Dan Brown is back with his highly anticipated new novel, Inferno. (I know it’s highly anticipated because every bookstore tells me so.) In his first Robert Langdon novel since The Lost Symbol in 2009, Brown throws us back into the world of art history, symbology, religion, and science.
Waking from an unknown injury, Langdon is surprised to discover that he’s being treated in Florence. Unable to remember making the trip to Italy in the first place, Langdon has little time to piece things together before having to flee the hospital. Someone is determined to see Langdon dead. With the help of his attending doctor, he begins a harrowing journey through the streets of Florence where spare minutes are used up trying to figure out who is after him, and what has happened over the past 2 days to lead to this.
Brown’s books feel all vaguely similar to me, and honestly the first 100 pages or so of this felt like a mix between an art history book and Fifty Shades of Grey…I’m not selling it, I know. I felt that some of Langdon’s exclamations were just too over the top and redundant, and I guess in this harrowing situation, you could expect some panic, but the writing just wasn’t as solid as I would have liked. The historical content was thrilling for me (I enjoy non-fiction, especially history) but it came hot and heavy and might not be as appealing to other readers.
This being said, I sat down and read 200 pages in the first go. Say what you will about the writing, the man knows how to craft a suspense thriller that keeps you reading. As with his other novels, Brown does an excellent job of incorporating historic detail into a story that feels modern and relevant today. The threat of a population crisis and an unsustainable environment has been an issue for some years now, but recent media attention and warnings from international organizations have made this almost a household debate. Coupled with Dante’s most influential work, Inferno from The Divine Comedy, Brown writes a story of epic scope and intricate detail.
I think there’s a degree to which The Da Vinci Code was the right book at the right time. It was wildly successful, sparked all sorts of controversy (which in my mind was a little over the top considering this was a work of fiction) and of course had a fairly profitable movie adaptation. The problem with having an international bestseller and a blockbuster movie is that everything that comes later will always be compared to that success, and it becomes increasingly difficult to do something new. The story didn’t feel tired, but there was the obligatory running around a European city while being chased by an unknown organization. There were clues hidden throughout, scrawled on priceless works of art and hidden in some of the most famous buildings. Everything has a hidden meaning that only Langdon and his accomplice de jour can figure out. And yes, it was an exciting read, but I couldn’t help but feeling that I had been here before.
The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.