Well, since I was still in the mood for reading thriller novels, I thought that I’d take a look at Dan Brown’s 2017 novel “Origin”. If I remember rightly, I ended up getting a second-hand copy of this novel after reading Brown’s “Inferno” a few months earlier and being surprised that there was another Dan Brown novel that I hadn’t heard of before.
Although “Origin” is the fifth novel in Brown’s “Robert Langdon” series, it can be read as a stand-alone novel – albeit one with a few brief references to previous novels for fans of the series.
So, let’s take a look at “Origin”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins with famous technologist, scientist and inventor Edmond Kirsch travelling to a remote church on a mountain in Spain. He has arranged a meeting with a powerful interfaith group in order to give them a preview of a scientific announcement he will make soon that will disprove every religion on the planet by conclusively answering the questions of where we come from and where we are going. He feels that it is only fair to give them time to prepare for it.
A few days later, Harvard professor Robert Langdon is visiting the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao for his friend and ex-student Kirsch’s announcement. However, before the multi-media announcement, the A.I. tour guide (another of Edmond’s inventions) leads Langdon to a private room where Kirsch is waiting for him. Kirsch believes that his life is in danger and wants Langdon’s advice on the matter. Eventually, Kirsch decides to press on with the announcement.
However, when Kirsch is shot by an assassin halfway through the presentation, Langdon falls under suspicion. Teaming up with both the A.I. tour guide and the future queen of Spain, Ambra Vidal, Langdon realises that the only way to deal with all of this is to find the password to Kirsch’s private server and release the rest of his announcement to the world before anyone can stop him…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it is a bit slow to really get started, it’s a really compelling thriller. In classic Dan Brown fashion, there is a lot of focus on art, symbols, puzzles, architecture etc… and all of this stuff helps to lend the story a surprisingly relaxing and, dare I say it, slightly high-brow atmosphere. Yet, all of this stuff is paired with some really gripping thriller elements that help to keep the story compelling – even when it gets a little bit contrived and/or silly.
As for the novel’s thriller elements, they mostly consist of mystery and suspense. Although there are a few short chase and fight scenes, most of the novel revolves around mysterious conspiracy theories, suspenseful moments, political drama, uncertainty about who can be trusted, intriguing puzzles and dramatic plot twists. In other words, this is a bit more of a sophisticated and old-school thriller novel and even though it takes a little while to really become compelling, it is one of those novels that is more gripping than it initially seems.
Yet, this is also one of those novels where the mystery is actually better than the solution to it. Although Brown has obviously done quite a bit of research, at least half of the “shocking” announcement at the end of the novel (and possibly one of the later plot twists) won’t be too much of a surprise to any fans of the science fiction genre.
And, talking of the sci-fi genre, this novel is something of a sci-fi novel in disguise. In addition to the novel’s scientific themes, there are also some vaguely cyberpunk elements too – which were kind of a cool surprise in a Dan Brown novel 🙂 Then again, Brown did write “Digital Fortress” in the 1990s, so he isn’t a total stranger to the sci-fi genre.
Even so, this novel is more about the tension between science and religion. Although the novel takes a fairly nuanced attitude towards this topic, with both sides having extremists and more moderate people, it is often handled in a slightly cheesy and stylised way. If anything, this novel suggests that both things can coexist, with each being able to adapt to changes in the other. This is also mirrored in the novel’s portrayal of monarchy too, with tension between the more traditionalist elements of the Spanish court and the desire for modernisation.
Although I haven’t studied Spanish politics or history in a huge level of detail, the royal drama is clearly stylised and fictional, yet it still remains compellingly dramatic. Likewise, there are also a few references to vestiges of the oppressive traditionalism of Franco’s dictatorship still lingering in Spain. Dan Brown has also done quite a bit of research about Spanish architecture and history too – with lots of fascinating buildings, descriptions of art etc.. that really help to add some atmosphere to the story.
In terms of the characters, they’re fairly decent. Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough here to make you care about the characters. The motivations of all of the story’s villains are well-explained and help to add drama to the story. In addition to this, although Kirsch dies about a fifth of the way through the story, he gets a surprisingly large amount of characterisation afterwards. Not to mention that the novel’s A.I. character, Winston, is surprisingly well-written too. In general, the characters in this novel – whilst slightly stylised – are one of the things that helps keep this story compelling.
In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is often surprisingly formal and/or descriptive for a thriller novel. Yet, this is also paired with slightly faster-paced dialogue and narration too. The contrast between these things keeps the story compellingly readable, whilst also being surprisingly relaxing and atmospheric at the same time. This is really difficult to describe, but it lends the story a really interesting atmosphere that sets it apart from grittier and more realistic thrillers by other authors.
As for length and pacing, this novel probably isn’t perfect, but is still reasonably good. At 538 pages in length, this novel is a little bit on the hefty side of things. Likewise, although the story takes between a fifth and a quarter of the novel to really get started, it then becomes a lot more thrilling and compelling. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced thriller, there are enough well-orchestrated mysteries, small cliffhangers, plot twists etc.. to make this novel the kind of thing that you’ll want to read more of.
All in all, even though this probably isn’t the best Dan Brown novel I’ve read, it’s still a really good one. It manages to be both relaxing and thrilling at the same time. Even though it takes a while to really get started and some elements of it are a bit stylised and/or silly, I still had a lot of fun reading it.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.