I don’t think Faintingviolet had even finished this book before promising to hand it off to me. And at this point in our friendship, I don’t question her if she’s recommending a book. I just accept, and this book…..holy moly, this book….. Before we get to why I was utterly destroyed at the hands of This is How You Lose the Time War, we have to go back to my first book recommendation to Faintingviolet. I had read a book called The Illuminator that wrecked me; so of course I passed it along to her. She was subsequently wrecked, and then mad at me for not warning her about what it would do, and we both melted down in a pile of emotions at the hands of a paperback.
A decade later, This is How You Lose the Time War was Faintingviolet’s calculated revenge on me for the Illuminator. She told me literally nothing about it other than “it’s short. You’ll finish it before the library due date.” I finished the book two days ago and am still sitting in some kind of stunned, beautiful heartbreak. Let’s talk about why:
Firstly, the structure of this book is both genius and creative. Each ‘chapter’ is followed by the letters our two main characters leave for each other, so there’s a constant push-pull between the outer plot of the Time War and the inner plot of the slow-burn between these two arch-rivals. I’m not sure if this is true or not, but in the style and syntax, it feels like the authors each took a character and literally wrote back and forth to each other, so the letters really have a full sense of two people talking to each other. Maybe I’m wrong and they divided it differently, but to me, Blue and Red don’t feel like two characters from the same brain. And it really made the letters all the more poignant because their differences were so palpable on the page.
Secondly, the world building is phenomenal. Done in broad, poetic strokes, El-Mohtar and Gladstone are able to paint the entire vortex of time and space in less than 200 pages, and their vehicle is a letter. The notes are rarely written on paper in ink, except for two very important and specific times. The letters of the time war are written in the lava flows of Atlantis’ last day, twisted through the bark of old trees, read in the tea-leaves of an alternative London. Through the finding of these letters, El-Mohtar and Gladstone create whole universes in six pages or less. They explain almost nothing, but at the same time, explain everything.
It’s the irony of this little book that it’s easy accessibility and short, wonderful sentences are also philosophically charged and a thousand layers deep in meaning. It’s narrative poetry at its best, and a love story built in nothing but words. Only one time do the characters even touch each other, and yet the whole of their rise and fall and rise again pulls at the heartstrings and makes you root for them. Forget about Romeo and Juliet; Shakespeare’s got nothing on El-Mohtar and Glastone. This story is the rawest form of love.
Bingo Square: Rec’d