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After writing two successful novels depicting Professor Robert Langdon’s quest to save the world from secret societies, author Dan Brown has fallen prey to his own formula. Brown’s newest novel, “The Lost Symbol,” falls far short of expectations.
Harvard symbologist Langdon is once again the unwitting expert who happens to know about every secret society and every obscure symbol ever created by man. He ends up in Washington D.C. on a race to save a friend and the knowledge of the Freemasons from a bad-guy with an affinity for tattoos. The book has its requisite secret brotherhood, masochistic bad-guy, and good-looking female companion for Langdon. However, the formula for the Brown book fails to produce a read that demands the reader’s attention.
The novel uses an American group known as the Freemasons as the secret society that hides ancient knowledge; knowledge that could change mankind. Like the Illuminati of Brown’s “Angels and Demons,” the Freemasons are a group rooted in the real world. However, Brown isn’t able to create enough mystery surrounding the group to make the reader care about the implications of the brotherhood’s secret knowledge. Even with the strange initiation of a new Freemason portrayed in the first few pages, the brotherhood still comes across like a gentlemen’s club for rich and powerful Americans.
Professor Langdon isn’t really the acting character in “The Lost Symbol,” which is strange considering he’s the expert needed to solve all the riddles. Instead of running from place to place solving mysteries of the ancients, Langdon is a passive observer who only exists to recite technical knowledge and old legends. The professor does not become an active character in his own story until nearly 150 pages into the novel.
The plot does pick up a little when Langdon is given a deadline to save his friend and mentor, Peter Solomon. Riddles enclosed in Masonic legends take Langdon on a treasure hunt around Washington D.C. since the ancient knowledge Langdon must uncover to save Solomon was put there by the Founding Fathers. Sound familiar?
It is impossible to read “The Lost Symbol” and miss the parallels to “National Treasure,” the movie released in 2004 by Disney. It seems that Brown saw the money-making potential of American scavenger-hunt stories and thought he would throw his hat into the ring.
Plot wise, “The Lost Symbol” is confusing at best. The perspective switches back and forth between multiple characters, and Brown switches back and forth between present and past as well with the sole purpose of informing the reader about past events. The breaks between past and present are disguised as Langdon reminiscing about his past, and they pull the reader out of the action to give a lesson on symbology.
More importantly, Langdon stops to reminisce about the past at inappropriate times when he should be concerned about how to stay alive and not about the “good old days” in the classroom. The amount of information the reader becomes responsible for is massive, and pieces get lost on the way to the end of the book.
The ending of “The Lost Symbol” is neat, tidy and anti-climactic, finishing up twenty or so pages before the end of the book. In the gap between the end of the plot and the end of the actual book, Brown takes several pages to force-feed the reader a view of God, religion and politics. Langdon, of course, agrees fervently and the reader gets the impression that Brown is too concerned with getting his viewpoint across than ending the book in a tasteful fashion.
Two things slightly redeem “The Lost Symbol.” First, the bad guy is downright disturbing. Mal’akh, the pagan-leaning tattooed villain doesn’t bat an eye at casual murder. Neither does he mind making the odd animal sacrifice to find inner peace. Second, Brown addresses all the big questions of life: What makes life worth it? What happens after death? Religion or science? Still, the introspective aspects and twisted bad guy aren’t enough to salvage the book as a whole.
“The Lost Symbol” may be great for those readers who loved the symbolic riddles of “The DaVinci Code” and “Angels and Demons,” but those who are looking for the thrilling and fast-paced stories of Brown’s earlier books will be disappointed by a bogged-down plot that moves in fits and starts.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ana Faria at email@example.com.