A duel is a romance with different syncopation. A game is a conversation with rules. A dance is a fight you both get to win. A waltz between the seconds, a volta across parallel timelines. All of it driven by tempo and need, the percussion of war, the brass of ideologies clashing. The Hans Zimmer siren of massive concepts crashing against each other, of miniature disasters and minor catastrophes stitching themselves into the quilt of the world.
In the midst of all of this, Red and Blue. Soldiers. Assassins, Gardeners (Although only one would think of themselves as such), rivals and slowly, surely, something much, much more.
This Is How You Lose The Time War is a game of chess played with postmarks, a code deciphered through implication, suggestion and the passage of linear time. What Amal and Max have done here is create a story which fractals together all the elements of their two protagonists’ lives. Looked at one way they’re Aziraphale and Crowley, looked at another, a pair of Sarah Conners endlessly dueling down the centuries. All of this is true but as the book shows, there are so many more perspectives than just two sides and a straight line.
This is a story about a long distance romance and, as someone who met the love of their life through one of those, it has vast emotional resonance. This is the story of a pair of abuse survivors slowly realizing that’s exactly what they were and now they get to decide what they are. It’s a story about two child soldiers realizing they’re no longer the first so the second should be negotiable too. It’s a story about coping mechanisms and small pleasures, the shelters we all take from the storm when it gets too much as, eventually, it always does.
But in the end this is always Red and Blue’s story. It How both are the platonic ideal of their factions and proof neither has the moral high ground. Biology versus technology, the slow patient war of roots and tubers versus the caffeine quick precision of automation. These are the places they start from, or rather the places they’re told they start from. The authors take their leads towards one another and then, slowly, upwards into the light as they leave what they were behind. Along the way they conduct atrocities and work miracles, hiding the latter and living with the former (The Apollo 1 reference here and the cost of it was one of the gut punches for me). In doing so Red and Blue slowly realize they both embody and stand apart from their factions. Always a representative on the field. Never allowed to be an individual. No longer prepared to endure that.
As the book continues it evolves with its heroines, becoming an action story, a thriller, a romance, a heist, a puzzle. The elegant skein of causality sewn and re-sewen as Amal and Max play all the best time travel notes in a very different order. On one page I was reminded of V for Vendetta. On another, Emma. The book wears both outfits with equal grace, and equal steel.
This is How You Lose The Time War is intensely funny, romantic, intricately designed and reveals more information about itself the more you change your perspective. It’s a challenge, a letter, a game, a declaration of war, an invitation to tea. Accept each one,