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

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., a collaboration by novelists Neal Stephenson (Seveneves) and Nicole Galland (Stepdog), combines witches, time travel, particle physics and espionage. It's a dizzying range of subjects, but the two authors rope their sprawling novel together with a compelling and propulsive central conceit. At the outset, the modern-day protagonist (and major narrator throughout) is trapped in Victorian England and may not be able to get home.

Mel Stokes, a professor of ancient languages, is hired by a shadowy government agency to translate writings from across geographies and times that discuss magic. Digging further with her handler, Tristan, she finds that magic disappeared from the earth around the time of photography's rise. This leads them to an exiled physicist and his put-upon wife, and the discovery that time travel is possible, given the right conditions. From there, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. delves into a battle for the future of magic and technology. To its credit, the novel is never portentous regarding its subject matter. Instead, it zips along with a light touch, keeping the reader on her toes as it bounces among eras.

If anything, the book can be too quick (especially regarding how Mel comes to be trapped in the Victorian Era), but given its 400-plus page length, Stephenson and Galland can't be faulted for trying to trim the fat. Fans of both authors, and of swashbuckling fantasy, will certainly enjoy the ride. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

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