Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Source: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Series: Robert Langdon (Book #3) - all can be read as standalones
Publisher: Bantam Press
Release date: September 15 2009
Tagged under: 2014 read, mystery or thriller, adult fiction, 3
Pages: 509
Buy at: Amazon

What was lost will be found...

Washington DC: Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned at the last minute to deliver an evening lecture in the Capitol Building. Within moments of his arrival, however, a disturbing object - gruesomely encoded with five symbols - is discovered at the epicentre of the Rotunda. It is, he recognises, an ancient invitation, meant to beckon its recipient towards a long-lost world of hidden esoteric wisdom. 
When Langdon's revered mentor, Peter Solomon - philanthropist and prominent mason - is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes that his only hope of saving his friend's life is to accept this mysterious summons and follow wherever it leads him 
Langdon finds himself quickly swept behind the facade of America's most powerful city into the unseen chambers, temples and tunnels which exist there. All that was familiar is transformed into a shadowy, clandestine world of an artfully concealed past in which Masonic secrets and never-before-seen revelations seem to be leading him to a single impossible and inconceivable truth.

Book Review [Spoiler-Free]

I'm not a die-hard fan of Dan Brown's works nor am I someone who disdains his novels and reads them for the sole purpose of mocking them. I'm sort of in between. I know roughly what I'm in for when I reach for one of his books - an entertaining thriller ride with lots of cryptic puzzles. I'm not looking for anything more or anything less. If I gain some knowledge regarding lost cultures or historical events, then that's the extra icing on the cake.

Like the previous two books in the series, the story hits the ground running. The protagonist of the series, Robert Langdon is lured into a mad chase for a hidden secret by a seemingly all-knowing well-prepared antagonist. There are multiple forces against him: time, cryptic puzzles that when deciphered reveals another puzzle, the legal forces - in this case, the CIA - who seem to have their own agenda as they demand answers from Langdon and of course, the antagonist who seems to be always one step ahead of everyone else. This time, the story is located in the famous buildings of America's capital city and the Masonic secret that the bad guy is trying to get his hands on? It's buried out there somewhere.

At just over 500 pages, The Lost Symbol is a big book. And that isn't much of an issue as the novel is fast-paced with lots of action and short sentences, alternating quickly between various points of views as the reader races through the short chapters. The whole story takes place in the span of just under a day, with the majority of it occurring between 7PM and midnight so you can just imagine how much drama Dan Brown managed to pack into this thick volume of text.

In amongst all the action, Brown peppers the story with bits and pieces of information. Historical facts that make your eyes (along with the characters') widen as you discover what he is saying actually is true in real life. Brown is able to weave together a web of facts into an elaborate fictional set-up that beckons the reader to question what s/he knows and turn the American history, or at least the one I know, on its head.

It is, at the end of the day, a Dan Brown novel. I got what I wanted so I'm satisfied. Yet at the same time, I felt this book is not up to the standards of his previous works.

When I said in the paragraph above that the characters' eyes widen, I really wasn't kidding. I've lost count how many times someone in the book, mainly Langdon, points out something and the other characters either widen their eyes, gasp incredulously or feel their stomach drop as they realize the implications. And this always seems to happen at the end of a chapter. Also, the explanations, while useful, significantly slowed the pace of the story down and in a book this big, you can only do it so many times before it becomes a bit of an issue.

But these aren't even my main issues with this book. The problem I felt was the book read like a screenplay. Every chapter is short, like scenes out of a film. The plot reveals itself a little bit at a time, always with the foreshadowing that there's something much much bigger on the horizon that us the readers don't know about yet. It really felt at times Dan Brown enjoyed not telling us what's going on - perhaps a bit too much. In addition, the plot, like an action film, is the driving force behind this story. The characters, their backgrounds, personality and motivations, are secondary. And some of the characters and their actions really got on my nerves at times. You really didn't get to know their motivations until the last hundred pages, if at all.

Overall: 3/5

However, that is all what you get when you pick up a Dan Brown novel. He writes mystery thrillers for a reason - to entertain. And with this book, I think he did a mighty fine job of it. He accomplished what he has set out to do - entertain the masses with a mixture of facts and speculations. Plot aside, the rest of the book just didn't feel as strong as Angels and Demons or The Da Vinci Code, which is why this book didn't get a higher rating.

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