I work in a dangerously small town, the kind that considers itself “modern” for having a Subway, so I wasn’t surprised upon visiting the local library that my pickings were depressingly slim. However, I was desperate for something, absolutely anything, to entertain me until my book on hold came in from across the state. It’s times like these that I turn to Dan Brown. That’s how I came across his other works way back when, and just like that I found myself departing from the library with Inferno in hand.
I know why I expect so little from Dan Brown novels: they’re all just so similar (same Robert Langdon; slightly different dilemma) that I anticipate Inferno being the same as The Da Vinci Code being the same as The Lost Symbol being the same as Angels & Demons. I’ll go ahead and make it clear that Inferno is indeed the same unnaturally all-knowing Symbologist traipsing around one of the world’s most influential centers of art/culture/history/religion with a beautiful and helpful but non-romantic ladyfriend in order to save the rest of the oblivious world. However, the passion that I feel for Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno” planted a seed of slightly higher excitement and expectation for this novel, in particular.
Much like Andy Weir in my last post, Dan Brown astounds me when thinking about the amount of research that would have to go into writing this novel. Not only does Robert Langdon, Brown’s recurring main character, go into vast detail about the minutiae of Dante’s most popular work, but equalling mind-numbing detail is applied to countless other books, poems, paintings, and historical sites that are someway remotely connected to “Inferno.” The novel follows Langdon, who cannot recall anything from the last 48 hours, through Italy in an attempt to save the lives of himself and this installment’s “Bond girl” and to find out how in the world his unfortunate and dangerous current state is connected to Dante and “Inferno.” I found the twists, turns, and ultimate ending to be altogether unpredictable, which is refreshing in this era of “been there, read that,” and I truly enjoyed it from beginning to end.
The best part of the novel, however, was the almost “behind the scenes” feel of the endless descriptions. Brown is a master of detail and the product of this effort is that I genuinely felt as though I was standing in Florence, staring up at the vast ceilings or gilded doors, the pigeon-topped statues or floor-to-ceiling paintings, or the fragile detail of Dante’s death mask. As Langdon found the hidden passages behind paintings or sprinted through rafters, I felt as though I was getting a VIP tour of a city I’ve never seen, much less via hidden corridors above the city streets. I found it hard to read this novel when I didn’t have access to a computer, as nearly every paragraph contained beautiful descriptions and secret details about the many paintings and historical landmarks peppered along Langdon’s journey that I absolutely needed to see to believe.
If this review was based solely on the plot of Inferno, it would still be a positive review, as it posed a true question of societal norms and the inevitable dangers of our over-populated planet; fortunately, the plot is also supported by extraordinary details and connections that only enhanced my fascination. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good mystery, a thriller, a historical or literary expose, or anyone who loves Dante. I think you’ll be equally pleased.