Master of the Revels: A Return to Neal Stephenson’s D.O.D.O.

Written by Nicole Galland
Review by Jackie Drohan

This multi-period novel is a sequel to the author’s popular The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. (co-written with Neal Stephenson), opening with the now renegade team of Tristan Lyons, Melisande Stokes, Frank Oda and the rest of their former Department of Diachronic Operations (D.O.D.O.) team seeking to prevent the Irish witch Gráinne from stopping the rise of modern technology by means of magic time travel, à la Terminator.

The series boasts a dizzying array of historical as well as fictional characters, such as Grace O’Malley, Ireland’s notorious pirate queen, and Frederick Fugger of the famous Fugger banking family of Europe. Period color is further enhanced by reference to a host of other historical names relevant to the story, such as 18th-century vaccine pioneer Edward Jenner. One of the novel’s better points is its use of contrasts: Erzsebet Karpathy, a witch originally recruited by Gráinne but who switched allegiances to join the team, spends much time trying to understand modern western culture through media, with often revealing perspectives.

Among the more interesting literary plot points occurs when Robin, Tristan’s somewhat unreliable young sister, travels back to Jacobean London to combat the effects of spell work concealed by Gráinne in the lines of Macbeth. Title character Edmund Tilney, the king’s Master of Revels, bestowed with the management of all London stage plays, becomes an unwitting pawn in the battle.

The action plays out from ancient Rome to Renaissance Florence, and will be delightful to true fans of both history and fantasy. The style is fast-paced and direct, as is necessary with so much complexity of plot and character. The characters are nuanced, and clever use of dialog in a variety of media (epistolary, oral and modern message boards) keeps the pages turning.