- Author: Dan Brown
- Publisher: Doubleday
- Publication Date: May 14, 2013
- Page count: 609
Dan Brown has been a controversial author. Ever since he released The Da Vinci Code, people have recognized him as sort of Anti-Christian, but his beliefs towards religion (in his own words) is a “work in progress.” He is known for extensive research for his novels in which he fuses fiction and reality. Oh, he also hangs upside down to see “the world in a new perspective.”
Inferno is his fourth book in the Robert Langdon series; following 2009’s release of The Lost Symbol.
Robert Langdon wakes up with amnesia in an unfamiliar location. On the run for his life, Langdon has to save himself and his new buddy doctor, Sienna Brooks, from the dangerous clutches of a secret organization, an assassin, and his own government. The only way he can save himself and his new friend is by solving the mysterious puzzle of Dante’s Inferno.
An historical exposition
Dan Brown’s novels have a very distinguishing quality. They are a fusion of fiction and reality.
If you are familiar with Brown’s work, you will know that he does a massive amount of research on the topics he is writing about. As for this novel, he chose one of the most famous (and longest) poem in the history of the world, Dante’s Divine Comedy, to be precise, Inferno.
As soon as Langdon wakes up, he is being shot at and thus follows a cat and mouse chase, that last for the rest of the novel. There is a lot of confusion and mystery (sort of). Robert tries to figure out what happened to him last night, while Sienna tries to help him escape. The plot progression is very fast.
Ok, this is fine. But, the problem arises from the fact that the book feels like a very long exposition. On almost every single page there is information of some kind. Even in his turmoil Robert Langdon descriptively describes some objects that a man with amnesia couldn’t.
The setting of Florence plays a role here. Brown likes to take his readers on an adventure with him through these historical settings he uses in his novels. This feels like we’re on a tour bus and Dan Brown is our guide, but the sense of immersion is missing. He just moves from scene to scene, and he takes extra care in providing us minute details of sites our characters pass by.
Looking at this book as a source of information would be the way to read it because the story is just a backdrop of the information Mr. Brown wants to cram into your brain.
Despite the lackluster first half of the story, you can see a shift towards storytelling in the second half, as slowly the exposition recedes and the focus on characters and their actions takes the limelight. Inferno is a vast improvement over his last book, The Lost Symbol because his awareness of environment has a broad scope. You can see that he is trying to immerse you as much as with history as with the beauty of metaphors. Of course, it still lacks in the art of story, but he is trying. And the twist near the end is something you will not see coming.
Inferno does not have too many characters. There are literal four characters who form the part of the story. Others are just…there; to fill the gaps.
Stating that the characters are bland will be an understatement. These ‘people’ are like pawns of an unknown king waiting for their command: including Robert Langdon.
Emotions are almost non-existential for the characters. Robert is a badass symbologist (word conjured by Mr. Brown) who can remember everything pretty well, despite the fact that he had amnesia. Langdon has just the right amount of knowledge for the plot to progress.
Sienna Brooks is a wasted opportunity. She has a potential to be a great character with shock-factor value. The development of her character only comes towards the end (when it is relevant to the plot). Her actions proceeding that part were boring.
The Provost is, well, The Provost. Whenever the chapter shifts towards him, there is this static thought which permeates throughout the end. His moral codes. Whether the thing he does -providing security and mobility to people- is right or wrong. And when he sees the repercussion for his actions, he laments on the idea that it is wrong, and it takes him the whole novel to understand it.
Then we have a silver-hair-devil and some other characters whom you will never know (unless it is necessary for the plot).
The characters do not have emotions. They are like robots waiting for their next command. Not the I, Robot like robots: more like an Asimo.
A big problem that has persisted in Mr. Brown’s novels is one of the first basic rules of writing. Show don’t tell. Things just…happen. There is hardly any tension, and the payoff seems unrewarding. Dan just says what happens; he doesn’t justify the beauty of Florence ( a monument here, a garden there). Emotions are conveyed to us directly. The plot progression is an explanation instead of an experience, and this is the source of missing sympathy or empathy towards characters.
In the first chapter, after a flashy dream, Robert Langdon wakes in a hospital with amnesia. He tries to recollect his memory but fails to do so. He remarks:
My God. It must have been bad.
No shit Sherlock.
We are bombarded with these kinds of sentences throughout the book.
Dan Brown has been improving with his work. Inferno is his best book yet because he tries. He doesn’t succeed, but he tries. Brown has increased his writing dexterity. His prose is better than it was in The Lost Symbol; he can be a good story-teller in maybe four more books.
Seeing for what it is – Information
Pleasure in Dan Brown’s novels doesn’t come from story or characters but from the stuff-they-don’t-want-you-to-know information, and he does a tremendous amount of research for his work trying to find out things a simple Google search will not provide.
Inferno is a very extensive study of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. In the plot, Brown annex Dante’s poem with a deadly plague; creating a bizarre, yet a reasonably thought provoking story.
The reader’s involvement is very less in this novel because there is no puzzle, there is an enigma. The Lost Symbol had readers scratching their head to find clues (whether they were present or not). In Inferno, we only know as much as we are told and a little bit of involvement wouldn’t have hurt.
Brown’s code on the final page of Digital Fortress was baffling.
Should you read Inferno?
A very divisive book.
If you want a good story with relatable characters, then no. The story is slow for the first half and characters are on auto-pilot. They have a destination, and without a care, they will reach it.
If you want a typical Dan Brown experience, then yes, and if you’re familiar with Mr. Brown’s work, then you will know what you are getting into: Inferno is nothing different than what he had done before.
Inferno can be an excellent traveling companion, but it has too many holes for a seriously committed reading.