Dan Brown’s announcement back in January of this year that he would be coming out with a new Robert Langdon thriller was immediate headline news, stoking excitement and anticipation not just from fans but from the publishing world as well.
And why wouldn’t it be met with excitement? Dan Brown’s 2003 thriller, “The Da Vinci Code,” was an international success, and by 2009 had already sold 80 million copies around the world. It has been translated in over 40 languages, and has even been adapted into a blockbuster movie.
The book hasn’t just inspired a movie adaptation, it has also spurred the growth of cottage industries as well. Aside from inspiring several “guides” to the symbols and conspiracies outlined in the book, the “The Da Vinci Code” has also inspired themed tours through Rome, Paris, and London.
The novel that came after “The Da Vinci Code,” 2009’s “The Lost Symbol,” achieved similar success, becoming the fastest selling adult novel in history, with one million hardbound and ebook copies sold on its first day in stores.
It’s not wonder that everyone is looking for “Inferno” — which was released worldwide last Tuesday — to perform. Now that it’s out in the world, will it grip readers’ imaginations the same way “The Da Vinci Code” did? Or has the time come for Robert Langdon to hang up his Harris tweed and call it a day?
“Inferno” takes place in the city of Florence, home of medieval poet Dante Alighieri as well as some of the most prized artwork of the Renaissance period. Langdon wakes up in a Florentine hospital dazed and unable to recall the events of the past two days, with only visions of a silver-haired woman and a ghastly river of dead bodies left to him as a clue.
But even before Langdon can make sense of his visions, an armed assailant forces him and a precocious young woman named Sienna Brooks to escape towards Florence’s old city in search of a Dante relic that may explain the reason for Langdon’s presence in the Italian city.
However, with each clue he and Sienna discover, Langdon finds himself pulled deeper and deeper into a plot with terrifying global ramifications — a plot that Langdon is ill-equipped to take down on his own. But with his government seemingly on his tail as well, Langdon has no choice but to rely on his wit and intelligence — and hope that that is enough.
Just like the previous Robert Langdon novels that came before it, “Inferno” follows the same pattern that are now probably familiar to longtime Brown readers. Playing the part of the pretty and intelligent female foil is Sienna Brooks, while a shadowy organization named “The Consortium” takes over the role that the Roman Catholic Church and the Freemasons played in previous Langdon books.
Brown also continues on the scientific streak that he first explored in earlier novels like “Digital Fortress” and “Deception Point”, and which he came back to in “The Lost Symbol”. While “The Lost Symbol” was concerned with the metaphysical study called Noetics, “Inferno” tackles the much more down-to-earth science of genetics and overpopulation.
It’s a good choice on the part of Brown, as overpopulation is something that readers can see and feel for themselves. When the book’s antagonist talks about why it is imperative to take drastic measures to curb this growing global problem, it’s easy for readers to see the sense in his argument and sympathize, if not necessarily agree.
But what is encouraging is that Brown has added little tweaks to the formula that has worked for him for so long. The fact that Langdon wakes up dazed and confused is a welcome break from previous installments. He’s also discarded the formulaic monstrous henchmen that started with Silas in “The Da Vinci Code”, replacing them with a much more believable adversary in the form of a female assassin named Vayentha.
It would have been even better if Brown took these changes all the way to the novel’s end, but these changes peter off about a fourth into the novel. From there, readers will recognize familiar territory — museum hopping, ciphers in precious artwork, and a plot whose twists and turns essentially mirror the three books that came before it.
“The Consortium” is also a poor substitute for the Roman Catholic Church. It’s much easier for readers to believe that the Roman Catholic Church is a hotbed of conspiracy and controversy because it actually is a a hotbed of conspiracy and controversy. It’s harder to suspend one’s disbelief when it comes to “The Consortium,” — an organization which Brown claims exists in the real world, but one he refuses to name — especially considering some of the world events it supposedly engineered.
The novel’s climactic confrontation in a cistern near Turkey’s Hagia Sophia never reaches the same tension as the Vatican scene in “Angels and Demons,” and the misdirections that lead to the exposition near the book’s end feel too contrived and cheap.
And on a note much closer to home, a scene set in Manila is sure to raise some Filipino eyebrows. While factual in certain respects, some of the things that happen to one of the book’s characters while in the country’s capital is a stretch, even for a work of fiction.
While certainly a better effort than “The Lost Symbol,” “Inferno” still won’t be making Brown any new fans. But so long as his current fans are happy — and propel this new offering to the top of the bestsellers list — it doesn’t look like Brown will have any reason to change what works for him.