‘Inferno’ review

I don’t write many book reviews. In fact, this would be my first. The reason I don’t write many book reviews is because I don’t read many books. Not that I dislike reading. But my attention span is not what it used to be (and it used to be pretty short to begin with) so I’m not too thrilled by the prospect of starting something that could takes days to finish.

In the past I have made an exception to Dan Brown’s novels. My sister is an avid reader and several of the books I’ve read were something she had brought home. I read a few of his novels this way and liked them enough to go ahead and read the rest.

Out of them all, the books involving the adventures of Robert Langdon have been my favorite, as would be the case with anyone who has read Brown’s work. I have always enjoyed characters who are portrayed as being the best in their field and although I wasn’t particularly interested in symbology (mostly because it’s not a real thing) I still enjoyed reading about it.

I knew Brown was coming up with his next novel ‘Inferno’ but didn’t know until a few days ago that it featured Langdon as the principal character again. This naturally increased my interest in the book significantly. I greatly enjoyed both ‘Angels & Demons’ as well as ‘The Da Vinci Code’. I know the critics have their reasons to dislike both. Brown isn’t a particularly proficient writer and his work is often termed sloppy, predictable and full of factual errors. To me, these books are like popcorn flicks; flawed on several levels but enjoyable nonetheless. I did not enjoy ‘The Lost Symbol’ as much, though, due to the rather disappointing ending that made the whole affair seem like a waste of your time.

I did not have any expectations with ‘Inferno’ because I had read nothing about it. This was a good thing because if I had approached with high expectations I’d have definitely been disappointed.

To put it simply, ‘Inferno’ is not as taut and exciting as the first two novels. The book takes a while to take off and it’s only after reaching halfway through that things start to get interesting. Even after that ‘Inferno’ rarely offers the page turning moments of the first two novels and has you more mildly interested in the ongoings rather than completely engrossed in it.

Unlike ‘The Lost Symbol’, there is no promise of a big reveal at the end; you pretty much know what you’re dealing with from the beginning. There are several twists and turns along the way, some very predictable, others less so but even a novice reader such as myself could see most of them coming. It’s the usual Brown affair, a trope the renowned author has used quite often: people are not who they seem to be.

As I mentioned, I’m not an avid reader so I’m not going to spend too much time discussing Brown’s writing. It did seem a bit better than before and the hyperboles and the tautology were kept in check even though Brown did occasionally indulge in providing excess detail about things that wasn’t really necessary.

This was mostly obvious in his description of the architecture in the novel. ‘Inferno’ takes place in Italy and as with some of the previous books comes across as a love letter to Europe and particularly to the architecture in general. Brown spends paragraphs upon paragraphs describing the structures to the point where your mind eventually wanders off and skips to the next part. I understand when the author describes a fictional person or place in great detail to form a clear picture in the mind of the reader but the necessity to describe real world structures in such detail completely eludes me. What was worse is that it still failed to paint a proper picture in my mind and eventually I had to Google for each of the structures described in the novel. Those interested in architecture, particularly European architecture, are bound to get a magnificient obelisk in their pants reading about it but everyone else is going to feel left out.

Brown also keeps hammering certain points repeatedly, which are not entirely of consequence to the story. We get it, that one guy lost his watch, the other has a rash and that one woman can’t conceive. There is no need to remind us after every few pages. Just move on already.

Langdon is not much of a symbologist as a historian in this novel. Although I understand you have to be a latter to be the former but symbology is a lot more interesting as a topic so it’s disappointing to see Langdon decipher, like, three symbols in the entire novel. Being explained the origin and significance of various symbols, even basic ones we see every day, was one of the interesting things about the previous Langdon novels, something you are deprived of in this one. Instead, all you get is an overdose of history lessons on one man in particular, Dante Alighieri, the author of the original ‘Inferno’ upon which the story of Brown’s ‘Inferno’ revolves.

Considering the tone of the book there was not much scope for humor in there. The funny bits usually came in the form of quips from either Langdon or Sienna and were usually pretty good. I wished there were more of these in the book.

Overall, ‘Inferno’ comes across as a lukewarm fourth installment in the Robert Langdon series. It has its moments but the book takes too long to gain momentum and the ending is not exciting enough to make up for it. I’d say it’s on par with ‘The Lost Symbol’ and nowhere as good as the first two novels. Robert Langdon as a character just isn’t as interesting and charismatic as he used to be. As he keeps reminding us in this book, he is starting to get old. It is about time, then, that Brown relieves him of his duty.


P.S. – I’m using the word ‘review’ here very lightly. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve never written book reviews before, nor have I read any. I’m not sure what one is supposed to contain and I only hope whatever is provided above suffices to fit the description. If not, take it as my simplistic, uninformed views on the matter.