2,797 of 3,043 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2009
I want to be fair to Dan Brown.
Elitist literary critics say that Brown is not a good writer, and that his stories are bland. I personally think that if you manage to genuinely entertain and awe your audiences, then you have accomplished something worthy of reading. I also think that "The Da Vinci Code" was nearly an impossible act to follow. People will have all sorts of crazy expectations for your next book that you won't be able to fulfill. As such, I write this review as fair as I can, trying to assess it on its own merits, but comparisons are inevitable.
The Lost Symbol isn't a bad book, but it is a letdown. I didn't like this one for the same reason I didn't like Angels and Demons as much. Also, Brown doesn't advance the story at a good pace. A good two-thirds of the book (I'm not exaggerating, I counted the pages) was filled with variations on such a scene:
Character A: Have you heard of X?
Character B (usually Langdon): Yes, but I thought that was just a myth.
Character A shows or tells B something.
Character B reacts with shock.
Then, insert scenes of people walking from one place to another, being chased.
Then, insert the sentence "Suddenly everything made sense." At least for the next ten pages.
After reading this, I had to wonder whether Brown is a writer on Lost, where people can't seem to give straight answers, and where scenes never resolve any questions.
Here's my advice to Dan Brown:
1. Fire your editor. There were some whole passages, even chapters, that served no purpose other than to inflate your book to an unnecessary size. I don't mind reading big books, but I do mind reading through unnecessary words. Ch. 69, for example, is unnecessary. If your editor didn't ask you to take it out, then he should be fired. Sorry.
2. We don't need to know exactly how every character moves from one location to the next, which turn they took, what street they walked across. If it serves the plot, if the geography is important (as it was in Angels and Demons), then fine. Geography was crucial at certain moments in this book, but many times, the passages when you describe how someone moves from one part of a house to another part, what door they opened and closed, all that is boring and tedious.
3. Don't write your novel like a screenplay. Whether you've done it consciously or not, your short chapters read as if you had in mind exactly what camera shots you expect out of an inevitable movie adaptation. Leave that to the screenwriter. If they can adapt a book like "Naked Lunch," they can surely adapt your book as well. Write your novel as a novel.
4. Be careful of hubris. You're in a unique and rare position that, I'm sure, many authors dream of: your books will sell millions by default and you will get a multi-million dollar movie deal without question. Good for you! Some authors handle that well (e.g. J.K. Rowling), some don't (e.g. Stephen King, Michael Crichton). It's not that the latter are bad writers, but that they are capable of writing some really bad stuff. Having said that, I'm not saying that The Lost Symbol is bad, just that it needs to lose about 100-pages of unnecessary, repetitive scenes. Speaking of Crichton, the reason I stopped reading him is that he became too formulaic. All his books are about a bunch of mismatched experts going to some remote location and something goes wrong. Formula isn't bad per se. Rowling is formulaic too. Most of her books revolve around the Hogwarts school year, but she puts enough story in there to make it work. You should do more of that.
5. Know what you're good at. You know your technology, which makes your book authentic. You also know that your readers are likely to go Google a painting or artist you mentioned and be awed by what you described. That's great! I bet that also saves you the pain of having to request reprint permissions of artwork and such. Also, since most people don't know their history, let alone the etymology of words they use everyday, you have literally an endless supply of stories. That's what you're good at. I'd say, forget the science stuff. It's interesting, but, as with Angels and Demons, it's an awkward fit. I don't recall there being any modern science in The Da Vinci Code and I was fine with that.
6. Try a recurring character. Langdon is fine, but consider having a character or two that returns in subsequent books. Make them interesting, of course, and don't make them a love interest.
So, here's the good news. Dan Brown hasn't nuked the fridge, at least not for me. Also, now that this book is out in the open, readers are likely to give his next book a much fairer assessment. So, I look forward to reading that, but, I probably won't be buying it on the first day it's out.
622 of 703 people found the following review helpful
A quick note on the ranking: I hold 5-star ratings in reserve for the best of the best. The previous Robert Langdon books I would rate at about 4 stars for being fun reads but nothing that would resemble a literary masterpiece. I enjoyed this book significantly less than the other two, hence the two stars.
