Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
The Lost Symbol: Dan Brown, July 23—August 4, 2012
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
His highly revered mentor Peter Solomon (whose previous credits include being Jacques Sauniere in The Da Vinci Code) is kidnapped by a religious psychopath calling himself Mal’akh (previously known as Silas in The Da Vinci Code). Langdon must decipher the Lost Mysteries (previously the Holy Grail) in a race against time, with the help of the victim’s female relative Katherine Solomon (Sophie Neveu, The Da Vinci Code) and veteran wise guy Warren Bellamy (Sir Leigh Teabing, The Da Vinci Code). Opposing his progress is legal eagle Director Inueto Sato (Captain Benzu Fache, The Da Vinci Code) and a bunch of Masons (Priory of Sion, The [you guessed it] Da Vinci Code).
Now, although there are arguably a couple of tiny parallels between The Lost Symbol and some other phenomenally successful novel with exactly the same characters and plot by the same author, the question is: Is it good? The answer is: yes.
Granted, it lacks originality like the desert lacks rain, but Brown readers know exactly what they’re getting when they pick up his novels. Where The Da Vinci Code was a vehicle to explore the murky past of Christianity, The Lost Symbol was both written and read as a way to examine the enigmatic rituals and heritage of the Masons. The plot – weak as tea without a teabag – is merely a backdrop to enable this examination to be presented in an entertaining way.
The snippets, facts and ominous questions posed by the characters is incredibly interesting reading, and at times challenges the reader’s world view. Although the book has come in for some criticism for being “textbook” or overly factual, to those who find the subject matter intriguing, it’s layer upon layer of intrigue. Where Langdon is an expert, Brown obviously isn’t. His understanding of the Masons is naïve and interpretations of Biblical expository are flawed. Despite his disclaimer that everything described is “real”, the reader should expect questions, not answers, from Brown and bear in mind that Brown’s work is fiction, with far more conjecture and hypothesis than is implied. Langdon’s air of expertise and wisdom is, of course, pretend.
Having said that, the plot dives right in and holds interest from the outset. Brown uses short chapters to break the action up, which at times feels like superfluous partitioning of a single scene, however in the main it runs smoothly. There is a significant development for Langdon’s character towards the end which is absolutely unexpected and relatively well handled afterwards, though neither Langdon, Katherine or Peter Solomon appear to be impacted by the gruelling evening they’ve had.
In terms of the resolution, the final “twist” for the villainous Mal’akh is terribly predictable and his personal denouement is bizarrely rushed and insignificant given how much Brown has built up his part through the whole escapade. His final moments, and their aftermath, should have been developed further. Sato – a less pivotal character – has a much stronger entrance, exit and overall presence and is actually one of The Lost Symbol’s hidden gems. The identification of the so-called Ancient Mysteries was also a let-down, being far more predictable and less ingenious than the clues which led up to it. The decryption of the Pyramid and solving of the various levels of enigma to reach that point were diversely intelligent, making the final solution weak, contrived and inconsequential. The ramifications of the “mysteries” had been so widely explored as a general recurring theme throughout the entire novel that there was nothing new or shocking in their discovery. If Brown had kept those cards to his chest until the final reveal, perhaps it would have been more significant. Overall, the ending dragged on far longer than was required. Long after the plot was concluded, a philosophical discussion continued for chapters beyond, adding nothing except boredom.
The Lost Symbol is an enjoying and intriguing story, touching on unusual themes. It keeps good pace for much of the novel and scratches the surface of some genuine enigmas. The plot and characterisations are moderate, and the ending is weak. All in, Langdon’s night probably just lasted longer than either he or the reader particularly hoped it would.