Brown’s new Symbol thrills but lacks originality

Bored of all the B-rated thrillers and their predictable plots, clichéd twists and contrived ideas? Waiting for the book you can’t put down?

Well, the wait is over.

Dan Brown’s latest thriller, , has all the classic elements of a good thriller: a twist in every chapter, esoteric elements, believable, but difficult puzzles and truly evil villains. The novel continues what the author excelled at in in terms of style, while still continuing some of the weaknesses in substance and believability.

The novel starts in a manner similar to Brown’s previous books. The main character, Robert Langdon, receives a sudden yet seemingly normal request from an old friend requiring his academic expertise in “symbiology,” a fictional field involving the study of ancient symbols.

As soon as Langdon reaches his destination, however, he finds that things are not what they seem. Everything from the one call to his transportation and the actual lecture have all been carefully orchestrated by a mad power-broker, someone bent on using any means necessary to achieve his perverse, psychotic desires.

The madman has captured Langdon’s dear friend, Peter Solomon, and uses him as a bargaining chip to force Langdon into solving ancient riddles that will allow access to age-old wisdom and power.

Of course, like any other history thriller, it’s up to the hero to play into the hands of the villain and solve the riddles necessary to save his friend. Along the way he receives help from Solomon’s sister Katherine, a physicist in a pseudoscientific field with links to New Age thought and mysticism called Noetics.

All of this sounds simple and linear, but complicating matters further is Inoue Sato, a high-ranking CIA officer who has no moral limits when it comes to maintaining order and stability in the world.

All of these characters converge in what is essentially a deadly mix of “hide and seek” and “keep away” where all characters, even allies, must keep their guard against all others.

Stylistically this novel is reminiscent of Brown’s previous work. Descriptions are simple but detailed, designed to heighten the fast pace of the novel. Chapters are kept light and quick, sometimes only a paragraph long, in order maintain interest.

Occasionally, this is a detriment, as some of the descriptions seem almost lifted from his previous novels, particularly in his characters’ descriptions.

Some of the descriptions of the rituals and more antagonistic characters border on grotesque and can be quite unsettling for some readers.

While the novel is not boring, there are more moments that seem a little contrived and even predictable. One of the biggest twists in the book has become so commonplace in film and books that one wonders if it was meant to be a twist at all.

The novel is a bit lengthy, but the relatively easy language and immersive atmosphere makes this much easier to finish than novels of similar length.

Emotions and human drama are not the focus of this novel but for those who want a little touch of humanity, there’s plenty to be found here. The characters are not particularly deep or complex but are given enough back-story to seem real, giving most readers a deep enough connection to care about them.

The villain in this story, Mal’Akh, is particularly noteworthy. His character is given more development time than anyone else, making this almost a novel about him instead of Langdon. Epitomizing evil to the point of caricature, the character serves as the catalyst for everyone else’s action.

As is the pitfall of many villains, he at times seems one-dimensional and more like a force of nature than a genuine human being. There are occasional moments in the Mal’Akh’s past that attempt to give him more depth, but there are few details given to explain these moments.

The universe is fully fleshed-out and Brown’s in-depth research shows in the novel’s explanation of vast cryptic and secret histories. There’s plenty of food for thought for conspiracy theorists with all the secret societies, underground science and government cover-ups found in this novel.

Religion’s relationship to humanity throughout history is still at the forefront of this novel. However, religion’s relationship to science is now another key point particularly in its connection to the mysticism of the past. This is shown in the organization. The novel centers itself upon the Freemasons and their attempts to reconcile the forgotten aspects of religion and science.

While his previous novels may have offended mainstream religion, this work might have a different effect, to annoy mainstream science. The novel places much emphasis on Noetic science, a pseudoscience in which thoughts can determine reality and souls have substance. It makes for entertaining reading but lacks scientific merit.

Stylistically pleasing despite its occasional lack of originality, will captivate you with well-researched history, entertaining (yet underdeveloped)characters and heavy suspense. Just remember to leave your skepticism at the door before picking up this novel.