'The Lost Symbol' is not a bad book. While it would certainly rank it 3rd amongst the three Robert Langdon novels it is still an amusing read. I forgive Brown for his weak writing style and I accept that he writes characters that are fairly two-dimensional with little personality outside of that which pertains explicitly to the story. I accept that this novel was going to have the exact same story structure and characters as the previous two. I accept that the relationships between people will be odd. I accept that most chapters will end with a variation on his cheap cliffhanger "And then Robert couldn't believe what he saw!" I accept all that. And yet, even with all those concessions, this one just left me flat.
When it comes to the writing style I'm not entirely sure if I should be blaming Brown or his editor (or, potentially, his lack thereof-which I guess would be blaming him). The style, while simple, could easily be smoothed out with an editor who was given some room to work. What hurts his prose is repetition of words and phrases over and over and over and over-often on the same page.
Sure, the story structure is an identical match to the first two with all the same types of characters and twists. But here's the issue, this time is just doesn't work like it did before. Here's why:
1. Robert Langdon is officially a moron: He spends more time being lectured to and making wrong guesses than he does solving anything. His inner monologue serves to deliver some interesting asides, but nothing that helps forward the plot. I'm fairly certain he figured out absolutely nothing critical in the last third of the book. He was completely marginalized.
2. The science of Noetics, as used in this book, is a complete throwaway with no bearing on the plot: In A&D the science of matter and anti-matter played a significant role in the overall plot. It's relation to the Big Bang and religion as well as its overall implementation throughout the story was essential. Here, the Noetics pops up just enough to be annoying once you realize it serves no primary purpose. Also, Noetics is barely a science. Reading this book would make one think it's far more legitimate than it is. I was fascinated several years ago when I first heard it mentioned. Upon further research one finds that it is more wishful thinking than science and that it has very little actual research and support. Closer looks at studies (the water that has been "loved" is a favorite) show gaping holes, inconsistencies, and a complete lack of scientific method. While it may sound nice it just serves no purpose.
3. The payoff just doesn't work: Maybe we're out of major historical secrets to reveal to the world because this one just fizzles out. The build-up of this story often felt like it was stretching. In the previous Robert Langdon novels he finds himself moving between a great many locations surrounded by symbols and puzzles. Here, he spends his time in a handful of buildings, several of which play no role in solving anything but are simply places for him to rest or think. I often found myself turning pages, not to see what happened next, but to see if ANYTHING happened next. The reveals in the first two were very cool. This one gets such hype and then comes the "Really? That's it. I just read 500 pages to find THAT out? There's a few hours I'll never have back." moment.
I can say, unequivocally, that when the special edition with all the pictures is released I will absolutely not be purchasing it. I just don't care to ever read this novel again. I learned a few things about history and there were some interesting parts. But overall it was just mediocre, and sometimes that's worse than being bad.
247 of 282 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2009
The pages turned quickly, but this was in part because I found myself skimming the vast sections of religious philosophy, psuedo scientific mumbo-jumbo and pedantic exposition, all of which seemed to go on endlessly.
The book builds and builds until the shockings truths are finally revealed. Without disclosing any details, one of these shockers had been painfully obvious for some time and I was impatient for Brown to just get it over with. When the other shocker was revealed, my reaction was "so what".
I enjoyed the cliff-hanger chapter endings in Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, but they quickly became annoying in "The Lost Symbol". Worse, much of the book felt like padding. The last 50 or so pages was like an infomercial -- the story is over, but wait, there's more! I kept hoping the book would have an interesting conclusion, but it ended with a wimper, not a bang.
387 of 450 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2009
Have to agree with many of the posters here. Too many cliched characters: the diminutive Japanese CIA lady straight out of "The Incredibles"; the tatooed protagonist just the albino from DVC in reverse; the evil Turkish prison guard from "Midnight Express," the wise religious man who sees with his hands...I could go on and on. Forget the so-called science. You can see the plot twists coming a mile away. Is there ANYONE who didn't know the true identity of the villain immediately? Or the location where it would all end? Or what was inside the box Langdon was given? But I think when it got to the "drowning" scene, I lost it completely. I simply could not believe he would re-create a scene from a 20-year-old movie.
