Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
And 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, grows into something more.
Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?
Warnings: self-harm, depictions of war and violence, animal killing
Note: Not a YA novel
This intense romance in a futuristic science fiction setting was an absolute delight to read. I will say beforehand that generally I like my world-building in SFF to be well described, and while that wasn’t the case with this novella – I feel spending time on world-building would dilute the impact of the story anyway – it more than made up for that lack with an engaging storyline and some mind-blowing twists. The story begins with opposing agents in a Time War making contact, and they exchange letters, the content growing from professional admiration to full-blown heart-eyes love. We don’t know much of their origins, and I won’t even begin to understand the worlds they come from, but the bare bones of it is that Red comes from a technologically inclined, like cyborgified faction, while Blue comes from an enviromentally-inclined faction, and not the tree hugging kind.
Both sides have progressed in different directions, and use time agents to manipulate events to their advantage, with events and plans sometimes centuries in the making, over a rope of time and threads they control; Blue and Red being their respective best agents are frequently crossing paths as they change the course of events. Being from opposite sides, however, means that their letters to each other have to be untraceable. The interesting bit is how their letters are written – each one creatively delivered in every medium possible, sometimes in code in the bark of a tree grown over decades, sometimes in the form of a seed that has to be eaten. Each new letter speaks to their growing attraction for each other, even as they still both have doubts as to the motive of the other. As they go forth, they decide how to keep the other other from their organization, and if it is ever possible for them to be together.
This book is inexplicable in many ways, and it is difficult to say how it makes so much sense even when I didn’t understand the rules of this world, but about the romance I can say this – it is intense, obsessive and not sweet, yet it leaves you aching for more of it. Finally, all I can say it – this is book you just have to experience for yourself because nothing I say could come close to describing its brilliance.
Is it diverse? sapphic main characters; f/f romance
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Quercus Books, via Netgalley.
Released on July 18, 2019