Review: The Lost Symbol

Posted: November 23, 2009 by in Books We Hate (1/5 single_star) Meta: Dan Brown, Mystery, Political Thriller
The Lost Symbol

Have you ever had that burning sensation in your chest? No, not heart-burn. More deadly (if possible) than that. We mean the feeling when you are reading a novel, watching a movie, or playing a video game and you get SO impatient for it to move along. You start clenching your jaw. You crack your knuckles again, even though you just cracked them two minutes earlier. And the feeling that is the perfect mix of annoyance and impatience burns in you. That’s what reading THE LOST SYMBOL is like. It is excruciating. Yes. Excruciating…that is the word of choice to explain Dan Brown’s latest “novel.” (Dear Dan Brown: Thank you for kindly putting the words, “A Novel” on the front cover of your book. Without them, we would have mistaken this book for a slush-pile reject.)

What a terrible, terrible book.

Six years ago, Dan Brown caused all sorts of controversy with his novel THE DA VINCI CODE. It sold a bajillion copies, and forced the whole “Religious Conspiracy” sub-genre into focus. It was also a really poorly written novel. We have read all of Dan Brown’s work. From DIGITAL FORTRESS to the newly printed THE LOST SYMBOL, Dan Brown manages to do one thing with remarkable consistency:

Become a worse writer with each novel.

Don’t worry, this novel is totally different from the prior two Langdon novels. See, Langdon goes to a famous national building, and receives a cryptic phone call about how he needs to solve a mystery that only LANGDON can solve! He then discovers a bloody clue in the middle of the building. Following a train of interweaving clues about the Freemasons, Langdon is joined by his lovely companion Kathleen as they chase–or are they chased by?–the eeeeeevil Mal’akh. What they discover will change EVERYTHING! Nothing is as it seems…

Oh wait. Everything is exactly as it seems, because this is the same plot at ANGELS & DEMONS and THE DA VINCI CODE. America: what is wrong with you?

Robert Langdon. He marveled us with his professorial skills in, what we consider the only enjoyable Langdon book, ANGELS & DEMONS. A lot has changed since that novel. In THE LOST SYMBOL, Langdon in his third “adventure” has managed to become dense and narrow-minded. He seems incapable of putting his famed intellect to use during the novel, and is relegated to responding to ANY question or situation with a bewildered, “What?!” Now before you ask, yes, the “?!” is actually used in the novel at least two or three times per chapter (there are 133 chapters…you do the math). If you have to use more than one punctuation type at the end of a sentence, the only thing you are showing the reader is that you have no real writing ability. Young writers take note.

Amidst the the endless repetitions of descriptions, we as readers are made to suffer and endless stream of telling instead of showing. The few times Brown manages to “show” us what is going on, he immediately precedes or follows it by telling us the exactly same thing. It became so infuriating, that by Chapter 9 we wanted to gouge our eyes out. To illustrate another example of formulaic writing that Brown has become famous for, here is his Dialogue Formula:

Person 1: “Have you heard of [insert topic here]?”
Person 2: “No, what is it?”
Person 1: “[insert poorly veiled information dump here]”
Person 2: “I don’t understand.”
Person 1: “[insert the exact same explanation for a second time]”
Person 2: “So what you are saying is [insert 3rd identical explanation]”
Person 1: “No, you aren’t listening. What I said was [insert 4th explanation-100% identical to the previous 3 explanations]”
Person 2: “Ah, I see.”
Person 1: “Good. Now have you heard of [insert topic here]?”
Repeat all steps for as many filler pages as needed.

How about pacing? Brown is known for his pacing isn’t he? Two things here. First, his pacing is false. In order to create this false sense of “Break-neck speed,” he ends each chapter on a cliff-hanger. We felt like there should have been a voice over saying “dun-dun-DUUUN”, playing as you turned the last page of every chapter. (Hey if greeting cards can do it, so can Dan Brown. Their writing abilities are about the same.) Now, when Brown finally manages to build up some sort of pace, he ruins it with a flashback.

In a particularly boring flashback early on (like the first few chapters), Langdon is RUSHING to give a speech (he only has THREE MINUTES TO GET THERE!), and he lapses into a flashback. In addition to bringing the pace to a screeching halt, we see, in an academic setting, that Langdon is supposed to be INSANELY smart. SO MUCH BETTER THAN EVERYONE! His students believe and hang on every word, no matter how ridiculous. So, if he is so smart, why is he such an idiot later, and so slow on the uptake? why does he have to be told everything like he is a mentally deficient high-school student? The answer? Dan Brown’s writing is so poor that this is the only way he knows how to express himself, and serve as a vehicle for information dumps. It is also humorous that a security guard makes the exact same observation of Langdon. Pro Tip: If the characters you are writing think your main PoV is stupid, so will the readers. This will undermine your work.

