Review for The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown
Yeah yeah, I had to read it. I had to see if it was up to the hype about how horribly it stank, and if it was on par with the crazy schemes and intricately knotted plotwork of Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code.
I have to say, after reading, that it wasn't quite, and it wasn't quite.
Overall, the book just wasn't quite.
There were three plot twists/hidden details that kept this plot going through 133 chapters: who Mal'akh is, why Sato is so adamant in chasing Langdon around, and where the Lost Word is hidden. Because you know there will be a real place with a real thing in it; methinks the symbologist doth protest waaaaay too much about it being metaphorical. Come on, that's totally not a spoiler if you've read anything else by Brown.
I'd figured out the first and third far sooner than I'd have liked to, so most of this book was me waiting to be proven right...and reading a lot of details about Masonic art around Washington, D.C. Sigh. The second twist was so much less than earth-shattering, it was the opposite of irritating: that's right, it was boring.
I'm also not a fan of reading detailed descriptions of rituals that I don't understand. Rituals are meaningful only to the initiated, so it's a sequence of meaningless events to me. If you're not going to explain what the parts mean, why explain the details? Argle. But alas, I forget that Brown enjoys working details into any crack he can get them to fit.
I do, as a puzzle maker, enjoy Brown's interconnectivity within his plots. The way the magic square plays its parts in the beginning and in the end, and the concept of the symbolon becoming a reality in the pyramid's numerous puzzles, were fun to read. It makes me wonder how long he had to search before he found a series of facts that gave him enough layers that he could use it in his plot. An example in no particular order: Benjamin Franklin - Franklin Square, the address - a Franklin square - an order-eight Franklin square - The Order. Etc etc. Pyramids and symbols everywhere! The constant mention of ancient symbols throughout the architecture of Washington made the city take on a truly exotic feel, as if there were two cities there, rather than one. Sort of like the way London has Diagon Alley, but you just don't notice it unless you're the right sort.
The city Brown presents is the coolest part of the book. The philosophy which he gives to the Masons to protect and espouse, which is that there is a wealth of secret knowledge hidden in plain sight among numerous ancient writings that survive to this day, isn't surprising or astounding in any way. That these books have survived exactly because history's brightest minds have sought to decipher this knowledge over the centuries is kinda cool, despite the tang of self-fulfilling prophecy.
I guess the book is sort of a letdown on that end because it doesn't show me anything I didn't generally believe possible in the first place. I'm not into the concept that the earlier civilizations on this planet were dumber somehow, or not interested in the world they lived in. It makes me chuckle when everyone acts all astonished that archaeologists find a simple computer from the Roman Era, or a currently untranslatable document (Voynich, anyone?)full of details no one can fully grasp, or astronomically accurate stone buildings built thousands of years ago. I mean, come on. These people didn't have American Idol and iPods to distract them. They were busy thinking crap up! So yeah, I'm down with our ancestors having figured out a lot of deep thoughts. I enjoy trying the same from time to time. I don't see how this is a big deal. Are there more sheeple in the world than I thought? Maybe in this day and age.
Most egotistical sections: the parts where Brown works scenes into the plot that refer to the controversy and success of The Da Vinci Code. Yes, that's right: scenes. Plural. Hilarious from a "dude, you can't be serious" point of view. Puts me in mind of Clive Cussler's insertion of himself (or at least a character with his name) into each of his Dirk Pitt books. Although I must say the Clives were written in with more fluidity and less plot disruption...possibly because no one ever accused Cussler of revisionist history. Even though that's what he inadvertently, anachronistically did with Raise the Titanic! I still can't get the screwdriver-in-the-eyeball scene from that novel out of my head. Thanks, Mr. Cussler.
Biggest jolt out of the story: the weighing-the-soul experiment. Duncan MacDougall's experiment in 1907 (weigh a man right before death, and right after death; do math) seemed to reveal that the human soul had a miniscule but measurable weight, but his experiments could never be confirmed by other tests and was considered anything from deliberate attention-mongering to hopelessly inaccurate science to downright ridiculous. Brown decided to use this experiment, ramped up by a hyper accurate scale, for a plot device at the point in the story where someone is shown to die. That's the only reason it's there. And then when things are revealed in the plot to not be what they seem (which was cool, actually, btw, as it was tied back to the plot in more than one way, in typical Brown fashion), that whole flashback to Katherine's experiment is proven unneeded. So...*raises a single eyebrow*...why, exactly, did that need to be there? To mislead the reader, of course. But it felt horribly heavy-handed. No other experiments were flashbacked to.
In the end, the physical side of Lost Word is revealed to be nothing mysterious at all. It's something everyone's seen, possibly handled and owned. More secrets in plain sight, which leave me with the feeling that the whole thing was a wild goose chase for something that wasn't ever physically lost. The downerside of this is that what the philosophical side of the Lost Word is, doesn't feel complete according to the Masonic traditions presented in the books. If you're gonna hide the Lost Word, at least hide all of the Lost Word. But no, they got all prejudicial. Was there really only a tiny amount of space to hide it, considering? I doubt it.
At least the bad guy died. There, now that's a spoiler...or is it? Mwa ha ha.
Overall, I have to give this book a meh. It had good detail, great characterization, and nice puzzlework, as I expected. But the reveals and plot twists were expected, anticipated even, and the end result was a book that was overblown on delivery. The final scene was incomplete, in fact, without the movie version's climactic music. Two and a half of five stars from me today. That includes a bonus half star for zero noticed typos. :D Mr. Brown has a great editor.