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The Lost Symbol Hardcover – September 15, 2009
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Let's start with the question every Dan Brown fan wants answered: Is The Lost Symbol as good as The Da Vinci Code? Simply put, yes. Brown has mastered the art of blending nail-biting suspense with random arcana (from pop science to religion), and The Lost Symbol is an enthralling mix. And what a dazzling accomplishment that is, considering that rabid fans and skeptics alike are scrutinizing every word.
The Lost Symbol begins with an ancient ritual, a shadowy enclave, and of course, a secret. Readers know they are in Dan Brown territory when, by the end of the first chapter, a secret within a secret is revealed. To tell too much would ruin the fun of reading this delicious thriller, so you will find no spoilers here. Suffice it to say that as with many series featuring a recurring character, there is a bit of a formula at work (one that fans will love). Again, brilliant Harvard professor Robert Langdon finds himself in a predicament that requires his vast knowledge of symbology and superior problem-solving skills to save the day. The setting, unlike other Robert Langdon novels, is stateside, and in Brown's hands Washington D.C. is as fascinating as Paris or Vatican City (note to the D.C. tourism board: get your "Lost Symbol" tour in order). And, as with other Dan Brown books, the pace is relentless, the revelations many, and there is an endless parade of intriguing factoids that will make you feel like you are spending the afternoon with Robert Langdon and the guys from Mythbusters.
Nothing is as it seems in a Robert Langdon novel, and The Lost Symbol itself is no exception--a page-turner to be sure, but Brown also challenges his fans to open their minds to new information. Skeptical? Imagine how many other thrillers would spawn millions of Google searches for noetic science, superstring theory, and Apotheosis of Washington. The Lost Symbol is brain candy of the best sort--just make sure to set aside time to enjoy your meal. --Daphne Durham
More from Dan Brown
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. After scores of Da Vinci Code knockoffs, spinoffs, copies and caricatures, Brown has had the stroke of brilliance to set his breakneck new thriller not in some far-off exotic locale, but right here in our own backyard. Everyone off the bus, and welcome to a Washington, D.C., they never told you about on your school trip when you were a kid, a place steeped in Masonic history that, once revealed, points to a dark, ancient conspiracy that threatens not only America but the world itself. Returning hero Robert Langdon comes to Washington to give a lecture at the behest of his old mentor, Peter Solomon. When he arrives at the U.S. Capitol for his lecture, he finds, instead of an audience, Peter's severed hand mounted on a wooden base, fingers pointing skyward to the Rotunda ceiling fresco of George Washington dressed in white robes, ascending to heaven. Langdon teases out a plethora of clues from the tattooed hand that point toward a secret portal through which an intrepid seeker will find the wisdom known as the Ancient Mysteries, or the lost wisdom of the ages. A villain known as Mal'akh, a steroid-swollen, fantastically tattooed, muscle-bodied madman, wants to locate the wisdom so he can rule the world. Mal'akh has captured Peter and promises to kill him if Langdon doesn't agree to help find the portal. Joining Langdon in his search is Peter's younger sister, Kathleen, who has been conducting experiments in a secret museum. This is just the kickoff for a deadly chase that careens back and forth, across, above and below the nation's capital, darting from revelation to revelation, pausing only to explain some piece of wondrous, historical esoterica. Jealous thriller writers will despair, doubters and nay-sayers will be proved wrong, and readers will rejoice: Dan Brown has done it again.
Read the prologue and first chapter of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol [PDF].
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
'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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