Robert Langdon is back again. After Angels and Demons, The DaVinci Code, and The Lost Symbol, it might be hard to imagine how Langdon could get himself mixed-up in another deadly web of powerful nemeses, megalomaniacs, and centuries’-old tales filled with puzzles, lies, and misdirection. When will he learn!? As it turns out, in this installment, we meet Langdon after he has already gotten himself very involved in a plot to save(?) the world, but he doesn’t know it. He has amnesia, and if he cannot get his memories back – soon- all of humankind could be at risk. Along the way, he partners with a brilliant woman who is a master of disguise and they will balance between two powerful, opposing forces, both of whom are bent on getting their hands on a secret weapon before Langdon does. But, as always, not all is at it appears and not everyone is who they pretend to be. Can Langdon navigate his way through the clues and disguises before it’s too late?
In the past, I have been a great fan of Brown’s Robert Langdon books. They have always been fast-paced, interesting, and cleverly infused with mystery, history, and dangerous liaisons, if not the “greatest” or “best” books of all time, in terms of depth, craft, etc. Still, they are entertaining and thought-provoking on some level, so they serve their two primary purposes quite well and I am perfectly happy claiming them as guilty little pleasures. Inferno, however, was not as thrilling or satisfying as its predecessors. Perhaps my tastes are changing, or perhaps Brown just didn’t manage to create the kind of attention-holding plot and prose that he has done in the past; whatever the case, it wasn’t until about half-way through the book that I finally managed to settle in and enjoy the story.
Some of the characters, like Bertrand Zobrist – the story’s primary antagonist, a brilliant scientist and madman who, though the “bad guy” of the story isn’t actually present in it- are quite interesting. The same can be said for other outliers, such as Elizabeth Sinskey, head of the World Health Organization, and her direct opponent in the quest to “the weapon,” the Consortium Provost. Although minor characters, they were interesting and their motives and personalities seemed the most complex. The main characters, Robert Langdon and Sienna Brooks, were interesting enough but, somehow, fell a bit flat. This could be because their outcomes were expected and also because Langdon, now appearing in his fourth story, is not very surprising (even though the story of his trying to get his memory back did add a few layers, at least). While there were some surprises throughout the story, the main twists were, for the most part, fairly exposed.
Brown does depart slightly from the more overtly religious themes and takes us into the realm of literary history and humanism. Although much of this tale has to do with science, technology, and issues of “the greater sacrifice,” it does not completely separate itself from religion. The journey that Robert Langdon is on is initiated and advanced by clues found within Dante’s Inferno and various works of art which interpret that text. Considering that the text (and the subsequent paintings) is a depiction of hell, the most famous depiction of all time, themes of morality, sin, and sacrifice/redemption of course come into play. As always, some of the most interesting elements about this book are its interpretations of history, artwork, historical figures, movements, and, yes, the puzzles. While there is a great deal of factual information, there is also much speculation and pure invention/fantasy, which can be said of all of Dan Brown’s books. Understanding the difference is important (as witnessed by the masses of folks who were swept away by what they believed to be the “truth” in Brown’s DaVinci Code). That being said, his sometimes far-fetched theories are fun to wonder about and, who knows, might just hold certain truths.
Ultimately, for most of the book, I felt myself wishing that I were re-reading The DaVinci Code or Angels and Demons, rather than finishing the book in hand.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: 13+
Interest: Mystery, Puzzles/Codes, Action/Adventure, Science, Technology, History.