The Vatican is plagued by the threat of an antimatter, an invention that has the potential to reduce the Vatican City to ashes; by the malicious intents of an ancient secret brotherhood, the Illuminati. Indeed, it’s not just the Vatican; the very foundation of the faith is under the mercy of the detractors.
Dan Brown’s has become a household name with his best-selling thrillers Da Vinci Code and Inferno and it is this very paradoxical thriller ‘Angels and Demons’ of his that I’m reviewing.
Paradox? Right, I find that so because an ancient secret brotherhood called the Illuminati thought to be dormant for long re-emerges from scratch. It is quintessentially the same old war of good over evil, of believers versus infidels and of religion over science.
Welcome to this brilliant adventure of the Robert Langdon Series! The protagonist, Robert Langdon, is a Harvard University Professor of Symbology who is also the celebrated (at least among the scholarly circles) author of books on the subject. Incidentally, Langdon makes his debut in this novel.
It all begins when Leonardo Vetra, a lead scientist at CERN, a premier scientific institution in Switzerland; is found murdered ruthlessly with an ambigram pressed onto his chest which had burned his flesh!!! The Director at CERN, Mr. Kohler, sent for Langdon who is almost paralysed when realization dawns on the gravity of the ambigram. It reads ‘ILLUMINATI’.
The Illuminati is an ancient secret brotherhood which was at crossroads with the Catholic Church and was subsequently done away with, being prone to corporal punishments and harassments. The clash was ideological, the Illuminati being a scientific community that boasts of Galileo, Da Vinci and the likes; refuting most of the Church’s mystical claims. It was long thought to have been eliminated until……….
The victim, Vetra, was queerly enough, a man of religion who tried to prove the Church’s claim to Creation by his own new invention, antimatter. The tiny antimatter is stored inside air-tight canisters but troubles start when it comes in contact with air. The antimatter ticks for the next 24 hours and then, ……… the inevitable!! Vetra had an adopted issue, Vittoria, who flew to CERN on hearing of his death. Meanwhile, CERN is informed of a tiny particle suspended in thin air caught inside the Vatican City by the security cameras. Unfortunately, the camera was moved from it’s original place by someone and it’s position couldn’t be traced by the Vatican Swiss Guards. It was then that the true intent of the Illuminati came down upon Langdon who, along with Vittoria, hastened to Vatican City.
In the Vatican, the conclave was due to be held later that day. It’s the holy election of the next Pope by the College of Cardinals amongst a set of preferiti, the preferred candidates for the post. The Swiss Guards couldn’t spot the antimatter and to everyone’s terror, the preferiti were kidnapped and it was blackmailed that they would be done with within 12 ‘O’ clock. Langdon, shocked and immersed in contemplation, quickly had the flash of an idea. He happily knew that the City had markers that would lead him to the hide-out of the Illuminati but, none knew of their location. Langdon got inside the Secret Vatican Archives and found a reference in Dante’s poem on the four markers that ran across the city. It was
From Santi’s earthly tomb with a demons hole,
‘Cross Rome the mystic elements unfold.
The path of light is laid, the sacred test,
Let angels guide you on your lofty quest.
A fierce search with Langdon and Vittoria at the lead ensued. The message was clear: the four markers were Earth, Air, Fire and Water.
Vittoria’s character is what impressed me the most. Caught in the midst of a calamity herself (having lost her father), she rose to the occasion to hunt down her father’s assassin. Her maturity is very palpable throughout. She’s truly an amazon and at times, her courage saved the day!
The flow of writing is just as what every reader wants; steady, easy and with minimal embellishments. The author also ensures that every historical or ritualistic aspect is judiciously dealt with. Brown’s vivid description of the Illuminati and the Conclave proceedings are examples to the point.
Nevertheless, the novel appears to have some pitfalls. Brown claims his descriptions of rituals and history in the novel to be factual when actually it is otherwise. (You will find books dealing with the historical aspects of the novel) The readers are almost invariably being made to believe that Langdon’s presence lent Vittoria the support, warmth and courage which she so badly needed at the moment. Well, I’m quite skeptic as it seems to be inconsistent with the plot. Vittoria displays way more courage and coolness than Langdon who is chicken-hearted.There’s one point when Langdon, after a feud with the assasin, was about to trip off the balcony when Vittoria saved him! Deservedly, all hail to Vittoria! But what was most annoying was the ending where Vittoria and Langdon gear up for a round of ‘enjoyment’ (pun intended) when her father lay murdered and God knows whether he was even cremated!
The novel is a good read all in all and it is certain to interest you if you’ve found the Da Vinci Code amusing. The gripping narration is a page- turner but one doubts if it would interest you for a second reading. I recommend the novel to all fans of soft-core adventure and mystery.
I give it a 3.5 out of 5.
Disclaimer: My views on the novel might not be in congruence with someone else’s so I take the liberty to suggest that you read and find for yourself!
Reviewed by Soheb Vahab