July 01, 2013

Angels and Demons - Dan Brown

Title: Angels and Demons
Author: Dan Brown
Publisher: COrgi Books
Release date: 2001
Pages: 620

* Blossoming out of nothing. An incredible display of subatomic fireworks. A miniature universe springing to life. He proved not only that matter can be created from nothing, but that the Big Bang and Genesis can be explained simply by accepting the presence of an enormous source of energy. *

When a world renowned scientist is found brutally murdered in a Swiss research facility, a Harvard professor, Robert Langdon, is summoned to identify the mysterious symbol seared onto the dead man's chest. His baffling conclusion: that it is the work of the Illuminati, a secret brotherhood presumed extinct for nearly four hundred years - reborn to continue their bitter vendetta against their most hated enemy, the Catholic church.
In Rome, the college of cardinals assembles to elect a new pope. Yet somewhere within the walls of the Vatican, an unstoppable bomb of terrifying power relentlessly counts down to oblivion. While the minutes tick away, Langdon joins forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and mysterious Italian scientist, to decipher the labyrinthine trail of ancient symbols that snakes across Rome to the long-forgotten Illuminati lair - a secret refuge wherein lies the only hope for the Vatican.
But, with each revelation comes another twist, another turn in the plot, which leaves Langdom and Vetra reeling and at the mercy of a seemingly invisible enemy...

The fight between science and religion has lasted for centuries throughout history and even today the church and the scientists disagree on several existential questions. What if the presence of human beings on earth could be explained by both science and religion, at the same time, in a consensus that would allow both sides to survive together rather than constantly try to overpower one another?
Dan Brown uses this question and unusual assumption as the starting point for Angels and demons. Of course, when science and religion are brought together, it is always complicated and for that reason, the plot is full of twists and turns, and extremely thrilling. Everything starts in CERN, where a scientist is found dead, a strange symbol branded on his chest. Robert Langdon, a famous symbologist, is called and asked to investigate as it appears that a secret brotherhood he studied for an important part of his life is responsible for the murder. Helped by Vittoria, he sets off to Vatican in the hope of solving the mystery… but their time is counted because a weapon capable of inconceivable destruction has disappeared from CERN and is apparently hidden in Vatican City. Just when conclave is organised in order to elect a new Pope.
With so many dramatic events happening at the same time, it is difficult not to forget that everything occurs in only one day. No wonder the protagonists do not know where to start. Find the scientist’s murderer? Understand why a symbol supposed to have disappeared centuries ago is suddenly found? Locate the destructive weapon that was stolen? Evacuate the chapel in order to save the cardinals? A well-thought plan of action would be welcome but there is no time for imagining one. So the reader is thrown into Vatican, a country full of secrets, where he has to run alongside the characters the whole time in order to keep up with the events. The plot is so gripping that it is nearly impossible to let go of the book before the last page.
The beginning of the novel takes place in CERN, where we are made aware of several important concepts that will be useful as the story unfolds. A few passages are quite specific and complicated to read for non scientific people – I must admit I did not understand everything – but as Langdon does not know much about the technologies that are mentioned, the author made serious effort to write easy explanations.
Later as well, as we get to know the brotherhood of the Illuminati, the secrets of Vatican City and the papacy, we are always given enough understandable details so that we can follow what is happening. This is probably one of the advantages to having two main protagonists who do not know each other and have very different backgrounds. Even if, contrary to the locations where the story takes place, they are never really described – which first annoyed me – we grow attached to them as we see the courage and perseverance they show when they are placed in such a terrible situation.
Even if the scientific aspect of the plot did not interest me that much, I liked discovering about new technologies and above all how everything was connected at the end: science, religion, the Illuminati. I was thrilled to be lead through Vatican and discover how everything was organised, be it for security or for the conclave. We even find out about secret places that are normally closed to the public. Following Vittoria and Langdon’s steps, we are also given a visit of Rome and its many important and famous monuments, with interesting art history information.
As everything is real, we can easily guess how much research the author had to do in order to write his book… and we can say it was definitely worth it. It gives it a touch of additional realism that helps us get over an extraordinary and unbelievable story.
Although several scenes seem quite unrealistic at first, there is always a good – or acceptable – explanation and so I put aside my initial scepticism in order to fully enjoy the investigation. Still, I must admit that it was some sometime a little bit over-the-top, in my opinion at least.
The Illuminati are extremely mysterious and as Robert Langdon uncovers more and more secrets, I was amazed to see how everything was connected, how each action had a function and a meaning and how ingenious the plot was. The legend of their ambigrams is also very impressive and as we go through the pages, we will come across several of these amazing symbols.
However, some of the passages directly connected to the Illuminati – and more specifically to the Hassassin, but I do not want to spoil the story by telling too much – are violent, too violent for me even. We witness several scenes of murder, each of them full of dark details… and so Angels and demons is not a book that can be given to anybody.
As you will probably have understood by now, Dan Brow does not spare his audience the horror of the crimes. It is definitely no fairy tale… But will there be a happy ending? Keeping in mind that the fights between science and religion have been extremely bloody and violent throughout the centuries, I let you find out what it could look like nowadays… Or perhaps it is not too late to find a compromise yet, who knows?

Thank you Mum for lending me the book

The pilot's wife has been adapted into a film. 

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