I’ll make one thing clear right off the bat. This is a sort of preview, rather than a review of the latest Dan Brown novel. “Origin” was first released on October 3, so people are still buying it and diving in. But as with Brown’s previous works, the release feels like a major event. After all, this is an author who for better or worse tends to inspire a lot of debate and capture a lot of readers.
The true scope of Brown’s power is evident in what’s come off some of his novels. Think about the film adaptations, for instance: these are the only works that have lured Tom Hanks, considered by some to be the greatest actor alive, into a franchise. In fact, some would even argue it’s a bad franchise. The most recent installment, “Inferno,” was deemed by none other than the New Yorker to be “a movie even Tom Hanks couldn’t save.” Yet Hanks, by all indications a history fanatic and lover of lore, seems unable to resist the chance to play Brown’s protagonist, the globetrotting scholar who repeatedly finds himself wrapped up in high stakes mysteries.
We can also consider what Brown has done for (or perhaps to) the name Leonardo da Vinci. By all accounts one of the most brilliant thinkers and inventors in history, Da Vinci was a purely historical figure before Brown emerged as a bestselling author. But following “The Da Vinci Code,” he’s almost entered the realm of myth. It is not surprising, perhaps, that there is now a mainstream arcade game online called “Da Vinci Diamonds,” which is themed on the Renaissance period. It uses famous works by Da Vinci to enhance the intrigue of a slot reel and taps into the general sense of mystique that surrounds the figure. The greatest human inventor has, with at least some thanks to Brown, become a sort of wizard of history to those who would believe legends and conspiracies.
This all speaks, not necessarily to the quality of Brown’s writing, but to its impact. While the author has been criticized relentlessly for playing loose with historical facts and for what some would consider a shallow, page-turner brand of storytelling, he has captivated audiences the world over. His stories are undeniably entertaining if perhaps we simply take them less seriously.
So with all that said, what should readers expect from the latest release from Brown?
It’s tough to measure the validity of this suspicion, but it at least seems that “Origin” is a little bit less heralded than some of Brown’s previous works. That could be due to a little bit of fatigue with his style, or, perhaps more likely, to the relative insignificance of the film releases. At any rate, “Origin” sort of snuck up on the book community. This is still a little bit surprising given that its subject matter seems to promise a typically big, fascinating adventure. The synopsis as posted at Goodreads mentions Robert Langdon traveling to the Guggenheim Museum to attend an announcement that will change the face of science forever – just the sort of thing that tends to lie at the center of Brown’s books.
In this case, the announcement sounds as if it’s a scientific discovery that could shatter the foundations of religion. Naturally, there are forces within the novel who want no part in this discovery, and so the man giving the announcement – a former student of Langdon’s – is silenced, setting off a book’s worth of dangerous events, puzzles, and flights for life. It all sounds rather typical and perhaps even a bit more Langdon-esque than “Inferno,” which delved a little bit too thoroughly into world-saving rather than simply exploring ideas and mysteries. It sounds as if Langdon will be back on his home turf this time, in an adventure The Guardian called fun in its own galumphing way.
And isn’t that about what we really want from a Dan Brown novel these days?