The Robert Langdon Formula: A Review of Dan Brown’s ‘Origin’ (2017)

The fifth installment in Dan Brown’s wildly popular Robert Langdon saga takes the Harvard professor to Spain at the request of his good friend Edmond Kirsh, a futurist and staunch atheist who has organized a global reveal of his latest discovery. Hosted at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the event is shrouded in enigmatic wonder as the guests are guided through the exhibits by virtual docents before the mysterious announcement is made. Our leading lady is the museum curator, Ambra Vidal, who hosts the event despite the protests of her very famous fiancé, the prince of Spain. When the announcement is stalled by some unfortunate circumstances, it is up to Robert and Ambra to find the key to releasing Edmond’s discovery to the world while being hunted by various adversaries and one relentless assassin.

While Ambra and Langdon evade some heavy hitting entities to uncover the truth, Langdon’s unbounded intellect takes us from one clue to the next as he deciphers the subtle hints and messages embedded in works of modern art, architecture, and literature. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the novel, Brown’s descriptions of Spain’s cultural elements are vivid. Edmond Kirsh’s affinity for Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi leads Langdon and Ambra to the Sagrada Familia, a massive and architecturally unconventional Roman Catholic church that is still not complete after 136 years of construction. Brown describes the famed church with intricate detail that makes you wonder if he has an eidetic memory like the one he bestowed upon his main character.

The so-called earth-shattering revelation supposedly addresses two questions: Where do we come from, and where are we going? Unfortunately, the big reveal falls flat. Is it interesting? Sure. But is it the type of information to shake the world’s religions to the core as Edmond claims it will? Probably not. After several Robert Langdon stories that have dug deep and fast into the theories and storied traditions of religion and human existence, the climax of the book was underwhelming. While the scientific elements were intriguing, Brown goes too far down the rabbit hole of things that have yet to be discovered. However, I will say that this is a refreshing take on our future and the things to come. Brown dabbles with science fiction in this novel, and it is a nice departure from the bleak dystopian futures we find ourselves bombarded with these days.

In true Dan Brown fashion, ‘Origin’ is a story with a complicated tangle of arteries and veins feeding life into a relatively simplistic plot. The subplots include storylines with Spain’s Royal family, leaders of the faiths of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, artificial intelligence, the struggle between duty and conscience, an assassin with a vendetta, and a partridge in a pear tree. Consuming Brown’s writing is the equivalent of shoveling chocolate pudding in your mouth; it is tasty, smooth, and goes down effortlessly. This is the type of book that is perfect for travel because it takes little to no effort to comprehend what you are reading, and you can put it down and pick it back up without missing a beat. Robert Langdon is a captivating character that many readers, myself included, have grown to adore,  but I hope Brown decides to take him in a new direction with his next novel. While ‘Origin’ is most certainly thrilling and worth reading, Brown deploys his same tried and true formula for this Robert Langdon story, and I cannot help but feel I am reading more of the same.