Publishing Info: Bantam Press (2017)
Back Cover Summary:
Harvard professor Robert Langdon arrives at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend the unveiling of an astonishing scientific breakthrough. The evening’s host is billionaire Edmond Kirsch, a futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a controversial global figure.
But before his secret can be revealed, the meticulously orchestrated evening is blown apart. With his life under threat, Langdon is forced to flee, aided by the museum’s director, Ambra Vidal.
If they are to beat a devious enemy to Kirsch’s discovery, Langdon and Vidal must follow a perilous trail signposted only by enigmatic symbols, hidden history and elusive modern art. At its end they will come face-to-face with a breathtaking truth that has remained buried – until now.
The latest Robert Langdon novel by Dan Brown is another successful addition to the series, thanks largely to a terrific final third that manages to energise the narrative.
For a large proportion of this book, the plot was in danger of feeling very mediocre next to the other entries in this series. Robert Langdon, professor and renowned symbologist, is on the run after an evening hosted by ex students Edmond Kirsch, now a billionaire tech mogul, goes badly wrong. He is accompanied by another younger female, this one being the fiancee of the future King of Spain and curator of the museum the event was hosted in. They are pursued across Spain by several groups in a race against time to uncover the secret scientific findings of Kirsch, along the way using his knowledge of cracking codes and religious iconography. Whilst this template was used successfully in Brown’s other books, most notably in The Da Vinci Code, its use here doesn’t work as well for a couple of reasons.
The most prominent reason the narrative didn’t feel as energised was that Langdon, the supposed main character, did not get given enough content to make readers feel like we are following his narrative thread more than others. Since the plot includes sub-threads including the struggle religious organisations are having with the rise in technology and Ambra Vidal, Langdon’s companion for this book and future queen consort of Spain, there is a larger cast than in other Brown books, with the majority of these never having any kind of contact with Langdon, so valuable time was spent on following them and how they fit into the puzzle. As it happens, several of these aren’t particularly relevant at all. Moreover, the trail that Langdon and Vidal are following is a personal one, rather than the grand quests involving historical figures we are used to. This wouldn’t be an issue if the number of locations and clues investigated wasn’t on the small side, which sadly is the case here. Even a face-off against the apparent villain of this book in the world-famous Sagrada Familia felt premature, though I loved Brown’s description of this building.
What ultimately saves this book is the last fifty pages or so. I had wondered why Brown chose to put much focus on describing buildings that have been designed with a modern touch, why chapters were occasionally dedicated to news articles from conspiracy sites (a feature I found refreshing and linked well to the technological focus) and why Langdon and Vidal were helped by an AI programme created by Kirsch. After all of the build up about Kirsch’s discovery, it was dubious whether the reveal would live up to expectations, if it would be revealed at all. Contrary to my thoughts during the book, the last third was exciting and thrilling in a way that wasn’t typical of previous books in this series, or this genre as a whole. The multiple revelations towards the end, some more surprising and relevant than others, also assisted in improving the pacing and readability of this book, after a slightly dull and dry first half. It also (no spoilers) raised some important philosophical questions about what Mankind’s place is in the universe and where our race will go in the future and it was good to see this as a sort of response to a current issue.
Do I think that there is a future for the Robert Langdon series of books after reading Origin? I think that the author tried something different for this novel and it was refreshing to read. Had Langdon’s arc been more complex and delved deeper into puzzles, instead of switching to groups of secondary characters, then the first two thirds or so could have been a lot more effective. It is great how the author puts so much research into his books and educates the readers on historical organisations and buildings in his descriptions. That aspect remained for Origin, though it felt less relevant to this narrative, almost as though Langdon was being an educator rather than using the locations around him to continue the mystery. If Brown puts more emphasis again on Langdon and how he uses his skills to delve into historical mysteries in order to prevent modern catastrophes, then I absolutely believe that future books can be written in this series.
Origin feels like the most unique book in the Robert Langdon series to date. Forgoing the typical historical mysteries and symbols in art and architecture in favour of a more modern, technological focused puzzle, it succeeded thanks to a terrific final third which brought some much needed energy to the narrative, raising questions about Mankind’s own place in the universe and what will happen to our race in the future.
Star Rating: ☆☆☆½
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