What hasn't been mentioned here is the absolute idiocy of the characters' behavior. A brilliant scientist lets a stranger into her secret lab because she receives a TEXT message? Who wouldn't question that? By her own admission, her brother didn't even know how to text! The use of phone messages throughout is maddening. A major CIA director hears someone saying, "I'll be there in 20 minutes" and never questions that he might be lying? Langdon flies off at a moment's notice without any confirmation that the person he's speaking to represents the person he says he does? And SURE, I'll bring along this sacred thing that I've been told to keep hidden for years just because you say so! DB keeps using this same device over and over and it simply defies all sense. "Oh, well, this person says he's my brother's doctor--my brother who's been MISSING--so, sure, I'll just run right over there and have a chat with him." In a private home that looks nothing like a doctor's office. "Sure, I'll have some tea!" And why on EARTH would a wealthy and powerful man like Peter Solomon not have some kind of security around to begin with? Would the guard at his building really let a limousine pass through without seeing who was in the back seat? No video cameras anywhere to capture him carrying out an unconscious man? Too much...just, too much.
Plus the repetition. I wish someone would count the number of times Langdon says something like, "But the blah-blah is just blah-blah," only to be shown a few pages later that--OMG, I NEVER THOUGHT OF IT THAT WAY! After the fiftieth time it happens, wouldn't Langdon maybe keep his mouth shut or learn that things "aren't always what they seem"? And the ending. Without giving anything away, what exactly is the point of the pyramid and the secret codes and symbols if the answer is already known? Doesn't that make the entire plot pointless to begin with? It's not really such a big secret after all, is it? Why wouldn't everyone be screaming it from the rooftops instead of shrouding it in secrecy? I literally could go on and on. You could teach a course in senseless plot points based on this book.
69 of 77 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2010
First, let me tell you what's positive about DB's latest: The nuggets of symbology, D.C. architecture, and history are great. For me, it was by far the best aspect of The Lost Symbol and I completely enjoyed learning about them.
Now, here is my list of things (in order of how much they irritated me) that ruined this book for me (SPOILERS!!!):
1. The ending is the anticlimactic ending to end them all. The entire plot revolves around the Ancient Mysteries. We are led to believe that it's the single most powerful thing on the planet. The fate of every character in the book is seemingly tied to it. The forefathers and old Masons concocted a prodigiously cryptic, complex, arcane system of codes to keep it secret and to make sure that it doesn't fall into the wrong hands. People in the story DIE because of it. And, drum roll please! The Ancient Mysteries turn out to be...the Bible. What?! All of this hoopla to protect something that millions of people have sitting on their shelves in the first place? This "secret" could have been published on the front page of every newspaper in the world with explicit instructions on how to obtain enlightenment and it still wouldn't have had that great of an impact overall; people would just continue to go on with their lives. What a disappointment.
2. We eventually find out why the CIA is involed (which, as other people have pointed out, would not be the agency involved to begin with). We know that it has something to do with a video or image on Sato's laptop which severely shakes up people like Warren Bellamy, so it must be VERY serious and damaging. However, it turns out that it's only a video of Masonic initiation rites that show the faces of very important and powerful U.S. citizens. Uh, in reality, if this indeed got out to the public it would be news for a day, maybe two, then people would promptly forget about it. After all, how can a bunch of men playing dress-up and putting on plays be so damaging? I don't know, but the CIA sure thinks it can be.
3. What exactly was Mal'akh's goal? I thought I had this understood: he wanted to find the Ancient Mysteries and become all-powerful. Ok, sounds reasonable. Yet, at the end, without even finding the Mysteries, he gives himself his final tattoo and then decides to sacrifice himself. Wait a second, he never found what he was looking for the entire time! How did he accomplish his goal?! THIS MAKES NO SENSE!! And furthermore, why was everyone trying to prevent him from finding the Ancient Mysteries anyway? All it was was a Bible which couldn't even be dug up in the end. He literally could have done no damage with this information, yet people like Peter Solomon, Warren Bellamy, and Robert Langdon went through pains to prevent him from finding this out. Am I missing something?
