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

2019. (cw: death, grief; some violence, blood, body horror, suicide)

I am shocked that TVTropes doesn’t have an entry for This Is How You Lose the Time War, because it is made of tropes. It demands genre savvy reading; how else are you to make sense of two time traveling agents, Red and Blue, whose missions are to cultivate and prune the branching strands of time? (How do you win the time war? By eliminating every future where your enemy exists and leaving only those where you do.) Enemies to Lovers: yes, from the first pages, an epistolary romance, as Red and Blue write letters to each other across space and time. But still, the flip is so gorgeous (I laughed out loud at “Ha-ha, Blueser,” smiled at “Blueberry,” weakened at “Dearest Lapis”), that soon you’re looking and waiting for each new letter just as Red and Blue do.

Did I mention it’s gay? Queers in Space? And how. And then you start to feel the story head into Bury Your Gays, with bonus Gayngst-Induced Suicide, and it’s so frustrating, because the tropes are so tired, and you want them to be happy, to win, and then there’s a scene with Blue:

If Blue were a scholar—and she has played one enough times to know she would have loved to be—she would catalogue, across all strands, a comprehensive study of the worlds in which Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, and in which a comedy. It delights her, whenever visiting a new strand, to take in a performance not knowing how it will end.

She is not delighted now. She watches the performance with all of the tense fervor of awaiting prophecy.

She leaves before the end.

It’s too obvious! There’s no subtlety! But somehow it still works, and the moment is devastating, beautiful, because you’ve just been told that even though you think you know how it ends, this book has time travel and you don’t know how it ends. I read the last fifth of the book through tears, and when finished I laughed, and cried, and did both at the same time for hours. This is not a device, it is not hyperbole; This Is How You Lose the Time War reduced me.