After the last Robert Langdon book, Inferno (2013), one wonders if there could be a topic weighty enough to counteract its earth-shattering ending. (Pictured above is Tom Hanks as an uber puzzled Langdon in the movie version of Inferno.)
Well, Dan Brown decides to go for broke and tackle the eternal questions of “Where do we come from?” and “Where are we going?” – “we” being humankind, of course.
Billionaire tech wizard and futurist Edmond Kirsch has made a discovery that purports to answer both these questions. A staunch atheist, Kirsch is determined to put an end, once and for all, to the divisions religions create with their alternative versions of how God created the universe and humankind.
Instead, he hopes to unite the world behind the rationality and logic of science, which is the foundation of his discovery.
Naturally, certain religious authorities are not happy about this, especially the three – Allamah Syed Al-Fadl, Rabbi Yehuda Köves and Bishop Antonio Valdespino – that Kirsch gives a preview of his presentation to before his grand announcement to the world. Then two of the three turn up dead soon after the private presentation.
But those aren’t not the most dramatic deaths of the book.
Just as he is about to announce his life-changing discovery, Kirsch is assassinated by a former Spanish Navy admiral who believes he is doing God’s will via the instructions of a mysterious Regent.
How is Langdon involved in all this, you ask?
Well, turns out Kirsch used to be a former student of Langdon’s at Harvard University, and has kept in touch with him in the years after. With a special invitation to Kirsch’s announcement at the Guggenheim Museum in Spain, Langdon is a witness to Kirsch’s murder, which is also broadcast live on TV and livestreamed on the Internet.
Langdon nearly gets implicated in the murder when he is warned by Winston – an advanced artificial intelligence designed by Kirsch himself – that there is an anomaly in the guest list, and tries to get word to Kirsch.
The plot duly thickens when it is revealed that it was museum director Ambra Vidal who added the assassin’s name to the guest list at the last minute at the behest of her fiance, Spain’s (fictional) Crown Prince Julian.
However, Vidal also informs Langdon that Kirsch’s discovery is not totally lost; Kirsch had planned to make his announcement in a pre-prepared multimedia presentation, which is kept on his own offsite server.
And thus a chase to figure out Kirsch’s password to the presentation and the site of his server is triggered, aided by the almost all-knowing Winston and complicated by the involvement of the Spanish royal palace and the assassin chasing after the intrepid duo.
Origin pretty much follows the same format that has made Brown a bestselling author.
The writing is fast-paced and filled with interesting bits of information, mostly revolving around the works of Spanish Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi and various theories about the origin of life.
We also have the pairing of Langdon with a “spectacularly beautiful” woman who, while engaged to be the next queen of Spain, also has qualms about her royal fiance – romantic tension, anyone?
To be honest, I was never quite convinced that the earth-shattering revelation that would prove all the world’s religions “dead wrong” would be quite worth the payoff – and indeed, my mind remained unchanged at the end of the book.
It perhaps didn’t help that the scenario on page 87 is almost exactly similar to Isaac Asimov’s short story The Last Question, which gave me a far more satisfying answer to the questions posed in that story and this book.
It is probably also because the book is written very much from an atheist’s point of view, with religion mostly being portrayed as the bad guy. (Disclaimer: I’m a Christian.)
There are also a couple of plotlines involving the royal family that don’t really seem to have much of a point in advancing the story, and should probably have been left out.
My other point of contention is that the events of Inferno are totally unaddressed in this book, which seems a tad strange, considering how far-reaching the implications are.
It was also rather amusing to read about the fictional contention of the relevancy of the Spanish monarchy in the current age, when the actual current crisis facing the country right now is the Catalan declaration of independence.
But, admittedly, reviewing duties aside, I was still curious enough about Kirsch’s revelation to finish Origin.
Overall, while Brown’s latest novel is a solid entertaining read – especially for those interested in the evolution-versus-creationism debate – it is perhaps not quite up to par to its predecessors.
More art, symbology, and intriguing puzzles in your next Langdon book, please, Mr Brown.