4. You would think that after Langdon's adventures in Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code he would be pretty open to "fantastical" claims made by other, intelligent, credible people. However, here we are, with Mr. Langdon still being the biggest skeptic out there. I can't even estimate how many times he said something such as, "Surely you don't believe that, it's only a legend!" only to have himself be proven wrong moments later. Just believe Robert, you'll save everyone alot of time!
5. I understand the connection that Noetic Science has with the power of the mind and the "Ancient Mysteries", but it really served no purpose here. I thought something big concerning it would occur but nothing does. What was the point of Brown even mentioning it at all in the book other than he wanting to throw in another "esoteric" facet for the heck of it? In a related gripe, how did Mal'akh even know about Katherine Solomon's lab and research, and why was he determined to destroy it? Why would her research have mattered to him if he alone had access to the Ancient Mysteries and became all-powerful? Did the research seriously threaten his plans (which would have been monumentally coincidental since his own aunt was carrying it out), or did he just want revenge on his aunt even though she never slighted him in any way? Either way, it makes no sense. The lack of explanation with this thread was unbelievable.
6. In every one of Brown's novels, there is always a pair that team up, and together they have all the answers without fail. This time around it's Robert and Katherine trying to decipher the pyramid. Robert doesn't know what to do next? Don't fear, Katherine will undoubtedly know the obscure answer! Katherine is stumped the next chapter? Don't fret, Robert will know the answer only three people in the world know. Good thing those exact two people teamed up or else the plot would have come to a standstill.
7. The dialogue is purely painful at times. The worst are the classroom flashback scenes in which Robert/Peter interact with students. You can't help but put your head in your hands when reading some of those exchanges...Also, there were numerous times when, during an urgent moment, Robert, Katherine, or someone else had to stop and give the other character a dissertation on something. "My brother Peter will most likely die tonight, the CIA is hot on our heels, we're running out of precious time, but let me pause for a moment so I can explain to you, Robert, an enigmatic piece of history that will help us advance the plot." This happens CONSTANTLY.
8. Having a mini cliffhanger at the end of every short chapter is wearily played out. Stop doing it! When you do it over and over and over again, it loses its effectiveness.
9. Peter: "Hey Robert, my hand was cut off just hours ago and I found out that the son I thought had died years ago was really the lunatic that tried to kill my family and I witnessed his gruesome death before my eyes, you were drowned in some sort of breathable liquid and were knocked out cold after having your head smashed against the floor and undoubtedly have a concussion, and Katherine had most of the blood drained out of her - but let's forget about all that for the moment and go sightseeing at the top of the Washington Monument. Then, afterwards, you and Katherine can take this key and watch a romantic sunrise from atop the Capitol Building. I'd join you, but I suppose I really should get to the hospital considering a madman cut my right hand off. Hmmm, I wonder why no medical personnel forced all of us to go before in the first place? Oh well, enjoy your time here in Washington!"...A ridiculous ending to a ridiculous story.
10. Why didn't Katherine, Trish and Peter just use a damn flashlight when walking through Pod 5 on the way to the lab? Just buy one for 5 bucks at Walmart instead of walking for hundreds of feet through the pitch dark. They're supposed to be brilliant scientists?
That's about all I can think of. Although TLS started promising, it just dissolved into a hodgepodge of nonsensical drivel. It's a shame because there's a good book buried here somewhere. But I think I may be through with Dan Brown, there are too many other good books out there.
189 of 219 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2009
Do you remember the scene in "A Christmas Story" when Ralphie anxiously deciphers his secret message with his Little Orphan Annie secret decoder and all he comes up with is "Eat More Ovaltine?" I feel his pain.
203 of 237 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2009
So poor an effort I felt compelled to write even though this review will be buried so deeply I can't believe it will be read.
