Book Review – The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

It’s been several years and two movies since The DaVinci Code became a phenomenon and Dan Brown became a household name. The Lost Symbol is Brown’s third novel featuring Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, and his fifth over all.

Tackling the mysterious world of Freemasonry, Langdon is called to DC by a friend to give a last minute lecture… or so he thought. Instead, he’s on the run hoping to save lives by deciphering an ancient code that will reveal the location of a treasure that the Masons have hidden for centuries.

The Lost Symbol, understandably, could not escape high expectations when it was released earlier this year. This latest installment had all of the right ingredients, but, for me at least, it fell a little flat.

After I was enthralled by The DaVinci Code, I quickly read Brown’s previous three novels, and with the exception of Deception Point, enjoyed them even more. As good as they were, there was a definite pattern to Brown’s plots. For instance, in each of his novels there was a character who appeared trustworthy until the final reveal and there was another who appeared sinister but turned out not to be the puppet master of the problematic main action.

In The Lost Symbol, Brown escaped some of the plot patterns that he’d relied on earlier (not entirely, but the effort was clearly there). He also escaped his traditional novel starter of killing someone off.

Though Langdon was a charming central character in The DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons, he was very negative throughout The Lost Symbol. His constant doubts and disbelief bring the reader down. After being proved wrong so many times, one would think he would quit saying things like, “it’s impossible” and “but it’s just a myth.”

One good thing about Brown’s novels is that even without the advanced knowledge many of his characters possess, the reader can easily play along with deciphering. Perhaps easiest to try in The DaVinci Code because of the complete familiarity of so much of the subject matter, The Lost Symbol’s Washington DC setting and American landmarks are also familiar enough that even readers who are blindly guessing have a pretty good chance of coming up with the right answer.

That said, a few of the crucial twists were overly predictable (the true identity and motivations of the villain character). Instead of reacting with the intended, “Aha! I knew it!” it can be more along the lines of, “Well I could have told you that.”

The pacing is typical of Brown’s style with very short chapters that give insight into many characters’ minds and often begin with information helpful for trivia games. The rapid changes work to keep the reader’s attention for the most part but even they cannot make up for the unusually long wrap-up that follows the main action’s climax. The pay-off for wading through those final pages is not worth the protracted telling, and is instead cliché.

Enjoyable but not his strongest or most engaging story, The Lost Symbol fulfills the expectations of some Dan Brown fans, but won’t match the phenomenon of The DaVinci Code. It probably will be snatched up and churned out by Hollywood pretty quickly.

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