If you really want to know about all the Freemason stuff, go get a non-fiction book or two about them. They will be better paced, and more entertaining than THE LOST SYMBOL.

Logic flaws aside (if we stop to mention all of them, we would be transcribing the full novel), and forgetting the PoV switching problems, one of the main problems is the plethora of cliches. We have the super-secret division of the CIA, and she is a four-foot tall Asian woman with a superiority complex. And she is deformed. How about the damsel in distress that is the target of a hideously disfigured super-villain? Yep, THE LOST SYMBOL has that too. Even James Bond movies have finally moved beyond these cliches.

We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the villain of the novel. Never-mind that his big reveal at the end of the novel is telegraphed from the moment certain characters are introduced. We don’t want to talk about that. We want to talk about this:

How To Build a Cliché Villain the Dan Brown Way
1) Fall for every trick that the dumb hero/heroine throws at you.
2) After being outwitted somehow, point menacingly at the hero/heroine.
3) If you can manage, be a religious fanatic of some sort.
4) Tell the hero/heroine all your secret plans and/or your secret past in a dramatic moment.
5) Think–at least 3 times early in the novel–that destiny is guiding you. Feel free to think this up until the moment you are killed due to your stupidity (see point #8 below)
6) Make the hero/heroine think that they killed you years ago. It makes your entrance much more dramatic… especially when combined with point #4 above.
7) When given the opportunity, study yourself naked in a body-length mirror.
8) Don’t actually kill the hero/heroine when you have the chance. Leave them to be discovered so they can come kill you later. Be sure to act surprised later when the show up.
9) Have a super-secret lair within your home–preferably hidden by a secret door. However, the key element here is to leave obvious evidence for people to find so they can enter the lair and discover all your plans in case they didn’t catch them in point #4 above.

No seriously, this all happens in THE LOST SYMBOL.

Don’t worry citizens, Robert Langdon is here to save the day. Will he stun us with his intellect? Of course not. He WILL however use his experiences from prior novels to solve everything with the trusty anagram. And when that fails, blind luck will do, as will an epiphany–nothing will trigger the epiphany other than Brown deciding it is time to move the story along to the next idiotic conversation (see above formula).

Are you getting the drift here? Dan Brown’s THE LOST SYMBOL should never have been printed. The writing skill is sub-6th Grade level, and his story is contrived and cliché. An interesting observation: When you talk to most people who have read Brown’s Robert Langdon novels, the almost always like the first one they read most. Why? Because it is the same plot over and over again. It is like the mystery version of a Harlequin Romance Novel. So, it shouldn’t be any surprise that this third novel is even worse. IT’S THE SAME NOVEL… AGAIN! Of course, when you stop to think about what the “Big Problem” was that everyone in the novel was trying to prevent, you realize just how terrible the “novel” is. So. Absurd.

Don’t read this book. Ever. Wait for the inevitable movie. It has NO CHOICE but to be better than the novel. If you really want to know about all the Freemason stuff, go get a non-fiction book or two about them. They will be better paced, and more entertaining than THE LOST SYMBOL.

  • Recommended Age: None. Remember, we don't recommend this book to ANYONE. Except maybe criminals. It may kill them or induce a coma that will save the tax-payers some dinero.
  • Language: Here and there. Nothing terrible.
  • Violence: Oh please. Just us beating our heads against a wall.
  • Sex: Nope

P.S. You may have noticed the lack of links in this review. Simply put, we refuse to direct you in any way to a place where you might buy a novel that Dan Brown has written. The End.


  • koshr says:

    started reading that book, after much to many pages i threw it do you manage to finish these kinds of books?

  • Anonymous says:

    I work at a Borders and picked this up as my lunch break book. It took me almost two months to plow through this garbage. I've only read one other Dan Brown novel, that being Da Vinci Code and can safely say I will never pick up another steaming pile of Dan Brown's garbage. There are plenty of other great authors who write in this sub-genre to satisfy any “religious conspriacy” thriller needs

  • Raethe says:

    Ahaha. Thanks for that review, guys. Seriously, brightened my entire day.

  • SeekingPlumb says:

    LOL!!! Love your review!!!

  • Seth says:

    I have read all of his books and had a hard time getting into and through this one. For taking six years to write it could and should have been better. At this point I don't think he cares about the quality of his work. He can pretty much write anything and it will sell a few million copies and make him a ton of money. However I will say it is better than “The Lovely Bones” and Wilbur Smith's ancient Egypy novels. Which sadly isn't saying much.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think you bring up some interesting points which describe why this book would be annoying. Having not read it yet, it certainly sounds irritating. However, in his defense, I really enjoyed “Digital Fortress” after reading it recently. It had some great twists and was so suspenseful I could barely read fast enough to finish. I am not saying it was perfect, but it was entertaining and that was enough for me.

  • Garin says:

    I think your review really sucks. And your a big snob.

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