The writing is ponderous. The epiphanies are telegraphed. Somehow, Langdon has become an idiot and is repeatedly adamant about some point and subsequently shocked to discover he was wrong. There is serious overuse of characters knowing or seeing something the reader doesnt-- a cheesy device better used in bad movies. The big reveal is exceedingly lame. The end is weak, preachy and too slow to arrive.
Other than that, not bad.
1,449 of 1,721 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2009
Three years ago, Dan Brown and top executives in Hollywood and the publishing world assembled Thomas Harris, Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton, Paulo Coelho, Jimmy Wales, Abir Taha, and Rhonda Byrne in one room and said:
"Hello and welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight you are being tasked with creating a novel of epic proportions - one that will keep multitudes of airline travelers mildly entertained for a few hours while simultaneously insulting the intelligence of anyone who possesses anything higher than a Bachelor's Degree in Communications. Gripping intrigue; explosive revelations; multi-dimensional, original and sympathetic characters; realistic, cutting-edge technology; finely crafted and astonishing plot twists; meticulously researched detail - this book will have none of these! Instead, randomly tear some pages out of your own manuscripts, staple them together and have the product on my desk by Tuesday night; we need at least a week to whittle down your blathering drivel into a 120 minute screenplay."
"I'll be on the phone with Hanks' agent negotiating a deal where we send him a blank check, and he reciprocates his end of the contract by laconically intoning his dialogue while stumbling about in a tweed jacket, so just slide whatever you come up with under my door. Remember, it's got to be at least 450 pages - if it doesn't snap the strap of a Timbuk2 messenger bag, it's not literature!"
"Someone needs to throw in at least three dozen references to "things people do on the internet" too, please. You know, just try to work in the words 'iPhone,' 'Twitter,' BlackBerry,' and 'Google' every ten pages, that way readers will know it's a taut techno-thriller. And set it in Washington DC. Yeah, like National Treasure 2. People liked that, didn't they? Jimmy, have your boys just print out everything they have on the Freemasons, George Washington and Isaac Newton. Yeah, I know we used him before; we honestly don't know any other scientists. What do you mean your editors don't actually fact-check their information? So it's all just a hodgepodge of hearsay and conjecture? Actually, that's perfect."
"So, yeah, we have to have a love interest, too. And by love interest I mean "woman with whom the protagonist has no chemistry whatsoever." I don't know, a beautiful, wealthy, impossibly intelligent woman who not only is involved in ground-breaking research in a scientific field that doesn't technically exist (but is going to change Everything Forever!) but also somehow gains the ability to make incredible leaps in logic minutes before our protagonist, thereby completely undermining the purpose of his entire character. Which reminds me - we're going to need a villain, too. Has there ever been a 6' tall, rich, muscular, bald, psychotic antagonist with giant tattoos who kidnaps his victims for the purposes of his own "transformation"? What's that, Tom, you don't think so? Good - run with that. Throw in a plot twist about him too. Something that's never been done before. And how about some minor characters as well - an impeccably dressed black man who has keys that open every single door in Washington, an old blind priest who speaks solely in riddles, and oh, what the hell, a deformed, female chain-smoking Japanese midget with a gravelly voice. Yup, all in the same book."
"Um, ok folks, I think we're done here - Oh, right, thanks Rhonda, I almost forgot - the ending! People have been waiting years for Dan's newest, colossal secret! One that will be sure to rock the very foundations of every society on our planet, destroy centuries-old beliefs and shatter ideologies into powdered glass! Here it is - get ready - The Bible. Reading the Bible will teach you things. Things that every single human being alive already knows, but they don't know they know. But once these things are pointed out, people are going to feel incredibly stupid that they didn't see them before. But they're also going feel uplifted because they now know that they're one with God. Or they're the same as God. Or they made up God. Or they're made of God. It doesn't matter. Just mention "God" and "hope" and people will get all choked up. Abir, you have some experience here - just make it sound spiritual, inspiring, and wishy-washy all at the same time."
