall in love with the book even MORE and I didn’t know that was possible. I honestly haven’t been able to stop thinking about the story ever since I finished.
Yes, it’s one that has also stayed with me, Kathy, so I know what you mean:).
I had seen this book around, probably on Netgalley, but had ignored it because I wasn’t a big fan of the cover (I know, I’m a cover snob, haha). I’m so glad to have read your review though because otherwise I would have missed out on what sounds like a phenomenal read.
Oh I don’t think you are a cover snob at all – but I completely agree that this effort is utterly underwhelming. If it hadn’t been for the title I, too, would have overlooked it:)
This book’s writing might indeed be lyrical, but so was your description of it – and enough so that I’m now beyond curious to see what it’s all about… 🙂
Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for your kind words, Maddalena. It is a remarkable book and it’s a struggle sometimes to sum up the reading experience without giving too much away…
Oh my, this sounds fun, Sarah, and I love your rating and review! I will definitely have to add it.
Oh yes – if you could give this one a go, Jennifer, I think you thoroughly enjoy it – you are such an adventurous reader:)
Fantastic review Sarah – you’ve completely hit the nail on the head for me.
I realise this book won’t be for everyone – definitely in your face purple prose (as Kathy from Pages Below the Vaulted Sky said) but for me it felt groundbreaking somehow. It did take a little while to work it’s magic and at first I had visions that I’d end up putting it down – I’m so glad I didn’t.
Thank you, Lynn – I did find writing this one a real challenge. It’s always difficult to encapsulate your own reading experience – particularly when discussing such a unique book.
As one who grew up at the end of the Cold War, this kind of premise will always catch my eye: two sides eternally opposed without any hope of coming together. Thanks for sharing this!
It is an extraordinary read – I can honestly say that I’ve never read anything else quite like it, Jean.
Wow! This book is definitely going on my TBR list. I heard about it, but not enough to give it a closer look, and I definitely should! Thank you for bringing it to my attention.
Even if you don’t love it as much as I did – I can guarantee you won’t read anything else quite like it…