Newly released book, plot summary from Google books:
"When Melisande Stokes, an expert in linguistics and languages, accidently meets military intelligence operator Tristan Lyons in a hallway at Harvard University, it is the beginning of a chain of events that will alter their lives and human history itself. The young man from a shadowy government entity approaches Mel, a low-level faculty member, with an incredible offer. The only condition: she must sign a nondisclosure agreement in return for the rather large sum of money.
Tristan needs Mel to translate some very old documents, which, if authentic, are earth-shattering. They prove that magic actually existed and was practiced for centuries. But the arrival of the scientific revolution and the Age of Enlightenment weakened its power and endangered its practitioners. Magic stopped working altogether in 1851, at the time of the Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace—the world’s fair celebrating the rise of industrial technology and commerce. Something about the modern world “jams” the “frequencies” used by magic, and it’s up to Tristan to find out why."
My non-spoiler-y review: interesting read, fun, but falls well short of what Neal Stephenson is capable of. (I don’t know anything about his co-author one way or the other).
I loved the premise, and the first few chapters, up through when they met Elzbet sp?). In particular, the idea of photography collapsing wave functions and thus making quantum magic not work is fairly brilliant. After that, I think things really went off the rails.
(a) I didn’t love all the let’s-make-fun-of-bureaucracy stuff. I started reading a book about a semi-realistic investigation of magic within kinda-scientific limitations, not a lecture about how organizations are dumb and full of red tape
(b) It’s really quite ridiculous that they fixated on time travel and nothing else. And even more ridiculous they got so fixated on this one type of time travel. If you’re trying to make money, why not just send information back in time and mess with the stock market? And what about healing? What about transformation of objects other than gold and plutonium?
© Also, Elzbet sort of vanishes as a character for a long time. She’s so fussy, and has such strong opinions, and then for years at a time she just happily sends people through time without thinking about any of the implications of anything? Why isn’t she pressing to recruit and train new witches immediately?
So, overall, a bit of a disappointment, honestly.