The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

Written by Neal Stephenson Nicole Galland
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

In modern Boston, linguist and expert in ancient languages Melisande Stokes is an underpaid Harvard lecturer. Tristan Lyons, a physics major, military guy and agent of “a shadowy government agency” (his words), hires her to translate some ancient documents. All the documents deal in some way with magic, and Mel and Tristan come to the conclusion that magic used to exist, but that somehow, in the mid-1800s, technology blocked and ended its ability to function. With the help of a cryogenic chamber and the world’s oldest witch, Mel and Tristan (and the expanding D.O.D.O. agency) are able to re-start magic. D.O.D.O’s employees use magic to time-travel, performing unusual and dangerous missions in a variety of historical locations. The official goals of D.O.D.O. are to subtly change the past to benefit the current US government, but there are side-efforts and secret agendas.

This epistolary novel is told through journal entries, emails, classified reports, PowerPoints, and other documents. Starting with Mel’s journal, we learn that she has been trapped in 1851 London and has decided to write down what happened and how it all went wrong.

This sci-fi/contemporary/historical novel is brilliant! The explanation of how magic works (using quantum physics and the many-worlds theory) is fascinatingly believable. The way the D.O.D.O. bureaucracy grows, with mismanagement and jealousy and business-speak, is excruciatingly realistic. Mel and Tristan’s “romance” is painfully (in a good way) slow-moving. This book is nail-biting, mind-blowing and, above all, hilarious. My favorites were the witches: women with intelligence and strong opinions who were good at surviving—in all time periods. Oh, and the Vikings. You have to read about the Vikings. Highly recommended.