The Lost Symbol: Dan Brown Hasn’t Lost It…Yet

21 01 2010

Dan Brown’s third Robert Langdon adventure has been highly anticipated.   With The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons selling an obscene amount of copies, it’s no wonder a vast audience was waiting with bated breath for a third installment.  Originally titled The Solomon Key (which, frankly, I think would have been a more appropriate title), The Lost Symbol was released in hardback in September of 2009.  Here’s the breakdown:

Famed symbologist, Robert Langdon, travels to Washington, D.C., only to find that his friend and mentor has been kidnapped by a madman bent on uncovering secret Masonic knowledge.   Caught in a race against time (the whole book takes place over 12 hours), Langdon teams up with the token female lead in an effort to stop the villain from uncovering devastating secrets, all hidden somewhere in the United States capital.

The Monkey: Like the previous Landon adventures, The Lost Symbol is face-paced and exciting.  The best part about the book, however, is the clever clues that Brown is able to weave together: combining monuments, paintings, historical figures, Masonic legends, Biblical references…the sheer amount of detail that Brown combines to form the central mystery of this book is astounding.  Several times I ended up Google-ing an artist or building described in the book, just to see if what he was saying was accurate.  In this way, The Lost Symbol returned to the puzzle-solving fun of The Da Vinci Code.  While Angels & Demons was more action-packed, Symbol and Code both feature ingenious puzzles and clues, making the reader almost giddy when pieces start falling perfectly into place.

The main message of the book is the most compelling of the three Langdon novels.  The idea of collective knowledge and human potential is a very broad concept that Brown is able to distill into an exciting novel.

The Weasel: While the book’s message may be the most interesting, it was almost too interesting.  In essence, I found myself more interested in Brown’s philosophy than the characters or plot.  The philosophical questions Brown raises in the book are fascinating; using a fiction structure to place these ideas seemed detrimental to the message.  It felt as if the reader had to wade through plot and characters to get to the philosophical points.  I’d almost have preferred to read a nonfiction essay or treatise on Brown’s underlying message.

Dan Brown gets accused of trite writing – and as this article from the Telegraph illustrates, it’s not completely unfair.  Sure there are unnecessary scenes, even chapters.  Sure there are unnecessary details.  My biggest complaint was the endless use of flashbacks.  While the central action of the story takes place over 12 hours, almost every other chapter flashes back, filling in backstory and necessary information.  It often slowed the plot considerably.

One other major disappointment: the twists at the end could be seen from a mile away.  Without giving any spoilers, the central twist became clear halfway through the book…then it just became a waiting game for the story to confirm it.  Brown’s formulaic plot is the main culprit here.  The twists are expected and the reader is trained to find them (M. Night Shyamalan’s films have suffered from this same problem).

All in all, a satisfying addition to the Robert Langdon series.  Great puzzle-solving, mixed with a message a bit too big for the story…a good read.  Check out this article about proposed the The Lost Symbol movie.  Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see how it translates to the big screen!

3 Death Stars out of 5

What did you think?  Did you like The Lost Symbol as much as Dan Brown’s other books?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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