It takes me longer to finish a novel these days.
Back when I was in high school, or even college, I used to devour books at an alarming rate – I could finish a thick novel within two or three days. But that’s also because there were less distractions/responsibilites… these days I have work, household chores, gym.. so I try to squeeze in some reading before bedtime.
When Inferno came out in Malaysian bookstores in late 2013, I wanted to get it so bad. I have all of Dan Brown’s earlier novels: the DaVinci Code was a book I simply could not put down until I finished it (it left me with a void when it ended.. like my best friend just died). The price tag was a whopping RM99++ for a new release, so I said ‘forget about it’. I love books, but my wallet doesn’t allow.
I finally got the book two years later, when the book was going for just RM39.90. Sometimes good things are worth the wait!
Inferno is the fourth book in a series about Robert Langdon, the knowledgeable and lovable college professor who often seems to get caught up in dangerous things and end up having to use his expertise to a) look for extremely important lost treasure and b)avoid bad guys. What I really like about the character is that he’s an academician – unlike many beefy, swashbuckling heroes in novels. He is athletic from swimming, but that’s about it. He doesn’t know kungfu, nor does he have a whip; he can’t jump from high buildings and whatnot, but he is armed with something far more powerful – his knowledge. As an A-class nerd who has never been good at athletics, I can relate to that 😀
Harvard Uni professor Robert Langdon wakes up in Florence, Italy with no recollection of the past few days. He is told by one of the attending doctors, Sienna Brooks, that he narrowly missed being shot in the head by an unknown assailant. A female assassin bursts in and attempts to shoot Langdon, so the two flee to Brook’s apartment. Once there, Langdon discovers he has been carrying a small cylinder with a biohazard sign, along with a mysterious message containing Italian painter Sandro Botticelli’s Map of Hell.
Of course, being a Langdon novel, the map is a clue to something else. Langdon accidentally discovers that Sienna is a child prodigy with extremely high IQ (how convenient – the perfect candidate for when you’re trying to escape from villains!). After putting a call to the US embassy, soldiers storm the building – causing Langdon to believe that his own gov is after him and that he can trust no one. The pair flee the building on a moped into the streets of Florence.
The clue hunt brings them to Dante’s death mask. Dante was the Italian Renaissance poet who wrote the Divine Comedy, a poem describing his journey through hell (Inferno) and eventually, Paradise. By piecing together bits of info, the pair discover that the whole affair has something to do with Bertrand Zobrist, a brilliant geneticist. Zobrist believes that with overpopulation, the world will eventually collapse due to limited resources, leaving hell on earth similar to Dante’s Inferno – and he plans to release a plague on the world to thin out the human population. The location of the plague’s ground zero is hidden within the clues, and both Langdon and Brooks has to find it (while dodging the soldiers, the organisation that supports Zobrist) before time runs out for humanity.
I was a tad disappointed with Inferno. But just a smidgen. Storywise, it is similar to all of his other novels – a Langdon-style treasure hunt – but this time around, Brown takes a bold move by stepping into the realm of science fiction. It is different, not in an entirely bad way, but seems tailored for a blockbuster film (Inferno has been made into a film by the way, scheduled to release in Oct 2016). Of course, it is hard not to compare it to his earlier series. Inferno lacks the brilliant originality of the DaVinci Code. At times, it feels quite… lazy and things have a way of being too convenient for our college professor.
At the same time, Langdon’s amnesia was a nice touch to create a more challenging environment – with no memory, he is groping in the dark to find answers, along with the reader. Why are people chasing him? What important message is he carrying? There is not one, but TWO plot twists at the ending which is… believable, but just barely.
Throughout the novel, as per his previous works, Brown describes the places in detail – taking the readers on a visual journey through words. As Langdon and Brooks race through Florence and later Venice, the description of the buildings and popular historical monuments took me back to when I visited Europe after my post graduation studies (ah, nostalgia!)
The novel raises a very good question about overpopulation, a prominent theme in the story. It is a real problem that has no easy solutions. As Brooks asks Langdon at one point : “If you could flip a switch to wipe out half of the human population, would you?” By doing so, you save the species from extinction, but you might kill your family and friends by flipping the switch.
The way it is, our resources will deplete very soon if the population continues to grow. And that is an extremely scary thought.
Score: 7/10. Not his best book, but not bad either, especially towards the end.
‘The darkest places in Hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of great moral crisis”.