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5 Responses

  • I want to be fair to Dan Brown.

    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.

    Repeat.

    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.

  • A quick note on the ranking: I hold 5-star ratings in reserve for the best of the best. The previous Robert Langdon books I would rate at about 4 stars for being fun reads but nothing that would resemble a literary masterpiece. I enjoyed this book significantly less than the other two, hence the two stars.

    ‘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.

  • The pages turned quickly, but this was in part because I found myself skimming the vast sections of religious philosophy, psuedo scientific mumbo-jumbo and pedantic exposition, all of which seemed to go on endlessly.

    The book builds and builds until the shockings truths are finally revealed. Without disclosing any details, one of these shockers had been painfully obvious for some time and I was impatient for Brown to just get it over with. When the other shocker was revealed, my reaction was “so what”.

    I enjoyed the cliff-hanger chapter endings in Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, but they quickly became annoying in “The Lost Symbol”. Worse, much of the book felt like padding. The last 50 or so pages was like an infomercial — the story is over, but wait, there’s more! I kept hoping the book would have an interesting conclusion, but it ended with a wimper, not a bang.

  • So poor an effort I felt compelled to write even though this review will be buried so deeply I can’t believe it will be read.

    The writing is ponderous. The epiphanies are telegraphed. Somehow, Langdon has become an idiot and is repeatedly adamant about some point and subsequently shocked to discover he was wrong. There is serious overuse of characters knowing or seeing something the reader doesnt– a cheesy device better used in bad movies. The big reveal is exceedingly lame. The end is weak, preachy and too slow to arrive.

    Other than that, not bad.

  • I’ve read all of Dan Brown’s books, and while I’m not a huge fan, I do enjoy his stories and the fantastical idea that there could be some huge conspiracy or esoterica out there that only a few people know about. Dan Brown’s writing could use some work, and he’s not crafting great literature here, but the content of his stories usually makes up for that, and his latest novel, The Lost Symbol, is no exception. This is the third book to follow Robert Langdon, a Harvard Symbologist who previously showed up in Angels & Demons: A Novel (Robert Langdon), and The Da Vinci Code.

    The Lost Symbol is very similar to his previous books, in that it has the same formulaic plot, structure, and theme, only this time it takes place in Washington, D.C. and involves the Freemasons instead of the Knights Templar. Just like in the Da Vinci Code, Langdon is called to Washington at a friend’s request, only to find him missing, and spends the rest of the book chasing clues throughout the city and trying to outwit a new villain who is seemingly as smart as he is.

    As mentioned above, the formula in The Lost Symbol is almost exactly the same. After only a few chapters into the book, I started drawing immediate comparisons to National Treasure (Widescreen Edition), and I could see some readers making that claim if it weren’t for a few exceptions: Langdon is more likable than Ben Gates, the mysteries are much more involved and well-researched, and there is noticeably more action and suspense. This time, rather than trying to ignore some rather large plot holes, as contained in the Da Vinci Code, you will have to suspend your disbelief that a Harvard professor is physically capable of so many close calls. It almost reads more like an Ian Fleming novel than a book about a mid-50s professor trying to solve a centuries-old scavenger hunt. That works out well because a lot of books of this genre can get weighed down by the scientific or historical aspects and bore you to death.

    That’s not to say that The Lost Symbol doesn’t have its faults. The first is most notably the writing. While it has certainly improved since The Da Vinci Code, it still seems rather sophomoric, and not on par with someone who is one of the biggest-selling authors in the last twenty years. Even though it’s fiction, some of the characters’ actions really made me wonder if Brown has had much human contact while writing the book. There are other annoyances that he repeats in the book, but I won’t bring them up for fear that mentioning them may cause future readers to have their attention constantly drawn to them. Overall though, the writing is not terrible and the plot is suspenseful enough that I can overlook it. Another theme that Brown plays around with is the concept of “mind over matter.” He provides a great deal of research on the subject (too much in some chapters), but I still found it a little too out there, and wish he had chosen a different angle.

    I think this book will appeal not only to Dan Brown fans, but to fans of Douglas Preston and Lee Child (Langdon is almost a clone of the Agent Pendergast character), James Rollins, Michael Crichton (there are certainly a lot of influences here as far as research into a book goes), and with this book, Clive Cussler (the action is on par with anything Dirk Pitt would see).

    If I had to rank it, I would put The Lost Symbol below Angels and Demons, and above Da Vinci Code. While I don’t think it’s worth of 5 stars, it was certainly an enjoyable read and enough to satiate me until the next book comes out (provided he doesn’t wait as long as he did for this one).



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