Our intrepid Harvard-educated, Harris tweed wearing, Mickey Mouse watch wielding symbologist, Dan Brown - I mean! - Robert Langdon wakes up in a Florence hospital and has no clue how he got there or of the last 2 days. He is aware that pretty blond-ponytail doctor, Sienna Brooks, is very pretty and tall and attractive, and that he (with Sienna in tow OF COURSE) should probably high-tail it out of the hospital when a spiky-haired, leather-wearing Consortium agent, Viantha, starts shooting at him.
Thus ensues a chase across Italy and South-Western Europe as Langdon and the MYSTERIOUS, super-intelligent Sienna Brooks rush to figure out what his brain is hiding from him and plot twists pelt them helter-skelter, constantly changing the motives of the villains to make everything more MYSTERIOUS and SNEAKY.
Under ordinary circumstances, I would never have picked this book up. Number 1, I've come to find that I end up hating or seriously disliking 90% of popular novels. Number 2, I'm not really a mystery/thriller fan. The cliches that a lot of fans can stomach bug the hell out of me. Number 3, I didn't like "The Da Vinci Code" (though the Bad Book Buddy read of it upped the enjoyment factor by about 1000%). And usually, if I don't like one book by an author (particularly if I don't like it like I didn't like TDVC), then I won't bother with any other books from him or her. It's just better that way.
But Bad Book Buddy Reads chose this book to be The Summer of Dan Brown's Inferno, and I couldn't help myself. I sometimes like to read bad books to snark at them. It's the same enjoyment that causes people to watch bad action movies, Z-list movies, the Godzilla movies, etc.
This will be short so let me get it out of the way quickly. Dan Brown's actual writing craft HAS improved, ever so slightly. I felt he had a better feel for grammar and pacing.
In some ways, this book is more enjoyable (read: snarkable) than TDVC, in other ways it's worse.
The characters are the same shade of bland that I saw in TDVC. In fact, at one point, I almost called Sienna "Sophie", there was so little difference in the stereotype.
But first, Langdon. Our insufferable, pretentious, supposedly smart but unable to see an obvious mole in his midst Harvard professor. Oh, how many times must we hear about his Harris Tweed, the loss of his Mickey Mouse watch he gets it back in the end!, how clever he is (causing his full classrooms to burst into gales of laughter at his every joke) and how wet every woman's panties get at the sight of him. I'm not sure what is more annoying: how he'll stop in the middle of a chase scene to give the audience a 12 page lecture on some obscure piece of history or how Brown keeps telling us he's so smart while never once showing Langdon doing ANYTHING that smart.
Sienna Brooks is our Love Interest this book. She fits all the politically correct slots that 90% of participants said they wanted to see in a Love Interest:
+ Smart, but not in the same field as our Marty Stu
+ Blond haired
+ "Penetrating" yet "gentle" brown eyes
+ Natural beauty, yet stunningly beautiful (because anything unnatural is yucky, but we can't have those ugly fat people in our books, what would that say about Marty Stu's sex drive?!)
+ A doctor
+ Early thirties
+ So smart, that she blows the IQ test out of the water with her 202 IQ
God, I am SO SICK of characters being SO SMART they have off the chart IQs.
+ Stupid enough that she has to have Marty Stu explain everything to her
+ This somewhat sexist line: Langdon saw in her eyes a frightened little girl, running scared, desperate and out of control." (I find it sexist because she is being compared to a "little girl" even though she is a grown woman.)
I'm not even going to bother with the rest of the cast. They are a bunch of names and cliches drawn together with nice lines. Outlines in a child's coloring book.
Not exactly plot relevant, but, hey, Brown dumps whole passages from Wikipedia so why can't I dump a cute coloring book image of an octopus in my review? BONUS POINTS: color the octopus as you read this review.
What's most annoying, though, is how every single character blows the slightest event out of proportion.
'And you're certain you saw one of these masks in your visions?' Sienna asked, her voice now tremulous."
"A Map of Hell was one of the most frightening visions of the afterlife ever created."
NOTE: we are talking about this image. Not what gets me quivering in my bed.
"Sienna gasped audibly, and her eyes shot up to meet Langdon's."
"In a rare moment of unrestrained emotion, Agent Bruder threw back his head and let out a bellow of rage."
But people don't really read these kinds of books for the characters. They read them for the breakneck pacing and plot. In that regard, another big failure.