"Can you also make sure to bury this Bible in some well-known, but highly implausible location that certainly won't be figured out in the first 20 pages by anyone more observant than a small, retarded child? I don't know, Dean, somewhere in Washington - but it's gotta have a pyramid on top. Yeah, a pyramid, like at the Louvre. Dan likes pyramids, ok? Are there any places like that in Washington? Anything vaguely pyramid-shaped? Just Google it, you'll find something. And make sure a shadowy government agency first tries to stop our protagonist, then ends up helping him using sophisticated technology that couldn't possibly do the things the book says it can do. Just make something up - like time traveling thermal cameras or something. Or how about that liquid breathing fluid stuff from The Abyss? That's got blockbuster written all over it. No, Michael, we're not actually going to mention The Abyss in the book - that would be utterly ridiculous.
"Koontz? You had another question? Yes, of course - I was just getting to that. Every single chapter should end in a mini-cliffhanger that doesn't actually advance the plot, but instead leaves the readers completely unsatisfied, forcing them to stay awake for another two hours in order to reveal some insignificant and unlikely plot point. Typically, each chapter should end with one character literally pointing out something to another character, but never telling the audience what it is they are pointing at until the reader has consumed at least 30 more pages. Needless to say, the thing they are pointing at should leave both characters either "shocked," "incredulous," or "amazed."
"Everyone knows what to do? Great. All right guys, let's get cracking. Paulo, if you could stay behind for a minute; we found 87 more languages to translate your repetitive, mindless pedantry into. The rest of you, thanks for coming, please pick up your cartons of money on the way out..."
Done. Congratulations; you've just read The Lost Symbol. I just saved you $17.00 and six hours. No need to thank me. And if you're still interested in ciphers, riddles and secret messages, I've embedded my own within this review - a diabolical code that I spent as much time crafting as Brown did on this steaming pile of pulp.
744 of 884 people found the following review helpful
I've read all of Dan Brown's books, and while I'm not a huge fan, I do enjoy his stories and the fantastical idea that there could be some huge conspiracy or esoterica out there that only a few people know about. Dan Brown's writing could use some work, and he's not crafting great literature here, but the content of his stories usually makes up for that, and his latest novel, The Lost Symbol, is no exception. This is the third book to follow Robert Langdon, a Harvard Symbologist who previously showed up in Angels & Demons: A Novel (Robert Langdon), and The Da Vinci Code.
The Lost Symbol is very similar to his previous books, in that it has the same formulaic plot, structure, and theme, only this time it takes place in Washington, D.C. and involves the Freemasons instead of the Knights Templar. Just like in the Da Vinci Code, Langdon is called to Washington at a friend's request, only to find him missing, and spends the rest of the book chasing clues throughout the city and trying to outwit a new villain who is seemingly as smart as he is.
As mentioned above, the formula in The Lost Symbol is almost exactly the same. After only a few chapters into the book, I started drawing immediate comparisons to National Treasure (Widescreen Edition), and I could see some readers making that claim if it weren't for a few exceptions: Langdon is more likable than Ben Gates, the mysteries are much more involved and well-researched, and there is noticeably more action and suspense. This time, rather than trying to ignore some rather large plot holes, as contained in the Da Vinci Code, you will have to suspend your disbelief that a Harvard professor is physically capable of so many close calls. It almost reads more like an Ian Fleming novel than a book about a mid-50s professor trying to solve a centuries-old scavenger hunt. That works out well because a lot of books of this genre can get weighed down by the scientific or historical aspects and bore you to death.
That's not to say that The Lost Symbol doesn't have its faults. The first is most notably the writing. While it has certainly improved since The Da Vinci Code, it still seems rather sophomoric, and not on par with someone who is one of the biggest-selling authors in the last twenty years. Even though it's fiction, some of the characters' actions really made me wonder if Brown has had much human contact while writing the book. There are other annoyances that he repeats in the book, but I won't bring them up for fear that mentioning them may cause future readers to have their attention constantly drawn to them. Overall though, the writing is not terrible and the plot is suspenseful enough that I can overlook it. Another theme that Brown plays around with is the concept of "mind over matter." He provides a great deal of research on the subject (too much in some chapters), but I still found it a little too out there, and wish he had chosen a different angle.
