Like millions of other fans of Dan Brown, I recently purchased his long-awaited sequel to The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol. The question on everyone's mind was after six years, was Robert Langdon up for another nail-biting adventure? Finishing the novel in a few short days, I can answer with an unequivocal "Yes"! And I promise that this review will contain no spoilers for anyone who hasn't yet read the book.
Symbologist Robert Langdon has been summoned by longtime friend and mentor, Peter Solomon, to Washington, D.C. for an impromptu lecture. However, when he arrives at the Capitol building, he discovers that Solomon has been kidnapped, and his captor has left a grisly memento in the Rotunda to impress upon everyone that he is deadly serious in his intentions. In order to save his friend, Langdon is called upon to find a mysterious ancient underground portal somewhere in the city that will reveal "the Ancient Mysteries."
Like the albino in The Da Vinci Code, the villain--Solomon's kidnapper--here seems possessed in his single-minded quest to unlock the secrets of the ancients in order to achieve some mystical power. Unlike the albino, however, this villain, who calls himself Mal'akh, appears to act alone. He is introduced in the prologue and, as is customary with Brown's style for developing suspense, many of the chapters focus on his point of view. With a muscular body that is completely covered with tatoos, he is a truly frightening antagonist. His ulterior motives are vague, but are eventually revealed in the surprising climax.
The symbols that Langdon must decode in order to appease Mal'akh have to do with Freemasonry, and the book presents a very interesting look at the history of the Masons, particularly the role they played in the founding of our country. Along the way, Langdon meets up with Solomon's sister, Katherine Solomon, who is also in danger. Katherine is doing groundbreaking research in the field of Noetic Sciences and is a worthy match for Langdon's superior intellect. Together, they elude possible enemies, including the director of the CIA's Office of Security, and dash through the city of Washington in their search for clues.
The action of the book takes place over the course of one night, and to say it is fast-paced is a cliche, yet true. Just as one layer of the mystery is solved, another layer appears, and Langdon and Katherine are involved in a race against time as well as in a fight for survival. This is definitely a book to read on a cold, rainy weekend--as I did--when you don't have other demands on your time.
I've been a big fan of Dan Brown since reading The Da Vinci Code and have read all his other books, which are just as good, especially Angels and Demons. Unlike other popular authors who churn out one or more books every year, often with mixed results, Brown appears to take his time to research his material thoroughly before publishing another novel. The Da Vinci Code prompted a flurry of television programs about the Holy Grail, secret societies, and the theological theories presented in the novel. Whether this book will bring about the same kind of response remains to be seen, but I doubt it, since the topic of the Masons has been discussed at length in shows already. The only subject that may spur some interest is the area of Noetic Science, which turns out to be an actual field, the study of the power of human thought. And unlike The Da Vinci Code, which caused some outrage among theologians, The Lost Symbol is pretty tame--the Freemasons are presented in a favorable light, and no controversial religious theories are discussed here.
My son also read the book and enjoyed it, but was disappointed in the characters, saying they were inconsistent. I had hestitated to read any other reviews of this book before writing this post, but after hearing this, I thought I would check out what a few other reviewers had to say. All the ones I read praised the book, but found similar devices used in The Da Vinci Code and criticized Brown's "wooden dialogue" and clumsy sentence structure. I think Langdon may appear somewhat inconsistent, at times solving a puzzle with amazing speed and at other times being rather obtuse, but I believe this is just one of Brown's techniques in creating a cliffhanger at the end of chapters. Ultimately, Langdon solves all the riddles, of course, and this is a novel driven by plot, not characterization. True, there are some similarities to The Da Vinci Code, but The Lost Symbol is definitely not a clone of that book. And as for Brown's writing style, well, you don't buy his books expecting Shakespeare!
The Lost Symbol has a list price of $29.95, but can be easily found for much less at many bookstores and discount superstores. Take my advice--shell out the money for the hardback, and don't wait for the paperback to come out. By that time, the media will have revealed all the "lost symbols"!
For more ideas of great reads, check out other reviews at the meeting of the Book Review Club.