Thursday, January 7, 2010
In this stunning follow-up to the global phenomenon The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown demonstrates once again why he is the world's most popular thriller writer. The Lost Symbol is a masterstroke of storytelling -- a deadly race through a real-world labyrinth of codes, secrets, and unseen truths... all under the watchful eye of Brown's most terrifying villain to date. Set within the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, D.C., The Lost Symbol accelerates through a startling landscape toward an unthinkable finale.
As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object -- artfully encoded with five symbols -- is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation... one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom. When Langdon's beloved mentor, Peter Solomon -- a prominent Mason and philanthropist -- is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him.
Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations -- all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth. As the world discovered in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, Dan Brown's novels are brilliant tapestries of veiled histories, arcane symbols, and enigmatic codes. In this new novel, he again challenges readers with an intelligent, lightning-paced story that offers surprises at every turn. The Lost Symbol is exactly what Brown's fans have been waiting for... his most thrilling novel yet.
Having read the Da Vinci Code, I had high hopes for this book. I really enjoyed Da Vinci and as this book got started, I noticed right off the bat several formulaic similarities. Once again, we're with Robert Langdon, brilliant symbologist in his tweed sport coat, running through the Capitol Building in Washington and stumbling upon a gruesome scene in the Capitol's Rotunda - a la Da Vinci's Louvre.
From there we go on a twisty wild night in which Langdon must solve the puzzle of what the "magic word" is from a Masonic pyramid that he's had part of in his possession and holds the answer to great and infinite wisdom. Something that will change the world if revealed. This opens up all sorts of suggestions of a Pandora's Box. Still, Robert must cooperate with a crazed, tatooed lunatic that has kidnapped his good friend, millionaire philanthropist and Mason of the 33rd Degree, Peter Solomon. The novel's villain, Mal'akh is convinced that if he learns the secret of the Masonic pyramid he will transform into a God. He has personal reasons for wanting to do this and has prepared for this night for over ten years. It's convoluted, but I found this creepy lunatic, Mal'akh, one of the best parts of the book. On audio, he had this whispery voice and a suitably skin crawling fascination about him that made his parts of the book the most riveting.
Other characters were just plain annoying, including Langdon, who came across too much of a know-it-all and not much charm. To showcase his knowlege, the author had top CIA director, Inoue Sato, question Langdon on every imaginable detail of symbolism (it seemed) so that it became tedious listening to his long drawn out answers and explanantions on every point. I'm all for background to help the story, but this really went overboard. His friend, Peter Solomon, and his sister, Katherine were other know-it-alls as well who were borderline zealots in regard to their individual fascinations with science and the wisdom of the what the Masons believed. More explanations and mini-lectures on the science of noetics and physics. Uggh. Frankly, I'd had enough.
I rolled my eyes over and over again every time Langdon, when posed with some new and startling revelation, would start off his answer by saying "as any symbologist would know, this is one of the most common symbols used in the world today!" There was a certain amount of smugness I detected in him that I found irritating. The book began to sound like one big long lecture on Masonic history and symbolism, including the history of the United States' forefathers and their spiritual and Masonic leanings. All the background fodder made me feel like I was in a lecture hall. Yes, Mr. Brown, we have no doubt, you did a lot of research for this book, but you don't have to beat us over the head with it. We get it! Have you ever heard of a Mary Sue, an author's wish fulfillment? I think Langdon is Dan Brown's Gary Stu. I think someone needs an editor that is not afraid to use a red pen and cut, cut, cut.
Don't get me wrong, the exciting twisty blind alley moments were good, and there were a few big surprises I wasn't expecting, but for the most part, this book was awash with unnecessary wordy philosophical and historical explanations. It would have been so much better if it kept mostly to the action. Having once lived in D.C., I know the Capitol well. I enjoyed the locale and racing around the city and the Capitol and monuments, but by the time we get to the big finale - the big secret - OMG! What a let down! And then the last 50 pages of the book (or in my case, the last hour of the audiobook) was dull, dull, dull, just one big lecture and philosophical discussion. After the villain gets his, the book should have ended there. What a mistake.
The narrator of the audiobook, Paul Michael, did a good job, but I wasn't crazy about his women's voices, but then I find most male narrators can't do justice to the female characters. The one woman character he does a good job with is Inoue Sato who sounds like a man due to her destroyed raspy voice described as the voice of a dying man with strep throat. One of the best lines in the book, comes from Sato who berates Langden upon first meeting him, after he asks her what she wants him to do, "For starters, you can stop calling me 'sir'" One of the few humorous moments in the entire book. But often the narrator's thinking inner voices, for both the men and women characters, sounded like the voiceover from the guy in the old Taster's Choice coffee commercials who borrows his friend's cabin for the weekend and finds he has no milk for his coffee! Remember those?
Anyway, back to the book. For the most part it was a mystery thriller on the trail of the crazy tatooed Mal'akh. I saw through most of the red herrings in the book (except for the one real BIG one) and much of it was predictable, I guessed early on where the whole thing would end up, it wasn't hard to figure that out. I did learn some interesting stuff about the Masons and next time I'm in the Capitol Rotunda, I'll be sure to check out that painting of George Washington on the ceiling!
Not a bad novel, but it was far too wordy and I think the author could have edited it back quite a bit. Plus, the big revelation at the end, the thing we've been waiting to find out about through the whole book was a colossal let down. I would have laughed if I hadn't been so disappointed. I felt like I'd invested all this time into listening to the book and then it had this tedious philosophical drawn out ending that is supposed to amaze us and make us think. Unbelievable.