This massive book covers time travel, witchcraft, academia, military machinations, and more science and physics than this English major could comfortably follow. It feels like several different books mashed together (maybe because of the dual authors?), but the merging of all the pieces was pretty successful. I haven’t read much Stephenson, so I’m not sure how much was him and how much was Galland, but I enjoyed most of it.
Melisande Stokes is trapped in 1851 London, and is writing down everything that happened to leave in a safety deposit box in case she can’t get home to present-day Boston and therefore never existed. The first large chunk of the book is her describing the history of D.O.D.O. (the Department of Diachronic Operations), and how she was hired away from her thankless teaching job to be a linguistics expert for a secret military project researching the history of magic. Magic was once real, it turns out, and suddenly stopped working in 1851, and now there are no more witches. What begins as a theoretical exercise turns into a huge, years-long undertaking that leads to D.O.D.O. mastering time travel and recruiting witches.
In the middle of the book, we start hearing from other sources: reports from within D.O.D.O., memos, journal entries, miscellaneous correspondence. It’s jarring at first, but it is interesting to see how the other pieces fit together, and find out what’s going on while Stokes is stuck. It gets more fragmented and busy as the book goes on, but there are some great characters, villains who aren’t necessarily villains, and some cool history lessons.
There’s a bit too much focus on what several of the female characters look like, and a will-they/won’t-they love story that felt a little tired. And I get that they’re making fun of military jargon, but all the acronyms get old fast. Overall, however, I dug the people and the complicated plot, even though the ending fizzled out a smidge.