Inferno by Dan Brown – book review

Cover of "Inferno" by Dan Brown.
Cover of “Inferno” by Dan Brown.
Inferno by Dan Brown once again has Robert Langdon using his voluminous knowledge of art history to solve an ancient art mystery in time to save the world from science gone amok. Some people roll their eyes at this, but I eat this stuff up. So did hundreds of thousands of his fans—over a quarter million in sales in the first week alone.

In Inferno, a transhumanist genius named Bertrand Zobrist has decided that the only way to save the human race from mathematical overpopulation is to cull the race by a third, just like the Black Death did in the Middle Ages. Aside from killing two thirds of the entire population of China and giving the Monty Python crew some really funny material, the Black Death also made the Renaissance possible.

So all that death is a good thing, right? At least that’s what Zobrist, the master geneticist, decides. He’s created a futuristic virus to do the job, and thanks to a covert company that keeps people hidden for a price, the World Health Organization hasn’t been able to stop him. Now the countdown has started.

The story begins with Langdon in a hospital, woozy with retrograde amnesia, his head filled with stitches, and people trying to kill him. Fortunately, Dr. Sienna Brooks was on hand to help him escape. Doubly fortunate, she is young, inhumanly smart, and pretty to boot.

Together they try to piece together why Langdon was in Florence, Italy to begin with, who is trying to kill him, and why there is a cylinder seal filled with glowing liquid inside a biohazard container secreted away in his suit jacket that casts a digitally altered version of Botticelli’s “Mappa dell’Inferno” on the wall. The only thing Langdon is certain of is that the mystery involves the Black Death, and people will kill him if he stops running.

Escapism gets a bad rap from critics who frown upon genre and pulp fiction. They don’t appreciate that sometimes it is perfectly respectable to have words that simply entertain. Brown takes implausible situations and throws Robert Langdon into the mix, taking the reader on a tour of the art world and deep into history.

Inferno begins with the painting that inspired Dante Alighieri, then weaves Dante’s Inferno into the narrative through quotes and exposure to art and buildings inspired by Dante’s work. The story walks along the streets in Italy that Dante walked and worshipped. Meanwhile, Brown braids a twisted trail that his character, Zobrist, left behind while letting his other character, Langdon, quickly unravel it. Throughout the story were moments that showed that even a pulp writer like Dan Brown could write beautifully.

Unlike Frank Herbert’s The White Plague, Inferno doesn’t involve itself with the aftermath of the release of the virus. Instead, it focuses on discovery & containment. Strong, compelling characters helped move the book along at a quick clip while also grounding the book in its reality. Sometimes there was too much history—too much backstory—but Brown’s passion for art history is one of the elements that makes the Robert Langdon novels so enjoyable.

Also at play is technology just over the horizon, making this a science fiction yarn. If you haven’t read a Dan Brown novel, Inferno is a good entry point. It features some of Brown’s best writing to date without sacrificing his first talent: writing a gripping page turner.

Release Date: May 14, 2013 (USA)
ISBNs: 0385537859 (9780385537858)
Publisher: Doubleday

MySF Rating: Four point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 50%


Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (social drinking, smoking)
Language: 2 (deity, s/d/z words, but no f words)
Nudity: 0
Sexuality: 1 (flirting, innuendo, unrequited ogling)
Violence: 4 (Hell is described (art is brutal), explosions, gun fights, blood, nasty allergic reactions, death, speeding on mopeds)

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