The art of the epistle has been lost on this generation. Stolen by tweets and status updates and selfies, it’s as though no one knows how to write a long letter when a short phone call is always better and more expedient. There’s something romantic about long form communication though.
It’s no wonder that two assassins find themselves falling in love after trading lengthy written ripostes in This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Working for warring factions attempting to shape the future, two time-travelling assassins trade letters and reveal that there’s a sort of natural combat in love, where one party is always the aggressor, the other the hunted, the pursued, the prey. Their secret communications, etched in the rings of trees, in the DNA of plants, the smoke rising from a lava flow, are sometimes millennia in the making. The communication is not only clever, the language is as heartfelt and considerate in its delivery as any sonnet. Capturing the essence of love, more than anything else, is what lends the book its considerable charm. On every page the prose dances and playful.
“It’s as if the world world sings to me in petals, feathers, pebbles, blood. […] it’s a song for me alone.”El-Mohtar, Gladstone
Like most movies or books that deal with time travel, if you look too closely, you’ll find aspects problematic, like how the warring factions are weaving strands of time to reach a desirable outcome, but that’s not the point: this is the forbidden love of Romeo and Juliet lasting not just a few short days or weeks but spanning the age of dinosaurs to the rebellions of Rome, sinking Atlantises, and the far-flung future, spanning galaxies. It’s positively delightful to watch these two authors playfully explore the endless possibilities of the premise.
Read this one for the exquisite language, for the depth of emotion it plumbs in its characters, and to feel the thrill of forbidden love, wrapped in a secret cipher just for you. This is How You Lose the Time War will make you long for a handwritten letter to be delivered to your door, or through smoke rings, or written in the shape of shadows beneath the trees because when you’re in love, the whole galaxy seems to smile just for you.
Categories: Book Reviews