I think this book will appeal not only to Dan Brown fans, but to fans of Douglas Preston and Lee Child (Langdon is almost a clone of the Agent Pendergast character), James Rollins, Michael Crichton (there are certainly a lot of influences here as far as research into a book goes), and with this book, Clive Cussler (the action is on par with anything Dirk Pitt would see).
If I had to rank it, I would put The Lost Symbol below Angels and Demons, and above Da Vinci Code. While I don't think it's worth of 5 stars, it was certainly an enjoyable read and enough to satiate me until the next book comes out (provided he doesn't wait as long as he did for this one).
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2010
Have you ever had that burning sensation in your chest? No, not heart-burn. More deadly (if possible) than that. I mean the feeling when you are reading a novel, watching a movie, or playing a video game and you get SO impatient for it to move along. You start clenching your jaw. You crack your knuckles again, even though you just cracked them two minutes earlier. The feeling that is the perfect mix of annoyance and impatience burns in you. That's what reading THE LOST SYMBOL is like. It is excruciating. Yes. Excruciating...that is the word of choice to explain Dan Brown's latest "novel." (Dear Dan Brown: Thank you for kindly putting the words, "A Novel" on the front cover of your book. Without them, I would have mistaken this book for a slush-pile reject.)
What a terrible, terrible book.
Six years ago, Dan Brown caused all sorts of controversy with his novel THE DA VINCI CODE. It sold a bajillion copies, and forced the whole "Religious Conspiracy" sub-genre into focus. It was also a really poorly written novel. I have read all of Dan Brown's work. From DIGITAL FORTRESS to the newly printed THE LOST SYMBOL, Dan Brown manages to do one thing with remarkable consistency:
Become a worse writer with each novel.
Don't worry, this novel is totally different from the prior two Langdon novels. See, Langdon goes to a famous national building, and receives a cryptic phone call about how he needs to solve a mystery that only LANGDON can solve! He then discovers a bloody clue in the middle of the building. Following a train of interweaving clues about the Freemasons, Langdon is joined by his lovely female companion, Kathleen, as they chase--or are they chased by?--the eeeeeevil Mal'akh. What they discover will change EVERYTHING! Nothing is as it seems...
Oh wait. Everything is exactly as it seems, because this is the same plot at ANGELS & DEMONS and THE DA VINCI CODE. America: what is wrong with you?
Robert Langdon. He marveled us with his professorial skills in, what I consider the only enjoyable Langdon book, ANGELS & DEMONS. A lot has changed since that novel. In THE LOST SYMBOL, Langdon--in his third "adventure"--has managed to become dense and narrow-minded. He seems incapable of putting his famed intellect to use during the novel, and is relegated to responding to ANY question or situation with a bewildered, "What?!" Now before you ask, yes, the "?!" is actually used in the novel at least two or three times per chapter (there are 133 chapters...you do the math). If you have to use more than one punctuation type at the end of a sentence, the only thing you are showing the reader is that you have no real writing ability. Young writers take note.
Amidst the endless repetitive descriptions, we as readers are made to suffer an endless stream of "telling" instead of "showing." The few times Brown manages to "show" us what is going on, he immediately precedes or follows it by telling us the exactly same thing. It became so infuriating, that by Chapter 9 I wanted to gouge my eyes out. To illustrate another example of formulaic writing that Brown has become famous for, here is his Dialogue Formula:
Person 1: "Have you heard of [insert topic here]?"
Person 2: "No, what is it?"
Person 1: "[insert poorly veiled information dump here]"
Person 2: "I don't understand."
Person 1: "[insert the exact same explanation for a second time]"
Person 2: "So what you are saying is [insert 3rd identical explanation]"
Person 1: "No, you aren't listening. What I said was [insert 4th explanation-100% identical to the previous 3 explanations]"
Person 2: "Ah, I see."
Person 1: "Good. Now have you heard of [insert topic here]?"
Repeat all steps for as many filler pages as needed. Seriously.
