ONE OF NPR’S BEST BOOKS OF 2019
Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone.
In the ashes of a dying world, Red finds a letter marked “Burn before reading. Signed, Blue.”
So begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents in a war that stretches through the vast reaches of time and space.
Red belongs to the Agency, a post-singularity technotopia. Blue belongs to Garden, a single vast consciousness embedded in all organic matter. Their pasts are bloody and their futures mutually exclusive. They have nothing in common—save that they’re the best, and they’re alone.
Now what began as a battlefield boast grows into a dangerous game, one both Red and Blue are determined to win. Because winning’s what you do in war. Isn’t it?
A tour de force collaboration from two powerhouse writers that spans the whole of time and space.
In this exquisitely crafted tale, two special agents from competing factions forge an unexpected relationship through messages left behind as they wage a secret war across space and time. Red, who represents a society dominated by technology and artificial intelligences, and Blue, the product of a biological mass consciousness, must never can never meet, even as they work to secure the future for their masters. Instead, they communicate in hundreds of different ways, their words hidden beneath layers of subtlety and deception, in direct defiance of every rule they've ever followed. As taunts and challenges gradually give way to endearments and secrets, the two women must determine their true roles in the unending time war. Part epistolary romance, part mind-blowing science fiction adventure, this dazzling story unfolds bit by bit, revealing layers of meaning as it plays with cause and effect, wildly imaginative technologies, and increasingly intricate wordplay. El-Mohtar (The Honey Month) and Gladstone (the Craft Sequence) pack their narrative full of fanciful ideas and poignant moments, weaving a tapestry stretching across the millennia and through multiple realities that's anchored with raw emotion and a genuine sense of wonder. This short novel warrants multiple readings to fully unlock its complexities.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Absolutely Adored It
I loved this book so much. Everything is so intricately dreamlike, woven together in ways I never thought possible. The story is guided by the world building aspect, and the world itself is so full of twists and turns and obscure yet detailed characteristics, and the story is made so interesting by it. The romance between Red and Blue is sweet and teasing, and some parts of their letters made me laugh out loud. The writing style is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read, and it really pulls you into the world and into space and time itself until you never want to leave. Some passages were so well-written that I read them two or three times. I can’t recommend it enough.
Twisty complex worldbuilding
Sometimes I stumble into reading a book that isn’t in my usual target zone at all. I’ve read some short fiction by El-Mohtar that I rather enjoyed, but “epistolary time-travel secret agent romance” isn’t something that would necessarily pique my interest until you insert the word “lesbian” into that phrase. Reading the book set me ruminating on questions of what even is gender in a post-human society, but that’s a different discussion.
I love books that make you reconstruct the setting, premises, and backstory from breadcrumbs dropped along the way, and this book goes all in on that technique. There are two sides (at least), with two worldviews (perhaps), and the same goal: to alter branching possible pasts in order to create the future in which they “win” the ability to assert their paradigm over reality. The two are supposedly differentiated by method--perhaps by philosophy--but that’s hard to see clearly in the midst of the casual death and destruction their agents leave in their wake. (In fact, it was sometimes difficult to differentiate the two characters even by voice.)
That casual death and destruction is no worse than the ordinary death and destruction of unaltered history (if there is such a thing), but initially I found it impossible to sympathize with the protagonists because of their indifference to the lives they were deliberately meddling with. That remained a theme for me throughout the story: we’re enticed to fall in love with these two opposing agents as they fall in love with each other, but it was hard for me to see them as other than monsters, playing at intellectual games out of boredom and loneliness as they criss-crossed time in their seemingly ageless existence.
And yet, I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved the challenge of visualizing the underlying conceptual structure. I loved deciphering the puzzle of how it would all end. The reader is given enough clues to get a sense that the puzzle is there, but not enough realistic detail to be able to work it out in advance--which is a good thing because doing so would have bogged down an otherwise fast-moving story. I loved that sense of just barely holding a slippery tangle of images in my mind long enough to feel that it stuck the landing.
It wasn’t quite the book I expected it to be. And it wasn’t as mind-blowing as the social media buzz made it out to be. But it was a fascinating read.
A love story between two time-traveling agents that represent very different futures. Told mostly through letters encountered after clashes in various timelines, it manages to weave these threads into a beautiful, lyrical, incandescent whole with a happy ending that truly feels earned. Do not miss this book.