Thank you to Saga Press for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
This book is poetic, romantic, strange, and violent – a whirlwind of emotion, fear, and firsts. Two soldiers fighting on opposite sides of a war up and down through the strands of time find that their greatest joy lies in each other, and thus begin a correspondence. They are two parallel lines that never meet despite having shaped one another through each of their interactions.
Whatever I can say about this novella will not do it justice. This book is utterly, wholly, an experience in and of itself. It’s the act of reading the prose. It’s the empathy you feel at the characters’ want for one another. Told in an epistolary format, each letter from Red to Blue and from Blue to Red will tug at your heartstrings.
Red is an agent of the Commandant – she is violence and destruction, tearing worlds and civilisations down across time to force history upon a new path.
She holds a corpse that was one a man, her hands gloved in its guts, her fingers clutching its alloy spine. She lets go, and the exoskeleton clatters against the rock. Crude technology. Ancient. Bronze to depleted uranium. He never had a chance. That is the point of Red.
Blue is an agent of Garden – she cultures timelines by pruning and training the strands far in advance, setting up a new avenue for the future to grow into.
When Blue wins – which is always – she moves on to the next thing. She savors her victories in retrospect, between missions, recalls them only while travelling (upthread into the stable past or downthread into the fraying future) as one recalls beloved lines of poetry. She combs or snarls the strands of time’s braid with the finesse or brutality required of her, and leaves.
Each follows one another across the various strands of time, intersecting with one another, undoing each other, delighting in the cleverness of their counterpart. What Blue sets in motion, Red endeavors to destroy; what Red destroys, Blue has planned for and planted a pyrophytic seed ready to sprout in the smoldering flames left behind. Through it all, they write letters in lava, in poison, and in the very fibers of the universe itself.
The shifting colors form words that last mere moments, in handwriting now familiar. As the lava flows, those words change.
. . .
. . . Hunger, Red – to sate a hunger or to stoke it, to feel hunger as a furnace, to trace its edges like teeth – is this a thing you, singly, know? Have you ever had a hunger that whetted itself on what you fed it, sharpened it so keen and bright that it might split you open, break a new thing out?
Sometimes I think that’s what I have instead of friends.
I hope it isn’t too hard to read this. Best I could do on short notice – hope it reaches you before the island breaks around you.
Write to me in London next.
In one another, they find the connection they’ve been lacking. They have no true peers, for they are each the best of the best, and no friends within their ranks who they can relate to. They are solitary, alone, and hungry for the empathy of one who can understand. Yet, what they crave destroys them, piece by piece, as their warring civilizations clash and churn, forcing them to tear themselves down to protect the other.
Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone are a team that we neither deserved nor expected. This is a small masterpiece.