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Book Club Kits: This is How You Lose the Time War

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Amal El-Mohtar

Max Gladstone

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Book Summary



“[An] exquisitely crafted tale...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...This short novel warrants multiple readings to fully unlock its complexities.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review).

From award-winning authors Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone comes an enthralling, romantic novel spanning time and space about two time-traveling rivals who fall in love and must change the past to ensure their future.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandment finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, becomes something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean the death of each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win. That’s how war works, right?

Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.

Discussion Questions

Warning: Discussion questions include spoilers!

  1. As Red and Blue are executing their respective orders, they have their first exchange. Describe the warriors introduced in these first few opening challenges. Is one more dedicated to their cause than the other?

  1. Blue writes a lot about Atlantis in one of her early letters. Discuss why this is a myth the authors choose to highlight, and why Atlantis, of all places, recurs with the same result in every strand.

  1. There are many subtle pop-culture references made as Red and Blue move through time. Which references did you pick up on? Which were your favorites?

  1. The seeker appears at the end of every chapter, chasing letters and collecting evidence. Who is the seeker? What is their purpose? What is their role in this time war?

  1. Discuss how Red and Blue each come to realize they are in love. What made it apparent to you? Does it happen more easily for one than the other?

  1. Red and Blue each interact with their leaders once throughout the book. What are the notable differences between the Commandant and the Garden? Who would you rather work for?

  1. Red’s final letter to Blue is extremely complex. Discuss its many layers and her decision to write a letter within the poison. What would you write if you were in her position?

  1. Red makes a very risky move that will have dire consequences if things don’t align perfectly. How many ways could her plan go wrong? Discuss Red’s mindset before, during and after the end of this impossible mission.


About Authors El-Mohtar is an award-winning writer of fiction, poetry, and criticism. Her stories and poems have appeared in magazines including Tor.comFireside FictionLightspeed, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, Apex, Stone Telling, and Mythic Delirium; anthologies including The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories (2017), The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (2016), Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories (2014), and The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (2011)and in her own collection, The Honey Month (2010). She is co-author, with Max Gladstone, of the multiple award-winning This is How You Lose the Time War. Her articles and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, NPR Books and on She has been the New York Times's science fiction and fantasy columnist since February 2018, and she is represented by DongWon Song of HMLA.

Photo by Jessica P. Wick

Awards and Nominations

Amal has written stories about maps, bird women, book women, the Arabic alphabet, singing fish, Damascene dream-crafters, sentient diamond oceans and pockets that are bigger on the inside. Her story “Seasons of Glass and Iron” won the Nebula, Locus and Hugo awards in 2017, while her stories “The Green Book” and “Madeleine” were finalists for the Nebula Award in 2011 and 2015 respectively, and “The Truth About Owls” won the Locus Award in 2015.

Her poems “Song for an Ancient City,” “Peach-Creamed Honey,” and “Turning the Leaves” won the Rhysling award for Best Short Poem in 2009, 2011 and 2014 respectively, and in 2012 she received the Richard Jefferies Poetry Prize for “Phase Shifting.” In her (few) hours of rest she drinks tea, lifts weights, plays harp, and writes letters to her friends by hand.


Max Gladstone

Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award-winning author Max Gladstone’s works include Empress of Forever, the Craft Sequence of fantasy novels and games, and, with Amal El-Mohtar, the internationally bestselling This Is How You Lose the Time War. His interactive projects include the XYZZY-nominated Choice of the Deathless and Deathless: The City’s Thirst, which take place in the world of the Craft Sequence. Gladstone created the Serial Box series Bookburners, and the interactive television series Wizard School Dropout.

Gladstone studied Chinese literature at Yale, and lived and taught for two years in the rural Anhui province. He is a martial artist, fencer and fiddler. Before writing full-time, he also worked as a researcher for the Berkman Center for Internet and Policy Law, a Swiss Embassy tour guide, a go-between for a Chinese auto magazine, a translator, a philosophy TA, a tech industry analyst and an editor. He has wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat, sung at Carnegie Hall and been thrown from a horse in Mongolia.