Well, it has been ages since I last read a Dan Brown novel. I remember enthusiastically reading “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons” in mid-late 2005. Then, in 2009, I read Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” (a new hardback copy on release day, no less!), “Deception Point” and “Digital Fortress”.
So, when Dan Brown’s “Inferno” was released in 2013, I…. eventually ended up getting a hardback copy a year later, which I didn’t get round to reading (since I was starting to lose interest in books at the time) and ended up losing somewhere in the depths of one of my book piles.
But, after discovering a cheap second-hand paperback copy of “Inferno” in a charity shop in Petersfield last year, I thought that I’d take a proper look at it. So, yes, this review has been several years in the making.
So, let’s take a look at “Inferno”. Needless to say, this review may contain some MAJOR SPOILERS.
This is the 2014 Corgi (UK) paperback edition of “Inferno” that I read.
The novel begins with a mysterious man called The Shade running through the streets of Florence before hurling himself off of a building and falling to his death.
Meanwhile, revered American symbology professor Robert Langdon is having a bizarre nightmare, filled with hellish visions from Dante’s “Inferno”. When he wakes up, he finds that not only is he in hospital, but he cannot remember the events of the past 2-3 days. Needless to say, the situation becomes stranger when he learns from a visiting English medic called Sienna that he is actually in Italy rather than in America and that he was brought into the hospital after being shot in the head.
However, before Langdon can really start to piece together the events of the past few days, a mysterious assassin breaks into the hospital and tries to kill him. Luckily, Sienna is able to help Langdon escape the hospital before this happens and it soon becomes obvious that someone powerful is out to get them. But, why?…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a gloriously silly thriller novel that, despite a few flaws, was a lot of fun to read 🙂
Like in Brown’s other Langdon novels, this novel is a little bit different from a typical gung-ho action thriller novel. In other words, it is a novel where Langdon has to rely on quick thinking and academic knowledge in order to survive. Since Langdon is unarmed throughout the story, this novel actually has quite a bit of suspense – given that he spends quite a bit of the story chased by various heavily-armed people, whilst also solving mysterious puzzles based on Dante’s “Inferno” in order to prevent a major catastrophe.
And, yes, this is actually a much more intelligent novel than you might expect. This is both a strength and a weakness. On the plus side, this novel is fairly well thought-out and extremely well-researched.
On the downside, Brown feels the need to show off his research constantly via lots of info-dumps, which can sometimes make the book seem more like a slow-paced mixture between a tour guide of Italy and a history textbook during what are supposed to be thrillingly fast-paced moments. Yes, some of these segments are pretty interesting, but they do slow down the story quite a bit!
Still, this novel is a fairly gripping thriller regardless. Although there are more than a few silly moments (such as a random tricycle chase, some character-based stuff, some of the more contrived puzzles/clues/plot twists etc..), this novel still manages to remain compelling thanks to both the premise and the suspenseful storyline.
The idea of starting the story halfway through, with the main character not remembering what happened beforehand isn’t an entirely new technique (I mean, it turned up in the previous book that I read), but it works pretty well here. Likewise, the fact that Langdon is unarmed helps to add extra suspense to the story’s many chase sequences.
Plus, the novel also includes some fairly bold and dramatic plot twists too – although some of these aren’t always foreshadowed as much as they should be. Even so, the plot twists kind of reminded me a bit of the first “Mission Impossible” film, which helped to add to the story’s enjoyable silliness.
One interesting theme in this novel is that of the dangers of overpopulation, with the main villain (Zobrist) taking it upon himself to “correct” the problem via a genetically-engineered virus. In a rather clever move, the novel initially takes a rather simplistic “good vs. evil” approach to this by making the virus out to be a modern version of the bubonic plague. However, the novel achieves a greater level of intellectual and moral complexity when it is later revealed that the virus merely makes one-third of the world’s population sterile. Refreshingly, the novel then leaves it up to the reader to come to their own conclusions about the morality of Zobrist’s actions.
The novel also possibly contains a little bit of satire about the thriller genre too, with a group of characters called “The Consortium” who are a well-funded ship-based group of mercenaries who will carry out any task, with the justification that they are merely a tool for other people and bear no responsibility for how they are used. Although this probably has no connection to Clive Cussler’s “Oregon Files” novels, it’s hard not to see it as a slight parody of these stories (and the action-thriller genre in general).
In terms of the characters, this novel is pretty cheesy. In addition to Robert Langdon (who is a cultured, highly-intelligent and fairly tall professor), his side-kick Sienna initially seems to be a hilariously corny character (eg: a slightly rebellious genius with an IQ of 208, who also owns a motorised tricycle for… reasons). However, she gains a bit more character depth as the story progresses. Some of the background characters are a bit more well-written though, with the most intriguing character being the mysterious antagonist, Zobrist.
In terms of the novel’s writing, it’s ok. Although this novel is a very readable thriller, the story is slowed down quite often by lots of descriptive info-dumps about history, architecture, tourist attractions etc… Even so, I can’t really fault the actual writing in this novel too much. The action scenes are very readable and the descriptions are fairly evocative too. Likewise, Dan Brown makes pretty good use of his traditional ultra-short chapters here too 🙂
In terms of length and pacing, this novel needs improvement. At a mammoth 620 pages in length, this novel would have benefitted from trimming some of the background details and repetitive descriptions of major plot points (although, saying this, if you’re reading this book a few chapters at a time, then these are probably fairly useful recaps. Even so, they get a bit annoying if you’re binge-reading).
Likewise, although the novel moves along at a reasonably decent pace (thanks to the suspenseful storyline, short chapters etc..), the story is bogged down quite a bit due to all of the info-dumps that I’ve mentioned before. Seriously, this novel is supposed to be a thriller.
All in all, this is one of the most gripping tour guides/history textbooks you’ll read. It is also a rather silly, but more intelligent than you might think, thriller novel too. Whilst it doesn’t quite reach the high standards of Brown’s earlier works, it’s still a lot of fun to read 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least three and a half.