41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Robert Langdon's first adventure as a symbologist-detective
, January 13, 2004
This review is from: Angels & Demons (Mass Market Paperback)
I read "Angels & Demons" after reading Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," and I have to say that I do not think it matters what order you read the two books although there are clear indications this book was written first (Brown does several examples of blatant foreshadowing, including early on the idea that one square yard of drag will slow a falling body's rate of descent by twenty percent). The two books are similar in that Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon deciphers clues to try and solve one murder while trying to prevent others in a mystery that involves the secrets of the Catholic Church. In this book a physicist is murdered at CERN, the Swiss research facility, and branded will a symbol representing the Illuminati, the centuries old underground organization of scientists who have a vendetta against the Catholic Church. The ancient secret brotherhood has acquired a devastating new weapon of mass destruction and intends to bring down the Vatican (literally).
Which book is better? My initial reaction would be that I liked "The Da Vinci Code" a bit more because so many of the clues were written out. When Langdon has to look over paintings, statues and other visual clues I find myself wishing Brown had supplied photographs in his book so that I could play along looking for clues (he does provide most of the requisite images at his website, but I did not know this until after the fact and I suspect most readers will not want to stop and go online to call up the photographs). Not that I had much success in my endeavors, but I did know that Leonardo Da Vinci wrote in his journals backwards so that I was ahead of Langdon for a half a page at one point. "Angles & Demons" is played out on a larger and more public stage than "The Da Vinci Code," and when you get to the conclusion of this novel you might find it a bit much, but that is one of the reasons they call it fiction.
The biggest question in the debate over these books seems to be whether Brown is attacking the Catholic Church in his novels, which strikes me a bit odd after reading "Angels & Demons" since the Vatican is the target this time around. This novel is more about the long struggle between science and religion than anything else, and the position Brown takes seems to be that the two are ultimately compatible. I did my dissertation on the Scopes "Monkey" Trial of 1925 and in the spectacle of Clarence Darrow cross-examining William Jennings Bryan that is codified by the fictional "Inherit the Wind," history has forgotten that the original position of the Scopes defense was that there Genesis and evolution were compatible. Consequently, I have a lot of sympathy for Brown's position and I think a careful reading of the text offers as strong a critique of science as it does of religion. Certainly that ideal is represented by the man who is murdered to start off the story and whatever faults in the history and theology of the Catholic Church might be discussed, there are just too many men of devout faith in the narrative to support the idea Brown is out to get the Church.
Nor do I have any real concerns with the extent to which Brown is playing with historical "facts." The whole idea here is to create a sense that the pieces of the puzzle fit together. I do not think for a second that these novels are true; all I need is to believe that they are plausible, so telling me that some statue's finger is pointed in the wrong direction if you go to Rome and see it for yourself is not going to matter to me because I understand how far the rules of the game apply to the real world. Even so, I think that Brown's factual foundation is more substantial than we will usually find under such circumstances, which would end up being a plus rather than a minus. Besides, I like all of the flashbacks to Langdon's discussions with his students (more classroom scenes in the future, please).
Solving the puzzles is the key enjoyment of these novels and that part of the creative process makes up for Brown's tendency to overplay his red herrings and to hide his true villains in plain sight. Ultimately the game matters more than the characters or the plot. As soon as you know that there will be four more murders you realize that at least three of them have to happen because the game has to be played out to the end, so it is not until the frantic end game that your attention really perks up and it is at that point that Brown starts unloading a whole lot of really big surprises on his characters and his readers. In the final analysis the point here is neither history nor theology, but to tell an exciting adventure yarn where the hero gets by mainly on his intelligence rather than good looks and/or weaponry. This is a hero I can actually identify with for once and that is fine with me too.
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