• West Cork Literary Festival 2021

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Speculative Fiction

By Sophie O'Loughlin

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“You think you know how the world works? Think again.

From bestselling author Neal Stephenson and critically acclaimed historical and contemporary commercial novelist Nicole Galland comes a captivating and complex near-future thriller that questions the very foundations of the modern world.

A young man from a shadowy government agency; an upstart academic at an Ivy League university – together they begin to uncover a secret that will change the world’s view of the past, and determine the future of humanity.”

This book is just so brilliant I don’t even know where to start. It blends all my favourite things a book can have: memorable characters, humour, time travel, witchcraft, shadowy government agencies, military organisations, corruption, historical drama, romance, and mystery. The first thing I will say is that to be able to fit all of this in the book is really, really long. Like really long. I loved this though long books are always more fun. I find that all too often you’ve just gotten into a book and then it’s over. Not with this one – oh no.

It took me a little while to get into but to be honest the start is one of my favourite parts. Melisande is a researcher focusing on historical languages. She bumps into a mysterious man named Tristan Lyons and he invites her to join his shadowy government agency, D.O.D.O. She has plenty of questions but all of them are met with an answer of “classified” from Tristan. It takes a good while for Melisande and the reader to find out what is truly going on at D.O.D.O. There are plenty of humorous exchanges between Mel and Tristan throughout the book, along with other funny moments.

This book starts out as being Mel’s diary; she’s stuck in the 19th century a short time before magic dies out for good. However as it progresses it also contains excerpts from other people’s diaries, status reports, field reports, incident reports, powerpoint presentations (more interesting than you’d think) and transcripts from internal chat logs. It is just so unlike any other book I’ve ever read. This concept is new and exciting to me – I’ve seen it done in books before but not very well and it always feels like the author got tired of writing so decided to try to spice it up. In “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.” however, this way of telling the story works brilliantly.

The concept of magic is introduced in the book with a scientific explanation. It helps to make the whole thing more believable. Mel is contacted by a mysterious old woman named Erzebeth who knows far more about D.O.D.O. and Tristan than a random old woman should. She turns out to be a witch, and ends up also being employed by D.O.D.O.

We watch D.O.D.O. grow from a small organisation of just Tristan and Mel to a proper government run department with official channels and acronyms and job titles. This is another reason why I love how long this book is- it explores the growth fully and doesn’t just rush through it. It adds far more depth to the story.

The ending is just brilliant. All the subplots and little things/characters mentioned throughout the book tie together to result in one big scheme. The actual last paragraph could have been more impactful but as I have an advance copy that could change by the time of publication.

Watching the characters fumble their way through various historical settings and get to grips with the mechanics of time travel is intriguing and endlessly amusing. The settings seem pretty historically accurate; a lot of mindless violence, rampant sexism and detailed descriptions of the terrible smells of the places they visit. To get ready to be “Sent” (time travel), the characters undergo rigorous training in things such as local slang, fighting techniques, and mannerisms. If they don’t get all of these things learn before they go disaster unfolds as we see at one point in the book.

Overall, to be honest, this is one of my favourite books of all time. I can’t wait to re-read it. I give it 10/10.

(c) Sophie O’Loughlin

Order your copy online here.

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