Customer Review

618 of 698 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A page-turner, but often for the wrong reasons. . ., September 23, 2009
This review is from: The Lost Symbol: Featuring Robert Langdon (Kindle Edition)
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.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 47 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 26, 2009 11:38:36 PM PDT
Yep Gar---a total drop on the motivation gene. Where was the plot going when you read the first 19 chapters of this "esoteric" scavenger hunt? Barely one star IMHO. Wonder how Brown convinces his publisher to pre-sell millions of these? I'll make a wager---Brown's next manuscript won't go as well because of the way he has dropped his readers interest in this one.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 27, 2009 11:01:53 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 29, 2009 6:55:14 PM PDT
Garvinstomp says:
Excellent point. I frequently had that thought throughout reading this book. How will the next one go? I guess the first thing to consider is to find out if this book is actually a bomb. No, it's not very good. But if it sells millions upon millions then no one will probably bat an eyelash and he'll turn out another book just as he wants it.

If the sales fall off and the subsequent editions and movie rights and merchandising take a severe hit we may see the company have a heavier hand in the editing (I have to believe this book had very, very little editing from the publisher. If it did I'd sue them for all types of professional misconduct).

As much as I'd like to think this book will do poorly enough to inspire some real direction in the next one I wouldn't hold my breath. The Twilight series, while popular, is one of the worst written series I've ever seen. The grammar and spelling errors that are allowed to slip through always amaze me. Yet it just keeps selling and the publisher keeps right on pushing.

Posted on Sep 29, 2009 2:21:16 PM PDT
I have to agree with the reviewer. Nothing to add that is specific but must place a preponderance of the blame on mediocrity on Brown's editor. He was allowed excessive latitude in a book that had much more potential.

Posted on Oct 1, 2009 11:09:39 PM PDT
Writing style, story, and factual accuracy are entirely the author's responsibility. And that's why the author's name is on the cover, not the editor's. Although an editor often gives feedback on a manuscript, the editor's primary job is to walk the book through the multi-stage publishing process and to liaise between the writer and the publishing house. (I am the author of more than 20 books and write a monthly column about the publishing world.) Whether you, the reader, love or hate a novel, an editor's primary "contribution" to a book is that she (or he) acquired the book for the publishing house; most editors have little or nothing to do with a book's contents.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 2, 2009 12:25:52 AM PDT
Garvinstomp says:
While what you describe is a very common practice, there are editors that are far more "active" depending on the author. I've several close friends in the literary world who've allowed me to see manuscripts both before and after an editor had worked his/her magic. The initial piece was, in some cases, almost unreadable. The characters and story were there but the prose was an absolute mess.

There's very little excuse for anyone to allow something such as the phrase "cradled the skull in his palms" to appear 3 times in 3 pages in the prologue to 'Lost Symbol'. There was no rhythm or theme being used, just a lazy redundancy that should have been corrected. I've also no doubt that a heavy-handed editor could do very good things with Dan Brown novels.

Now, I'm not laying any blame on an editor in this case. I would guess that Brown has earned himself the right to go lightly edited. But it all depends on the author. Working in Hollywood it's very similar to a director getting final cut. Rarely does a filmmaker get to put the exact film he/she wants on the screen. The studio, more times than not, steps in and polishes the final version (sometimes quite drastically-American History X comes to mind) before it is released. In the end, it's all about who's putting up the money.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 2, 2009 5:56:20 AM PDT
The operative words are "most editors".

Posted on Oct 14, 2009 10:23:29 PM PDT
J says:
I was completely let down by the conclusion. I loved the way A&D and Da Vinci ended, but this just left me frustrated. It's still an entertaining read, but I won't read it again like I have done with his other books.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 14, 2009 11:39:16 PM PDT
Garvinstomp says:
I'm in complete agreement. I read the first two quickly, rifling through pages to get to the next cliffhanger. They really are two of the best page-turners out there. But the ending really was as flat as it could be. I was constantly plagued by how little Langdon was actually doing/solving throughout the entire book.
It was one thing in previous novels, like A&D where the science was left to other characters to explain. But here, the symbology was what was lost on him. Time and again other people solved the puzzles.
I think the book was also hurt by the fact that he was carrying the "puzzle" with him throughout much of the book, meaning that many of the locations were inconsequential or marginalized.
One thing I failed to mention in the review was that I was quite neutral on the villain. He was really of the "take it or leave it" variety. His personality was just so cliche it hurt. At least in the previous two novels the "heavies" were working under the orders of bigger players. Here, our villain just isn't enough to carry the weight of the role as primary evil mastermind.
Oh well, better luck next time (and I will certainly read the next Robert Langdon novel when it comes out). Let's just how this is a glitch.

Posted on Oct 22, 2009 10:43:57 AM PDT
Lori Bryan says:
Great review, and I agree with you completely. I almost didn't want to read this novel, fearing everything you described. I wasn't expecting much, and that's a good thing, or else I would have been let down quite a bit.

Posted on Oct 28, 2009 3:57:19 AM PDT
Coyote says:
I totally agree, a strong editor could have made this a good book. Instead, it was all potential and no kinetic energy. The flashbacks were egregious. The redundancy was maddening. The pontification was annoying. Nearly every complaint I have with this book are commonly known writing pitfalls a professional should know better than to tolerate in a final draft of his book. A machete would have done it a world of good.
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