How about pacing? Brown is known for his pacing isn't he? Two things here. First, his pacing is false. In order to create this false sense of "break-neck speed," he ends each chapter on a cliff-hanger. I felt like there should have been a voice-over saying "dun-dun-DUUUN" playing as you turned the last page of every chapter. When Brown finally DOES manage to build up some sort of pace, he ruins it with a flashback.
In a particularly boring flashback early on (in the first few chapters), Langdon is RUSHING to give a speech (he only has THREE MINUTES TO GET THERE!), and he lapses into a flashback. In addition to bringing the pace to a screeching halt, we see, in an academic setting, that Langdon is supposed to be INSANELY smart. SO MUCH BETTER THAN EVERYONE! His students believe and hang on every word, no matter how ridiculous. So, if he is so smart, why is he such an idiot later, and so slow on the uptake? Why does he have to be told everything like he is a mentally deficient high-school student? The answer? Dan Brown's writing is so poor that this is the only way he knows how to express himself, and these sections serve as a vehicle for information dumps. It is also humorous that a security guard, early on in the story, makes the exact same observation of Langdon. Pro Tip: If the characters you are writing think your main PoV is stupid, so will the readers. This will undermine your work.
Logic flaws aside (if I stopped to mention all of them, I would be transcribing the full novel), and forgetting the PoV switching problems, one of the main problems is the plethora of clichés. We have the super-secret division of the CIA, and she is a four-foot tall Asian woman with a superiority complex. And she is deformed. How about the damsel in distress that is the target of a hideously disfigured super-villain? Yep, THE LOST SYMBOL has that too. Even James Bond movies have finally moved beyond these clichés.
I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the villain of the novel. Never-mind that his big reveal at the end of the novel is telegraphed from the moment certain characters are introduced. I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about this:
How to Build a Cliché Villain the Dan Brown Way
1) Fall for every trick that the dumb hero/heroine throws at you.
2) After being outwitted somehow, point menacingly at the hero/heroine.
3) If you can manage, be a religious fanatic of some sort.
4) Tell the hero/heroine all your secret plans and/or your secret past in a dramatic moment.
5) Think--at least 3 times early in the novel--that destiny is guiding you. Feel free to think this up until the moment you are killed due to your stupidity (see point #8 below)
6) Make the hero/heroine think that they killed you years ago. It makes your entrance much more dramatic...especially when combined with point #4 above.
7) When given the opportunity, study yourself naked in a body-length mirror.
8) Don't actually kill the hero/heroine when you have the chance. Leave them to be discovered so they can come kill you later. Be sure to act surprised later when they show up.
9) Have a super-secret lair within your home--preferably hidden by a secret door. However, the key element here is to leave obvious evidence for people to find so they can enter the lair and discover all your plans in case they didn't catch them in point #4 above.
No, seriously, this all happens in THE LOST SYMBOL.
Don't worry citizens, Robert Langdon is here to save the day. Will he stun us with his intellect? Of course not. He WILL however use his experiences from prior novels to solve everything with the trusty anagram. And when that fails, blind luck will do, as will an epiphany--nothing will trigger the epiphany other than Brown deciding it is time to move the story along to the next idiotic conversation (see above formula).
Are you getting the drift here? Dan Brown's THE LOST SYMBOL should never have been printed. The writing skill is sub-6th Grade level, and his story is contrived and cliché. An interesting observation: When you talk to most people who have read Brown's Robert Langdon novels, they almost always like the first one they read most. Why? Because it is the same plot over and over again. It is like the mystery version of a Harlequin Romance Novel. So, it shouldn't be any surprise that this third novel is even worse. IT'S THE SAME NOVEL...AGAIN! Of course, when you stop to think about what the "Big Problem" was that everyone in the novel was trying to prevent, you realize just how terrible the "novel" is. So. Absurd.
Don't read this book. Ever. Wait for the inevitable movie. It has NO CHOICE but to be better than the novel. If you really want to know about all the Freemason stuff, go get a non-fiction book or two about them. They will be better paced, and more entertaining than THE LOST SYMBOL.