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

UK book cover of The Rise and Fall of Dodo by Neal Stephenson

I knew as soon as I stumbled across this book online that we were destined to be together. A chunky book about a time-travelling government department attempting to reinstate magic? Yes please. DEFINITELY yes. So when I accidentally stumbled across a signed copy in London’s Forbidden Planet, I honestly didn’t shut up about it for days. I got home, read it immediately… and still haven’t shut up about it. Sorry everyone (but not that sorry).

Plot summary:
1851 England
The Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace has opened, celebrating the rise of technology and commerce. With it the power of magic – in decline since the industrial revolution began – is completely snuffed out. The existence of magic begins its gradual devolution into mere myth.

21st Century America
Magic has faded from the minds of mankind, until an encounter between Melisande Stokes, linguistics expert at Harvard, and Tristan Lyons, shadowy agent of government, leads to the uncovering of a distant past.
After translating a series of ancient texts, Melisande and Tristan discover the connection between science, magic and time travel and so the Department of Diachronic Operations – D.O.D.O. – is hastily brought into existence. Its mission: to develop a device that will send their agents back to the past, where they can stop magic from disappearing and alter the course of history.

But when you interfere with the past, there’s no telling what you might find in your future…

I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved this book. I always knew I was going to, but I feel like it defied even my highest of expectations.

It’s almost like a way more detailed and technical version of The Chronicles of St Mary’s series – I always complained that the concept was great but it was hugely lacking in detail – and now we have The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. In this book, we get to see the creation of the organisation from the ground up, as the machines are invented and the concept of D.O.D.O. (Department of Diachronic Operations) comes together. It could be boring, but it’s not. It’s time travel and so I will suck up every scrap of detail and love it.

It’s told through a variety of different formats, but not so many that it becomes wearing (I’m looking at you, Illuminae). We mostly see mission reports and journal entries, but there’s the odd internal company memo or policy briefing to add a dry and fun sense of humour. I wasn’t over keen on the letters from Grainne O’Malley (a 16th Century witch) as I really didn’t like her and they dragged on a bit but, looking back, they probably were necessary to the overarching plot, so I won’t complain too much.

Ohhhhhh, the plot. It’s ingenious. A lot of time is spent on setting the scene and I loved every second. However, the actual over-arching point of the novel is deeply hidden and quite subtle, so that you start to feel genuine little twinges of anxiety before you even really know what’s going on. It’s hard to pinpoint, but it’s there. When it really gets going, towards the end, my stomach actually hurt, I cared so deeply about the characters.  It’s honestly a masterpiece.

Of course you get some detail of their time-travelling exploits – what’s the point of a time travel book otherwise!? I loved Melisande travelling back to bury a rare book, and managing to navigate the 16th Century slightly better every time she headed back. I’d probably have liked more of that, but not at the expense of the amazing plot so I’ll pipe down. There’s a reasonable amount there anyway, in fairness.

I can only imagine how long it took Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland to plan this book. Not only the set-up of D.O.D.O. but the intertwining threads of narrative that come together to make absolute sense. It is time travel, after all – it’s not meant to be simple. This is the only book I’ve read by these authors, but I’ve already added a few more to my wishlist.

The only problem with The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is that I was torn between frantically needing to read it, but then not wanting to read it because then I’d have finished it and couldn’t read it anymore… *breathes into a paper bag*


Visit Neal Stephenson’s website here, or find him on Twitter. 
Nicole Galland can be found here. 


  1. Unknown says:

    I love visiting your blog and can’t wait to see what you’re working on! Thank you for your nice review!

  2. Evelina says:

    I'm kind of a fan of Stephenson's… Have you read Seveneves? You KNOW you need to trust my recs 😀 so please just read it!
    And great review. I asked for this ARC on Edelweiss, but I was left to dream on 😀 now after having read your review, I just want to read it more. Maybe I'll just have to get it!

    P.S. The link in your October wrap-up is broken, just wanted to say 🙂

    1. Hanna @ Booking in Heels says:

      Thanks for a head’s up about the link – I was halfway through transferring to WordPress (which was NOT going well) and you must have caught it mid-transfer. It should work now!

      D.O.D.O. is the only book of his that I’ve read, but it DEFINITELY won’t be the last. I’m so excited to read some more – I was thinking I’d start with Snowcrash as apparently it’s his most famous… but then again I absolutely DO trust your recs, so I’ll go look up Seveneves 🙂

      You DO have to get this. Honestly, it’s just brilliant. And I owe you one for The Radium Girls!

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