On an evening in December, I sat down to read a book called This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. I did not look up again until three hours later when I had finished the book. The story is utterly entrancing, weaving narrative twists and turns through language and elaborate futuristic imagery. This is How You Lose the Time War follows opposing agents in a time war, code-named Red and Blue. Throughout the novel, they travel through and weave the strands of time, encountering people such as Ghengis Kahn, Socrates, and each other.

The book is told in short yet breathtaking chapters, supplemented with letters between Red and Blue. It begins when Red, the top agent at “the Agency,” finds a letter on the battlefield from Blue, the top agent at “Garden.” The Agency and Garden have been at war for a long time and both see Red and Blue as the keys to damaging the opposing organization. The first letter from Blue acknowledges this, incorporating taunts and jabs into an explanation of how she will thwart Red’s work on the battlefield. Thus begins a chain of letters between the two, written by goose feather and wasp stingers, rather than by any conventional means. The taunts and jabs do not go away but turn into something deeper. The focus of the letters shifts from Red and Blue’s thwarts to themselves as people.

Throughout this journey, the writing remains beautiful and heartbreaking yet surprisingly humorous. El-Mohtar and Gladstone switch from lyrical passages to blunt pop-culture references and back again with ease, crafting quick and witty passages to balance out heavier ones. Their use of language helps convey the central message of This is How You Lose the Time War, one centered firmly around love, choosing your own fate, and defiance. The story explores the hurt and pain the characters feel and their backstories that lead them to make the decisions they do. It balances these with moments of unimaginable joy, reflecting the style in which the book was written.

In the end, I will never run out of good things to say about this book. It is a story of love, hope, joy, and defiance, but also of time travel and adventure. It is both funny and thought-provoking, and dark while still somehow full of light. It is a book that never runs out of things to say or places to take you. This is How You Lose the Time War is a quick read that will leave you thinking about the capturing writing and ubiquitous themes for days. It is a love story, but not a familiar one.