Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown


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 historic 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.

A brilliantly composed tapestry of veiled histories, arcane icons and enigmatic codes, The Lost Symbol is an intelligent, lightning-paced thriller that offers surprises at every turn. For, as Robert Langdon will discover, there is nothing more extraordinary or shocking than the secret which hides in plain sight…

More than 5 years after the release of The Da Vinci Code, after all the controversy, after the court cases, the movies, documentaries and all the hype, the follow up book from Dan Brown was finally released a few weeks ago. I read both DVC and Angels and Demons prior to starting blogging so I don't have any reviews to look back on, but I do remember loving DVC when I read it, and having many interesting conversations with some work colleagues about it. Then I read Angels and Demons and thought that it was actually a better book. So where does this book sit compared the previous two Robert Langdon novels?

Before I answer that question, I would like to make a few observations.

Robert Langdon is kind of like a college professor version of James Bond. In each book, there are the chases, the hi tech gadgetry references scattered through the story, and the willing, attractive female companion. All he is missing really is the martini and the tuxedo, but I am sure that if Dan Brown could manufacture the right situation that could happen, albeit reluctantly.

Dan Brown (or whoever) obviously does a lot of research about lots of very interesting topics. I have no idea if he left any of the research out, but it certainly felt a lot like if he found out something then into the book it went. Some of the information was interesting (for example the origins of the word sincerely which I shared in the Teaser Tuesday post), but other times it was too much info dump. Given how much happens in the space of just a few hours at times it was easy to get lost with all the information and events going on.

One thing that Brown does do well is to write short, sharp chapters, generally with some kind of hook at the end that makes you want to keep reading. Some of the plot devices he uses are completely over the top (for example, there is a Star Wars moment (you know, "Luke, I am your father" reveal) and times when you think you know what is happening to a character but you really are about to be blinded by science or improbability), but you do want to keep reading to see what happens next.

After the success of his earlier books, you could do tours of the various locations so that you could walk in the shoes of Robert Langdon and see the various monuments, art and buildings that he saw. Dan Brown certainly is good at inspiring you to want to see those places for yourself, and I have to say that this book is no different. I would love to go to Washington and see the various locations in the book. I would have loved to before reading this book, but certainly the desire to spend time at places like The Smithsonian Institute and Library of Congress has grown as a result of doing so.

Once again Brown starts off with a blanket statement "All organisations in this novel exist, including the Freemasons, the Invisible College, the Office of Security, the SMSC, and the Institute of Noetic Sciences. All rituals, science, artwork and monuments in this novel are real." Further on in the book he mentions that the Freemasons would never talk about their organisation or their rituals. I guess that the one thing that guarantees is that at the very least, there isn't going to be the kind of backlash that there was from the Church to the previous books. I do have to wonder what secret organisation will be the subject of his next book.

The hard thing for me to gauge now as a reader is this. If I had of read this book five years ago, would I have enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. The short answer is I don't know. Or maybe another question should be if I was to reread either of the previous books would I feel the same amount of enjoyment as I did the first time around. Again, I don't know the answer to that question either. When I don't have hundreds of books lying around waiting to read for the first time maybe I will get around to rereading these two books to find out.

What I can tell you is that I didn't close this book with the same sense of satisfaction as I did with the two previous Robert Langdon books, and it felt a lot like hard work slogging my way through the codes, symbols, science and mythology that makes up so much of the story in this book.

Reading back over this, I have just realised that I haven't mentioned anything about the plot really which makes this more of a reaction than a review, but never mind. If you have read either of the previous two Robert Langdon novels, then you have a fair idea of what to expect.

Rating 3.5/5


  1. I might read this eventually, but I am not exactly rushing out to get it!

  2. After all the hoopla about this book, I wondered if it was worth the hype.

  3. There's a line in THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY that says "reading good books ruins you for bad books" (or something like that), and I think that might be the case here. After blogging about books for quite a while it is likely that you are a more critical reader, hence your trouble with this book. At least, that is my (unsolicited) opinion. :)

    As for me, I wasn't a fan of the DVC or Angels/Demons so I won't be picking this one up either. But I've heard good things about it, so maybe it does have some redeeming qualities ...

  4. I just finished reading this book too. I actually stopped quite often in my reading and looked the locations on the internet. I also visited Washington DC a few years ago so I could picture most of the places he was talking about. I also found a Free Mason Blog that had been prepared prior to the release of the book to answer questions that people would have about their organization. I found it helpful. I enjoyed the book. I thought this was his best nemesis. I did feel that Langdon's character was a little weak--almost like he wasn't needed except to provide the information for the solving of the clues. I liked reading your "reaction" to the book.

  5. I agree with Heather - I think as a book blogger, we've all seriously grown and developed our tastes through more exposure to more books. So it's harder to appreciate something as much as we once did. I know that's true for me, and I suspect that's what has happened to you here.

    I'm still not sure if I will read this or not. It's on our library list, but I might leave it to Keith - there are so many books TBR!

  6. I picked up Angels and Demons at the library way back when it was first released. The original cover had an ambigram of Angels and Demons on the cover. It was SO Cool. And I'm a sucker for a great cover. I loved the book. Way more than Da Vinci.

    But I don't know how I would feel now. I don't think I would like it nearly as much.

  7. I think you hit the nail on the head here. It was a little detail/research oriented, eh?

  8. I am in the fence about reading this books for several reasons.
    #1 I probably watched something on the History Channel which covered this.
    #2 The setting reminds me of National Treasure with Nicholas Cage
    #3 I shouldn't have to slog through a book that's supposed to be intense.

    Great review and confirms what I was already thinking: no rush to get this book and certainly not to read it. If I see and I have time, then I'll pick it up.

    Wonder if he just can't live up to our expectations?
    Thanks Marge. Enjoy your weekend!

  9. I'm with Heather and Meghan. I always knew his books weren't great, but I enjoyed them a lot more before reading so much fantastic stuff since I started book blogging. Now he just annoys me, particularly those short chapters with the cliffhangers you talked about.

  10. I definitely didn't like this book as much as Brown's previous two. I like how he researches things out the wazoo, but this one didn't feel pulled together for me. The locations weren't utilized as much as they could have been, Noetics wasn't part of the plot at all, and the puzzles weren't particularly puzzling. I don't mind formulas, but it kind of felt like Brown was phoning this one in.

    Oh, and I HATED the "Luke I am your father" so-called plot twist. I saw it coming from page 200. I didn't even realize it was supposed to be a surprise until they got to the big reveal.

  11. Nice review. I'm glad that you wrote more about your reactions than the plot. I haven't been reading too many reviews on this book because so many of the reviewers give way too much away and I haven't had the time to delve in just yet. I'm looking forward to it though. I feel like this book has gotten a lot of mixed reactions - but sometimes, that's the beauty of getting the opportunity to read a book, the mixed reactions are great conversation starters!

  12. I approached this book with much anticipation, like many readers, and found it wanting. It didn't have the pacing of some of Brown's previous books. And the premise was far less interesting than what Brown presented in The Da Vinci Code. In my view, the whole effort felt forced, as if Brown lost interest mid-stream. Like other commentators here, the book seemed like a bad National Treasure ripoff. Another book that handles many of the same subjects, including Freemasonry and the symbolism of the layout of Washington DC is J.G. Sandom's The God Machine. But Sandom's book is far more engaging and better written. Plus, his treatment of Founding Father Ben Franklin was fascinating. Maybe the Lost Symbol movie will be better. I hope so. I liked what they did with Angels and Demons.

  13. I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
    And you et an account on Twitter?