Number 1, Mr. Brown, changing the motivations of your characters throughout the course of your novel does NOT a plot twist make. Retconning the actions and reactions and motivations are also NOT plot twists! I can't really go into much detailing without potentially spoiling this (and even though I dislike this book, I won't spoil it for others who may read it), but come ON!! This is worse than some of the retcons in the Star Wars Universe.
Number 2, if you have an action scene, you may want to avoid stopping to have one of the following:
+ Langdon recall, in details, a lecture he gave at Harvard.
+ A detailed Wikipedia entry about a building.
+ Repeating plot points from 3 pages in the text, as if this is a freakin' comic book or TV show.
I didn't find the story breakneck; I found it neverending. It went on and on and on. And when the climax finally came in, all I could do was yawn.
Try not to yawn after that!
As if everything else wasn't already bad - characters, plot, pacing - the writing is positively atrocious. I wouldn't call it "Nicholas Sparks" bad (seriously, that guy is my benchmark of terrible writing), but with gems like these, it comes seriously close:
"She knew it was probably just the adrenaline, but she found herself strangely attracted to the American professor. In addition to his being handsome, he seemed to possess a sincerely good heart."
Nothing like a good chase scene to get the panties all wet for an amnesiac patient!
"'As you know,' the man had begun. 'Your services were recommended to me by a mutual friend.'"
As you know, Bad Writing 101 states that to tell the audience something the characters already know, have one character say "As you know". It doesn't sound awkward at ALL.
"The woman was weeping now, her voice full of sadness."
No way! A weeping woman is SAD?! I would never have thought!
"Sienna's eyes now began darting around the building with obvious concern."
"The look of surprise and fear on Sienna's face turned quickly to anger, and she glared back down at Farris. 'You've been lying to us, haven't you?'"
I want to note that this was said after Sienna had already noted that Farris had lied about the battery usage of his phone.
Other problems with the writing that I found were:
+ Brown's tendency to start every chapter with a Wikipedia entry of a city or piece of architecture written in present tense and then suddenly shift to past tense for everything else.
+ The absolutely RIDICULOUS conclusion. Basically Betrand's virus sterilized 1/3 of the population. The World Health Organization's response to the genocide of the next generation? "Well, we wouldn't have done that, but overpopulation is a problem. And who cares about all those culture who will die out because of this virus? At least now we won't be overpopulated!" They don't bother to reverse it, they glibly accept it! This is NOT how heroes act! MAYBE if the heroes made a good case for their acceptance, I would buy it, but it was NOT done well at all. In fact, the conclusion itself made me the most mad I have ever been at a Dan Brown book. More mad than at TDVC's "Jesus was married!" conclusion (and I consider myself a Christian, to give you a baseline).
+ INSANE amounts of repetition. Each time Viantha's POV cropped up, we HAD to hear how she was disavowed and had failed her mission, no matter that we had JUST read it.
A part of me wonders how Brown's books ever sell. They just aren't that good. But I realize that what I want in a book isn't what a lot of other people (particularly the people who chase after the popular books) want. Many of these people adore mysteries/thrillers with a enough facts to flavor the text (just enough to make you think it could be real), characters they can easily slip themselves into or ones they can easily retrieve from their Character Archetype Banks, and a couple of plot twists to make them think they are smart but not TOO smart.
I guess if I A) didn't read much or B) could turn off my brain (something which I haven't mastered yet), then I guess I would enjoy it as much as the devoted Dan Brown fan base. But I can't, so I resort to enjoying this through the best option: C) So Bad, It's Good Bad Book Buddy Reads. And in this category, this book was a winner.
Wow, this was an awful book. I will say that Dan Brown has improved his writing craft, as there seems to be better flow and not so many grammatical errors, but just barely. He still switches tenses, starting out nearly every chapter with a big, ugly blob of text about some historical landmark that may or may not have bearing on the plot. The characters are just bare outlines of people, like a grown-up coloring book, who somehow managed to be the stupidest, most pretentious, most OVERREACTIVE bunch of morons - and yet these are respected geniuses in their fields. (Because we can't have ANY average Joes or Janes in a novel, no sir.) And disguising themselves as plot twists are several retcons and outright lies, designed solely to make sure that the readers NEVER know what is going on. And that ending! Talk about a setup for a nice, mature theme that COMPLETELY misses the mark.
I ONLY recommend reading if A) you are doing a Bad Buddy Read, B) you don't read much and you like all your stories to end predictably, or C) your brain has an on/off switch. Otherwise, avoid the Inferno!!