Review: Inferno by Dan Brown

UK cover of Inferno by Dan Brown

I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of this – I adored The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, but was less than impressed with Dan Brown’s other works. Where was Inferno going to fall on the widely-varying scale of the author’s works? Well, let me tell you. Inferno is amazing, very possibly actually better than The Da Vinci Code, although they’re so different it’s quite hard to compare them. I was actually genuinely surprised at how good this book is – it’s a perfect balance of intelligent symbolism and a racing, twisty plot. Amazing.

Plot summary:
‘Seek and ye shall find.’

With these words echoing in his head, eminent Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon awakes in a hospital bed with no recollection of where he is or how he got there. Nor can he explain the origin of the macabre object that is found hidden in his belongings.

A threat to his life will propel him and a young doctor, Sienna Brooks, into a breakneck chase across the city of Florence. Only Langdon’s knowledge of hidden passageways and ancient secrets that lie behind its historic facade can save them from the clutches of their unknown pursuers.

With only a few lines from Dante’s dark and epic masterpiece, The Inferno, to guide them, they must decipher a sequence of codes buried deep within some of the most celebrated artefacts of the Renaissance – sculptures, paintings, buildings – to find the answers to a puzzle which may, or may not, help them save the world from a terrifying threat.

Where to begin… Obviously comparisons with The Da Vinci Code are unavoidable, so we may as well start there. It’s different, very different, which was perhaps a wise idea on Dan Brown’s part. The basic concept is the same, of course – deciphering clues based on symbols hidden in art and literature, in an attempt to thwart whichever secret organisation is threatening the world this time. The tone has changed this time round, however, and the threat is a completely unique one that I wouldn’t have expected from Dan Brown.

While the references to history and art are still intact (as you can probably guess from the title) they play a smaller part than in Dan Brown’s previous books. I still spent a huge amount of time looking up various statues and churches, but they don’t really seem as integral to the plot. The story itself could stand on its own feet without the references to Dante Alighieri, but the literature twist does give it a nice… sparkle.

The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.

It’s a fascinating idea and raises some wonderful ethical questions, the like of which just aren’t present in his previous novels. The quote above isn’t one of Dan Brown’s; it’s actually from Inferno itself but it’s quoted several times and sums up the entire focus of the novel. Several times I caught myself seriously considering the moral conundrums raised, and I don’t doubt most other readers have done the same. It’s as if the author has matured a little, or perhaps just wants to show the world that his writing isn’t as trivial as the media seems to claim.

Speaking of… this book definitely doesn’t deserve the widespread criticism heaped upon the author’s writing, especially by those who haven’t actually read it. The list of quotes published online that prompt people to snigger at the prose is actually very misleading. A large portion of them are taken from passages that are meant to sound stilted and a little odd, and it’s unfair to base the quality of his work on these excerpts.

While I’m not claiming Dan Brown is the next Shakespeare, his writing is far from bad. I’m the first one to point out when the text is ‘clunky’ or doesn’t flow, but here I never once shuddered inwardly at a poorly thought-out sentence. As Hannah pointed out, if Dan Brown published his next work under a pseudonym, would his writing still be slated?

I do have one complaint, but only one. I’m not sure how specific I can be without being spoiler-y, but there are small aspects of the ending that just don’t make sense. There’s a huge twist that’s absolutely brilliant and makes perfect sense, but the way it’s dealt with is completely unrealistic. And yes, I do realise the irony of complaining about non-realism in a book based on saving the world via a copy of Dante’s Inferno.

But there’s no way That would be met with a reaction as calmly as That, especially when the leader of the World Health Organisation basically just nods and smiles. It’s a huge thing, and yet despite the massive build-up throughout the book, it’s not really met with the panic it deserves. Zobrist and his ladyfriend aren’t really treated as having done what they did; I really think there should have been some ramifications.

Was that suitably cryptic? :p You’ll see what I mean when you read it, which you absolutely should do. This book is great, which isn’t an easy feat when it’s following The Da Vinci Code. I can’t recommend this enough – it’s a unique action-packed, intelligent thriller with enough twists to satisfy even the most dubious reader.

Visit Dan Brown’s website here, or find him on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Oooh, great review, and you've really got me wanting to read the book now. I enjoyed Da Vinci Code fairly well, thinking it would make an excellent screenplay (but that despite this the film was not great.)

  2. Great review – the book has barely been out for 2 minutes and I'm already sick to the back teeth of reading snootily critical comments from people who haven't even read it! I've only read The Da Vinci Code of Dan Brown's back catalogue, but certainly found the plot of that gripping enough not to notice any horrible writing if it was there. I won't be rushing out to read this but might pick it up in the future at some point.

  3. I can't wait to read this. I love Dan Brown books.. the library need to hurry up with it!!

    Angie

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed it, I've read some other negative reviews.

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