Book Review: Inferno
By: Dan Brown
Published By: Doubleday
Publication Date: January 2013
Page Count: 461
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Adult - Mystery/Thriller
It has been a long time since I read a Dan Brown book, and Inferno has sat gathering dust on my shelf for some time. The last time I read a Robert Langdon adventure, The Lost Symbol, I was pretty underwhelmed and thought there was a definite element of ego creeping into the writing. Too much lecturing, and it all got a little bit smug for me. I was happy to find out that this time, the ego seems to have been checked and although there is a lot of information delivered about various buildings and artworks, I didn't feel the same way. I was definitely interested, and I found myself repeatedly searching for pictures to help me connect with the narrative. (Point for consideration, including some pictures would make it a lot easier!)
As the adventure begins, Robert Langdon is coming to in a hospital with a head wound and no idea what has happened to him. He soon learns that he is going to have to make a run for it and work it out later, as an armed woman makes an attempt on his life. I did have to roll my eyes that, once again, he manages to find a young, attractive and intelligent woman to be his companion on the run. This is the most cliched element of the entire story, and as handsome and intelligent as Langdon is supposed to be, he is also the luckiest guy on the run. It would have been much more refreshing if his companion was older, male or less attractive. I found this element quite irksome at the start of the story, but I felt that the character of Dr Sienna Brooks was fleshed out in very interesting ways and this made me more receptive to her.
I think I particularly found Inferno exciting because of the villain, Bertrand Zobrist. A mad scientific genius decides that he is the only one who can combat the overpopulation crisis of Earth, because (shockingly) the World Health Organisation isn't too interested in listening to his arguments for culling the human race, and the Catholic church are thwarting even their paltry efforts by spreading propaganda about contraception. I found the information about overpopulation interesting and consistent with what I have come across before. It is a compelling problem: there are not enough resources on Earth to support and exponentially growing human race, and it was a very intriguing feeling to be in agreement with the villain! Fortunately, Zobrist is a perfect Bond-villain and his method of solving the problem is nuts, and so I could happily return to Langdon & Sienna and will them onwards towards thwarting him. I enjoyed the riddles presented to them, and how examining the artworks revealed solutions. I am not much of an art lover really and I enjoyed the guided tour through Dante inspired works. A tour through a gallery with someone like Langdon would definitely make the art come alive. That said, there were a number of sections where some painting or building, completely irrelevant to the plot, would get a whole page of fan-boy praise. I did skip through those sections a little. Keep it relevant, Mr Brown.
One element of the book did niggle at me though; if the villain is so determined to wipe out half of the world's human population, why is he leaving clues to help them stop him? It seemed a bit cartoonish. I also felt that the plot moved forward at such a clip that character development was thin on the ground. Nevertheless I did read this pretty quickly, probably because Langdon & Sienna were never more than a few paces ahead of their pursuers, so Langdon's "Professor moments" got easily broken up. I do think the whole thing would have been a lot easier if they had used a smartphone, but handily they didn't have one, so they had to race about town lots. I don't think that the writing was anything above average here, the characters were underdeveloped, and the plot was perhaps a little formulaic for a while... it developed really nicely in the back 20% of the book though, and I very much enjoyed one or two moments where I'd been set up to make an assumption, and then pages later realised I'd fallen into the trap. What sets Dan Brown apart is that he is a heck of a researcher. I don't think anyone could dispute that. Not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it.
In his international blockbusters The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown masterfully fused history, art, codes, and symbols. In this riveting new thriller, Brown returns to his element and has crafted his highest-stakes novel to date.
In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno.
Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.