Origin (Robert Langdon #5), by Dan Brown

Nine stars

Dan Brown is back with another explosive addition to the Robert Langdon series, after a less than enthusiastic fourth book. When iconoclast and renowned atheist Edmund Kirsch speaks, the world listens. His premonitions along all fronts have been earth-shattering and by enriching his statements with the use of computers, Kirsch adds a level of 21st century to his Nostradamus character. Meeting with senior representatives of the world’s three major monotheistic religions, Kirsch tells of an announcement that he wishes to make to the world in which he will refute their importance. There seems to be a great deal of uneasiness at this, but the world has no idea what awaits them. At an exclusive and “who’s who” event at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Robert Langdon has been summoned by his former student to attend this announcement. It is here that Langdon meets Winston, his docent for the evening, who turns out to be one of Kirsch’s greatest creations and shows the new levels Artificial Intelligence is reaching. As the presentation begins, Kirsch lays out a strong argument against the need for religion to explore the world at its core. While computers are happy to say “cannot compute” when something has no firm answer, the brain turns to religion to fill the cracks and acts as a crutch to help the individual hobble through existence. It is this that Kirsch wants to dispel with his announcement. As the world watches, Kirsch is about to access his news, when an assassin’s bullet tears into him and kills the brilliant computer scientist. Rushing to his side, Langdon is accompanied by the museum’s director, Ambra Vidal. Both want to ensure the message of Kirsch’s presentation is revealed and the news not silenced by the bullet. Armed with Winston’s help, the two (point-five) of them rush to get out of the museum with Kirsch’s phone, where the final piece of the puzzle is locked away. Now, to crack into the 47-character password and reveal all. As Spanish authorities try to solve the murder, there are new issues, with Vidal having close ties to the Spanish monarchy and their ultra-Catholic views. As they flee, Langdon is determined to crack the code and let the world see what Kirsch wanted to reveal. Meanwhile, the assassin is still on the loose and two of the three religious leaders who know Kirsch’s valuable information have been murdered. All eyes turn to a Spanish schism in the Catholic Church and a group that has nothing to lose by annihilating all things that may turn the world away from religion. With time running out and the world waiting with bated breath, Robert Langdon may hold the key to removing the foundations of all things religious, creating a seismic void for vast amounts of the population. A brilliant piece that keeps the reader thinking throughout and learning in equal measure. There is little time for rest and Langdon fans will appreciate this jam-packed piece, even if it does get tangential at times.

Dan Brown always packs a punch with his novels, seeking to push the envelop, but does so in such a way that the narrative does not usually seem far-fetched. Those who have never delved into a Robert Langdon story may not be as well-versed with his nuances, but there is little character development in the true sense. Brown tends to pull memories or events from the past to complement the present story, rather than build a character who draws on these elements the further the series evolves. Langdon’s academic past and sharp mind help to develop a strong and likeable character, though he is surely the kid in school you’d punch in the arm for being a know-it-all. Another of Brown’s formulaic additions to each novel in the series is the young and beautiful woman, done here with Ambra Vidal. Vidal is not the helpless woman who requires saving by Langdon as much as a vessel into which the protagonist can pour his knowledge (thereby educating the reader as well). Vidal’s story is vast and quite interesting, giving the reader much to use to help form their opinion of the woman. Her character thread is long and can be seen woven into many interesting subplots. The vast array of other characters enrich the story and provide interesting storylines to keep the narrative moving forward in an interesting fashion. With such a large collection of characters, it is sometimes hard to remember all the literary crumbs that are being dispersed, but Brown does well to create interesting subplots to keep the reader curious.

The story’s premise is highly controversial and Brown seeks to fan the flames between religion and science. Long deemed poor bedfellows, Brown seeks to push the science versus religion debate to new levels by extrapolating the Darwinian issues over evolution and positing an argument about the beginning of human existence. This goes further than the Big Bang versus Genesis and Brown seeks to create a new and science-based argument to send the fragility of religion toppling over again. The open-minded reader will surely see all sides to the arguments made within the larger story and find a truth for themselves, but there is a strong push towards science and technology to better explain life and its origins. Does religion have any chance against this ocean of information, for it is trust versus fact that finds its way into this discussion? Brown does not parse words, but he also seeks to explore things from a perspective that the lay reader can likely understand. Yes, there are segments of the story that are jargon-filled, but it is done to teach and not speak above the head. Brown is also the king of the tangential storyline and inserts minutiae into the story to teach as well as entertain. That is plentiful here and the reader has much that can be taken away.

Brilliantly placed throughout the story, Brown shows his dedication to research and sharing of knowledge. There are so many parts embedded into this wonderful writing that the reader may bask in the smooth flow of the words on the page, the great deal of factual information that serves to substantiate the plot, or even the dedicated dialogue that is not as jilted as some popular authors of the genre. Some may say that the core story and the eventually revelation of the secret Kirsch had to offer are anti-climactic, which is their right. It is, perhaps, only a means to an end, as Brown wants to open the Pandora’s Box and let both sides bump chests to discredit the strength of the other. Whatever the outcome of the debate in the reader’s mind, it would seem that some symbiosis and a joint approach might fuel a more civilized and yet still fruitful discussion.

Kudos, Mr. Brown, for another wonderful story. I remained entertained and educated throughout, which serves the purpose in a piece of fiction. I enjoy the controversy as well and hope it will fuel many a discussion.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons