A victor stands on a future battlefield over the bodies of both defeated armies, the blood in her hair matching her name, Red; a time agent, an operative of Agency, she surveys the ruin and sees something which should not be there, a sheet of paper with the words burn before reading handwritten upon it.
Perhaps foolishly, Red does read it, and the letters which come after from her counterpart and opposite in Garden, the time agent known as Blue, establishing an illicit dialogue as they tease and taunt each other from Mongolia to Atlantis, from London to Beijing, across strands and eons: this is how you lose the time war.
What Red is initially unclear, certainly she is more than just human, her ultimate goal as flexible as her methods, weaving braids upstream and down to shift probabilities to ensure an eventual victory for Agency over Garden, indirect actions whose consequences are as pebbles dropped in a river whose course will not change for centuries.
The modus operandi of Blue is the same, though the goals are contrary: “You must dwell, says Garden, within time to shift it in lasting ways; play a slow game, but win.” Both agents operate with autonomy and purpose, but in their communications they each have allowed themselves to become distracted, and that is but one step away from corrupted.
The new novel from Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, the poetic texture of the language of This is How You Lose the Time War is woven back on itself in intricate loops and knots, beaded with vivid images, mighty events and apparently small potentially of equal consequence in the pattern of a China teacup ground under the heel of a boot.
Seeking meaning in random objects, the nuance of the words chosen and their combination is everything, in the rings of trees, in the tracks of lava, in the entrails of slaughtered animals, the divination of messages as their dialogue continues, sequential but non-linear, and always on their tracks is the unseen Seeker.
The abstraction of the war which will never end contrasted by a scene where Red is summoned to an iteration of her Commandant on a battlefield of the Russian front, the blood frozen on the ground and the corpses taken by mould, in order to end the conflict Red and Blue must find an alternative even if that is treason.
Instead they find each other, see themselves as the other sees them, as assassinations become assignations and El-Mohtar and Gladstone weave their words into a powerful binding logic bomb, This is How You Lose the Time War beautifully conceived and written in shifting tones with clockwork precision underpinning its Möbius convolutions, one of the most fascinating books of the year so far.
This is How You Lose the Time War is available from 18th July from Jo Fletcher Books