Inferno by Dan Brown
Release Date: May 14, 2013
I remember when The Da Vinci Code was released back in 2003. It had swept the world's collective imagination with its combined mystery of historical puzzles, theological art, and Christian history. It had brought peculiar religious conspiracies into the mainstream and to the public's imagination, andI distinctly remember people reading it as if it were a nonfiction book. When I eventually read the novel and its predecessor Angels & Demons, I realized where the wide appeal came from. Dan Brown's writing, while not exactly Pulitzer material, is quick, concise, and engaging, and his ability to combine a story with what is essentially a murder mystery treasure hunt, makes for an exciting read. I also remember that there was a lot of excitement about his third Robert Langdon release in 2009, The Lost Symbol, which quickly died away as reviewers and fans came away from it less than impressed. I can't comment on this book, as I didn't read it, and Hollywood apparently didn't either, because they skipped it and went straight for his most recent thriller, Inferno.
I figured that I would get through Inferno just as quickly as I got through the first two Langdon books. I was wrong. From the start this book is nothing but a boring trudge through art exposition. Our hero Robert Langdon has awoken in a hospital in Florence, unsure of where he is or how he got there. It turns out he's suffering from a gunshot wound to the head that has caused some form of amnesia Before he can figure out what's happening, he's attacked by an assassin. With no one but the mysterious young doctor Sienna Brooks there to help him, he evades detection and tries to piece together how he got there and why people are trying to kill him.
Let me start off with what's good. There are a lot of twists in the book concerning characters, goals, loyalties, etc., including a very clever trick that Dan Brown pulls referencing character point of view. It's impressive how he pulled it off, actually, and is probably one of the coolest moments in the novel.
That being said, everything else is just bland. Despite the approach being different than the first two Robert Langdon books (he has amnesia now you guys!) it's the same premise: Dan Brown stand-in meets attractive and capable younger lady, and runs around Europe trying to read too much into art and conspiracies while being pursued by a shadowy organization. And yet somehow this comes off as boring.
The most inexcusable issue is all of the art and architecture talk. Every time we are taken to a new location with historical significance or a piece of famous artwork, we are given an incredibly bland and boring description and explanation. Even when Dan Brown's characters try to express the majesty and genius of these pieces or buildings, it's lost on us because we can't see them. If they had included pictures for reference, it would have been incredibly helpful. Instead it's left to us to Google the artwork, breaking us out of the immersion of the story. I did not feel so inclined to spend my time Googling, and so continued onward, ignorant of the true splendor of these masterpieces.
After pages of chase scenes, convoluted mysteries, and out of place discussions on overpopulation, we reach a truly awful climax where the plague is revealed, some more shocking twists occur, and... that's it. The book sort of ends. The entire thing is anticlimactic, which makes sense when you realize just how lame the whole thing is.
Robert Langdon has an insufferable way about him. He finds out his companion is a super-genius, and spends the rest of the book gloating to himself when he can explain things that she doesn't know. But he's not the only smart person, and we are often given the same exposition or explanation by different characters multiple times. Was this not edited?
I honestly can not recommend this book, even if you are a fan of The Da Vinci Code. I read this so I could prepare myself for the film coming out this weekend, but I honestly am not sure how excited I am to see it after finishing it. The few interesting moments do not make up for the fact that the characters lack personality, the story lacks direction, and the plot is altogether forgettable.