Thursday, October 8, 2009
Book Chop: The Lost Symbol
Title: The Lost Symbol
Author: Dan Brown
Genre: Thriller/Speculative fiction (heavy on the speculation)
Rating: 4 stars
You've been hearing a lot about this book. I know this because, as we've established, you have an Internet connection, which means you live near civilization, or at least somewhere that people are saying things. If not, well...ugh, I don't have anything witty to say.
I liked this book. I'm kind of pissed at the critics who had their reviews written before it even came out (or before they even read it), jumping on the "I Hate Dan Brown" bandwagon. Then there are the people who call him a bigot or an anti-Christ or whatever they want to make up. Usually these are people who read The Da Vinci Code and had their Christian belief system challenged for the first time in their lives, and somehow thought that complaining about it would do damage to Mr. Brown.
Well, it didn't, and those people are kind of foolish. The best way to give notoriety to something is to make it controversial. If you don't believe me, check out the sales of all the books that people have tried to ban from public schools, starting with obscure titles like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Anyway, to the actual book: it was well-done. It was still a signature Dan Brown novel in the sense that some of the writing was outright crap, meaning either Brown still hasn't proofed his own writing, or his editors are just thinking "Why should I try? It's got Brown's name on it. It'll sell." I got kind of tired of him saying his own characters' names over and over again--first and last together.
"Kathleen Solomon did this, and then Kathleen Solomon thought about something else. Like Robert Langdon. Meanwhile, Robert Langdon was walking down the hallway. Robert Langdon looked down at Robert Langdon's watch."
Seriously Dan, it's okay to use words like "he" and "she" once in a while. Also, we know there's only one Robert you'll ever be referring to. It's cool, man.
In comparing this book to the other two Langdon novels, I'd say it's better than Da Vinci Code and tied with Angels & Demons. A&D remains his smartest book, whereas The Lost Symbol is going to make the best movie. I think the villain in this one was extremely well-motivated. He probably won't have the "shock value" of the A&D villain, at least not when you find out who he is, but his actions throughout the book made you really hate him. Like, you want a bus to just completely run him over. That's the mark of a well-done villain.
The plot centers on the society called the Freemasons and a secret they carry. Supposedly it's the key to "apotheosis", or becoming a god. The villain wants to know the secret, and he tricks Robert Langdon into figuring it out for him--or at least, he tries to force Langdon to find what he needs. From the big shocking intro, you have a few things that are trademark Dan Brown: long intros of important characters with backstories, a brutally long and drawn-out drowning scene, a few chases, and lots of flashbacks into previous lectures Langdon has given as a Harvard professor.
Still, in this story, Langdon has to get his hands dirty, and he goes through a lot more physically than he did in the other books. It takes place in Washington DC, making this the second Dan Brown book to do so (the other being Deception Point--still my favorite). It shouldn't surprise me that his two best books take place in America :-)
All patriotism aside, I am pleased with the outcome of this book, and for one major reason: it actually has meaning. Da Vinci had some controversial application, but was ultimately fiction; A&D supposedly stoked the coals of the science-versus-religion argument, but most (if not all) of the religious people I know have no problem with science and its pursuit.
Lost Symbol, on the other hand, has a really great message about religious tolerance, and opening one's mind up to exploring the existence of God. It's not in the form of heavy-handed lecturing from the all-knowing Langdon, either; Langdon himself finally has to confront his own atheism, which is nice to see. Brown pulls him out of the role of a static character, and Langdon does some nice self-evaluation.
When he does argue, he does it in defense of the Freemasons--a society whose purpose and practices are grossly misunderstood by the masses. When characters in the book refer to the Masons as a cult, or as satists, Langdon forces them to back up their claims and not be so judgmental--after all, the practices and tenets of nearly all religions can be made to sound cultish and sinister if told with the right slant or bias (a point which the Langdon character handily illustrates in a flashback scene).
I could go on and on about that, but the point is, this book (despite its technical flaws) was better than I expected, and I'm glad Brown's main character had to learn something for once. It helped the reader to really learn something as well.
If you liked his other books, you'll be more than satisfied with this one I think.
Oh! And funny side note: he takes a pot shot at his own book Digital Fortress in Lost Symbol. It was rather comical. If you've read DF, you'll know it when you see it.