This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Two time agents, Red and Blue, fight across space and time in order to advance their respective factions’ ultimate goals. But their relationship makes fighting a war more difficult.


  • A spy versus spy story with a science fiction twist
  • Story structure delivers tidbits about a story universe that makes you want to keep reading to learn more about the conflict


  • Epistolary format means you don’t quiet get to understand the context of the larger story
  • Stories involving time travel can sometimes feel futile at times because mistakes can be corrected, removing the consequences of a character’s actions

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is a love story between two characters, each on opposite sides of a time war, who find a sense of purpose in what seems like a meaningless war.

There are definitely some interesting techniques discussed in the book that certainly give the story a “spy” feeling like Hollywood videos showing spies unraveling hidden messages in old Kodak film canisters. Take this spy element and place in a story universe with fantastic technology, and you have an interesting cat-and-mouse game between the two protagonists.


Two agents, Red and Blue, fight across time for an outcome their factions desire.


The two protagonists are simply known as Red and Blue.


The majority of the story takes place on Earth, though references are made to other, off-world, locations.

This is How You Lose the Time War Review

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is a fairly unique story of letters set in a science fiction universe. It’s not every day that you find an epistolary novel set in a science fiction context. The story has the feel of a spy versus spy novel, or a story of a cat-and-mouse chase that is fairly common in detective or mystery stories.

But the unique aspect of the novel is the science fiction context. I found myself wanting to learn more about the time war, the various battles fought by Red and Blue, and the universe wherein they fought their battles.

The writing style is a bit simplistic in that the structure of the sentences feel a bit lacking or basic and not quite representative of the complexity of the characters or the story. But if you can look past the fairly simple writing style, the story itself is interesting.

The actual context of the romance between the two spies is fun. Even if the idea of two agents from warring families who love each other isn’t quite new, the setting of the story does a good job to emphasize the quality of their emotions. The contents of the letters that the agents write to each other can be touching at times and over the top at others. I couldn’t help but think about two hopeless teenagers like Romeo and Juliet.

I’m not quite sure how to feel about the science fiction aspect in this story. Parts about different timelines, universes, or planets made me want to learn more, but the authors’ don’t deliver on these expectations. Consequently, I’m left feeling a bit of disappointment.

The one aspect of time travel stories that I dislike is that dramatic events can have the quality of being useless since time travel renders consequences inconsequential. In many cases, writers impose restrictions in order to get around this obstacle, and these restrictions can sometimes feel arbitrary.

Readers who are looking for a science fiction love story that takes place across space and time will find This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone not only enjoyable, but also accessible. It’s a great book that will introduce new readers to various concepts explored in science fiction, and it’s a story that shows that science fiction can contain romance and emotion that are often overlooked in science fiction stories.

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