Review for Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol”

Dan Brown is the sort of writer who barely seems to need any kind of introduction in this day and age. Renowned in some circles, reviled in others, Dan Brown is a very successful but controversial author well known for his ancient history-based conspiracy page-turners. Despite heavy criticism for his use of artistic license on sensitive subjects, Brown’s work has always made for an interesting read in my experience, so long as one doesn’t take it too seriously; the research that does hold up to scrutiny and Brown’s complicated but engaging plots can allow one to forgive a certain blurring of fact, fiction, and which is which.

Brown’s latest book, The Lost Symbol, once again sets us alongside Brown’s well-established protagonist Robert Langdon, a Harvard University symbologist that can’t ever seem to go anywhere nice without being dragged into a conspiracy-based crisis by a creepy fanatic with body issues. This time Langdon has been called upon to visit his old friend and mentor Peter Solomon in Washington D.C.. Peter is a very influential 33rd degree Freemason as well as the head of the Smithsonian Institution, so unsurprisingly the moment he arrives in D.C., Langdon is pulled into a conspiracy-based crisis by a creepy fanatic with body issues, only this time Langdon must deal with a conspiracy surrounding the Masons rather than the Catholic Church. That’s kind of like progress, at least; after dealing with two crises in the Catholic Church in a row, one would imagine the Freemasons to be a nice change of pace for Langdon.

Langdon quickly discovers that Peter Solomon has been taken hostage by a sinister madman named Mal’akh who believes Langdon has the tools and knowledge to decode an ancient Masonic secret for him, and that failure to produce the decoded secret by the end of the night will result in Peter’s death. Langdon soon finds himself as usual embroiled in a massive conflict as he races to decode the secret Mal’akh is after, evade capture by a secretive branch of the CIA, and protect Peter’s sister Katherine, whose work on Noetic Science has unwittingly dragged her headlong into Mal’akh’s convoluted but deadly machinations.

As the bare-bones plot summary points out, Brown and Langdon are retracing some familiar steps here, and The Lost Symbol does fall prey to certain Brownian plot formulas. The basic plot bears more than a passing resemblance to Brown’s earlier book Angels And Demons, albeit focusing on Freemasonry and Noetic Science instead of Catholicism and the Illuminati. Langdon is still teaming up with an attractive female scientist  to try and counter a fanatical sadist who has captured and is torturing benevolent figures of the imperiled order. Mal’akh’s primary features to distinguish him from the other bizarre psychopaths Langdon has crossed in the past is that he actually is the villain of the story as opposed to a minion of one of the benevolent-seeming figures Langdon had met earlier in the story, and that he’s a good deal crazier; the final villainous plan as it is revealed is impressive mostly in how utterly insane it is, with the true danger being presented by the threats Mal’akh has prepared to force compliance from those involved. The book also makes several plot-based missteps in its execution, particularly towards the end; it is unlikely yet another attempt to invoke drama by “killing” Robert Langdon will be met with anything but a cynical roll of the eyes on the reader’s part at this point, and the coincidence that lets Brown sidestep that bullet comes across as extremely contrived. The ultimate reveal about Mal’akh’s true identity and why he’s so set on his insane plan also fell on its face for me as I read it, and in my opinion is one of the weakest surprises the book throws out.

Despite these gripes, I found The Lost Symbol a very enjoyable read. Whatever complaints one may have about Dan Brown’s formulas, particularly his twists, the fact remains that Brown is able to put together remarkably interesting page-turners with each book he puts out. While Noetic Science, the study of humanity’s untapped potential with the possibility of mental and spiritual abilities being unlocked, is nowhere near as solidly factual as The Lost Symbol indicates, it is based on factual science, and the implications of it are just as fascinating in real life as they are in speculative fiction. The mixture of fact, fiction, and speculation in Dan Brown’s work makes for an interesting story, and while people have raised complaints about inaccuracies in Brown’s facts or research, I prefer to look at it as a fictional book that makes the reader want to do a little research of their own to discern the truth behind the mixed facts presented. I also give the book points for mostly presenting the Freemasons in the unassuming and benevolent manner they present themselves in the real world rather than indulging in conspiracy theories at their expense. The Masonic Order is depicted as protecting ancient secrets, but as the book points out, these are primarily metaphorical; the Masons are not a shadowy cabal that control the world, just a group of well-educated and morally upright old men suffering at the hands of a maniac who doesn’t truly understand their organization’s teachings.

I’d give The Lost Symbol an eight out of ten on the whole. If you are familiar with Dan Brown, you WILL see things coming and notice familiar plot threads, and the story told is hardly flawless, but reading the book as interesting fiction with some basis in fact will yield an enjoyable mystery that will draw you in for a while and keep you flipping pages until the end. I don’t recommend this book if you’re easily bothered by blurring fact and fiction or if inaccuracies in the “facts” the book presents bother you too much to keep going, but if these things bug you, odds are pretty good Dan Brown is not the author for you anyway.

One Response to “Review for Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol””

  1. Eve Topalian says:

    Excellent review. Will you loan me the book?

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