I love you. I love you. I’ll write it in waves. In skies. In my heart. You’ll never see, but you will know. I’ll be all the poets, I’ll kill them all and take each one’s place in turn, and every time love’s written in all the strands it will be to you.-Red, “This Is How You Lose The Time War”
“This Is How You Lose The Time War” by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is, unexpectedly, the most romantic novella I have ever encountered, and is therefore in my top five novellas of all time. Though a brief story, it speaks volumes of unlikely friendship, of love, and the lengths one will go to protect who they love.
Red and Blue are enemy agents in a war through time; Red works for the futuristic, cyborg military dystopia run by the Commandant, and Blue is aligned with a natural world of people grown from seeds by the Garden. Each agent does their best to alter the events of timelines to erase the other’s organizational progress through the threads of time themselves. One day, Blue writes a letter to taunt Red and leaves it for her to find. Red, enjoying the banter, responds in kind. Quickly, they become friends through their letters, learning about each other and their societies, until eventually, their relationship becomes much more. But at the end of the day, they are still from enemy factions and must find a way to pursue their relationship, no matter the cost.
I read this book in two hours, and then immediately read it again the next day to find hints of the ending throughout the book. As the book involves time travel, there are many clues to find through the letters Red and Blue exchange and the events in-between. Additionally, the letters are full of references (such as Red calling Blue “Blue Da Ba Dee” in one letter) and funny moments that contrast greatly with the darkness behind Red and Blue’s love story and its impending doom due to their association. The story is written in a very flowery way that tells very little of the world but is rather emotive, and readers are left to infer much of the world. To me, this makes sense; Red and Blue would have no need to tell each other what they look like or how time works, as they already know each other. However, it does leave things rather vague, which I found infinitely fascinating. I personally enjoyed meditating on the time world they lived within and outside of.
A feature that I found particularly interesting was Red and Blue’s genders. Nowhere in the advertising for this book when it came out was it mentioned that Red and Blue were both women, and until I was reading it, I did not know they were lesbians. As a lesbian myself, I was delighted. I had gone into the book expecting a witty, brief science fiction novella, and left with a beautiful lesbian romance, a sort of Romeo and Juliet through the strands of time. Though there is minimal physical contact between Red and Blue, their love story is more intense than many of the more graphic romances I have read.