So my first post after years and years and it’s to share my thoughts on a novel. I’m as surprised as anybody! It’s not that I don’t like reading, quite the opposite in fact, I love it. Unfortunately I don’t really set aside the time for reading, preferring to spend it playing games or watching a movie. Still, I pick up books quite often, hoping to some day get back into a rhythm where I could finish one regularly. That has happened to a certain degree now at work when I can use my scheduled work breaks to read a few pages of a book. I started with comics, which will surely make an appearance on this blog in the near future, but I figured I should try throwing a novel into the wood chipper to see if it would blend. I’m glad to say that I’ve finished my first book since 2009’s Pirate Latitudes.
Anyways I picked up the Lost Symbol because I was a big fan of both Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code. I had read the DaVinci Code shortly after the movie and I finished Angels and Demons before its adaptation was released. I have no real complaints about the film adaptations but what really got me interested was the books’ focus on art history. While I’ve never studied art history formally outside of an AP class in high school, the subject has always fascinated me and I loved how the Langdon books built compelling stories driven by details buried in great works of art. This was part of the reason why I chose to go with the Illustrated Editions of the books; with art and architecture being so prominently referred to, it seems a disservice to go through the books without images at the ready. Sure you could refer to them on the internet or whatever but having them integrated right into the book makes for a pleasant reading experience.
I think I glossed over The Lost Symbol a bit when it was released because its setting in Washington DC seemed like a step back from the Vatican from Angels and Demons or Paris and London in the DaVinci Code. I think the author, Dan Brown, may have figured many readers would have those same reservations and includes a flashback early in the book where Langdon convinces his class that DC is just as wonderous a place as the ancient cities of Europe. I wish I could say that after reading this book I sould agree but I still don’t. Unfortunately, securing buy-in is something the book constantly tries to do but never quite succeeds.
The first few chapters were fine, with Langdon arriving in Washington and making his way to the Capitol Building, brief introductions to the villain and the scientific heroine. Aside from the focus on art history, the Langdon novels seem to have an interest with modern science and scholarship and how that butts up against ancient beliefs and secrets.
Angels and Demons prominently featured anti-matter and the biblical implications while the DaVinci Code dealt with Bible scholarship, how and why it was assembled how it was and how that conflicts with modern worship and belief. Unfortunately, here is where the issue of buy-in begins. Unlike research at CERN or Bible scholarship, the science at the center of the Lost Symbol, Noetic Science, is vague, and, as often as the book tries to convince you, and Langdon, that it will “change everything,” bordering on unbelievable despite the book’s assertion that it’s scientifically irrefutable.
So not the greatest start there but things would grind to a halt shortly afterward. When the first bloody clue is found to start our heroes on their adventure, when it seems like the story should kick into gear…it simply doesnt. Instead, Langdon remains in the same room for 100-150 pages of the book, roughly 20-25% of the book in a single room. Some pieces shuffle in the background with the other characters but even they don’t seem to move very much for a long time. The story finally begins to move when Langdon is lead to a relic and on the trail of an ancient mystery, or should I say, The Ancient Mysteries, the vaguely described body of knowlwdge so powerul, it can change the world.
Another recurring element in the Langdon books are secret societies or brotherhoods; the Illuminati in Angels and Demons and the Templars in DaVinci Code. In the Lost Symbol, it’s the Masons who guard the Ancient Mysteries and we’re treated so some compelling information regarding the Brotherhood’s rituals and famous members from the founding fathers to influential scientists. The history and rituals of the Masons are interesting and make up one of my favorite parts of the book.
Where the book begins to weaken is in setting the stakes and risks should our heroes fail. Angels and Demons risks a bomb destroying the heart of the historic Vatican City while The DaVinci Code risked losing a great, liberating secret to history. In The Lost Symbol, the big risk seems to be that high ranking government official will be revealed participating in easily misunderstood, but otherwise harmless Masonic rituals; not exactly something most people will be too invested in.
While The Lost Symbol has it’s fun moments, the setting is not used as effectively as it needed to, the mystery is not as compelling, and the stakes don’t seem particularly valuable. It’s still a good ride but I can’t wait to leave the new world behind and return to the ancient cities of Europe in Inferno.