Book Review – Dan Brown’s “Angels & Demons”

Last week I finished reading Angels & Demons, the first book in the Robert Langdon series of books written by Dan Brown.

Over ten years ago I got caught up in the craze and read The Da Vinci Code right before Hollywood made it into a movie.  While I don’t remember the details of the book, I do remember that it was an interesting story and that I enjoyed it.  After waiting for too long, I finally decided to go back and read this series of books, starting with the first one, Angels & Demons.

Dan Brown — Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons begins with the murder of one of the top scientists at the CERN research facility in Europe.  Physicist Leonardo Vetra was brutally murdered and his chest was branded by a symbol once used by the Illuminati, a secret organization that waged war against the Catholic Church hundreds of years ago.  To help him investigate the murder, CERN director Maximilian Kohler flies in Robert Langdon, an expert on artwork as well as religion and secret societies such as the Illuminati.

Langdon quickly discovers that the symbol is authentic, and that it appears that the Illuminati are back.  Leonardo’s daughter Vittoria was called back to CERN after the discovery of her father’s murder.  She arrives just as Langdon and Kohler are analyzing the Illuminati symbol.  When the three of them examine Leonardo’s office, nothing seems out of place.  Vittoria informs them that her father had a second laboratory at CERN, a place where she was helping him research antimatter.  They access the second lab and discover that a canister containing antimatter is missing.

The canister is able to keep the antimatter suspended in mid-air.  Once it comes into contact with anything, it’s going to explode in an explosion large enough to wipe out a small city.  Vittoria designed the canister, and she implemented a battery back-up system to provide hours of power to keep the antimatter suspended should there be a power failure.

It’s quickly learned that the missing canister is hidden somewhere in Vatican City.  Somebody not only hid the canister of antimatter, but also placed a security camera facing it so that people could see the countdown timer.  The countdown was timed so that the antimatter would detonate precisely at midnight.

To make matters more complicated, the recent Pope had died, and Cardinals from around the world had gathered in Vatican City so they could elect a new leader.  However, four of the leading candidates to become the next Pope were also missing.

Langdon and Vittoria use Kohler’s supersonic jet to quickly fly from Switzerland to Rome, Italy.  They meet with the Swiss Guard and then Camerlengo Carlo Ventresca.  The Swiss Guard remains focused on finding the missing Cardinals while Langdon and Vittoria hunt for the missing canister.  The two of them go with the theory that if they can locate the Illuminati’s secret lair, then they’ll be able to find the missing antimatter.  A major problem is that nobody knows where their lair is located as it was cleverly hidden hundreds of years ago.

Langon tells Vittoria some of the Illuminati’s history, including several famous people who were known associates of the organization, such as famous Italian scientist Galileo Galilei.  He also tells her about the Path of Illumination, a secret trail that allowed scientists to find the Illuminati without giving away its location to the Church.  Allegedly there was symbolism hidden in artwork and sculptures that pointed the way from one clue to the next, all across Rome.

When it’s realized that the Vatican contains many of Galileo’s books, Langdon and Vittoria gain access to the Vatican Archives.  They successfully locate the correct book (one believed to be forever lost) and discover a clue leading them to their first step in the Path of Illumination.

Together, Langdon and Vittoria follow the clues across Rome and Vatican City.  Each clue is located at one of artist Bernini‘s sculptures.  Also, at each of the clues, one of the missing Cardinals is found brutally murdered with a unique logo branded on each of their chests.

Angels & Demons ends with the Vatican being saved from the antimatter’s tremendous explosion.  It turns out that the camerlengo poisoned the late Pope (who was his biological father) and used a hired assassin to kidnap and kill four Cardinals.  It was a guise to not only unite the Catholic Church, but through his “miraculous” vision of the antimatter and him saving the Vatican, he would also become the next Pope.

When the people learned the truth, the camerlengo covered himself with oil and then ignited it, killing himself in a fireball.  His ashes were later placed in the crypts with the other deceased Popes as he was technically the next Pope as the Cardinals elected him by calling his name after he saved the Vatican from the antimatter.  His reign lasted for less than twenty minutes before he killed himself.

The story ends with Robert Langdon and Vittoria becoming romantically attached to each other while staying in the Hotel Bernini.  The newest Pope gives Langdon a temporary gift of the final brand, the Illuminati Diamond, with the condition that Langdon returns it to the Vatican in his will.


Is Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons any good?

Yes, for the most part, this was an interesting story that moved at a fast pace.

The conspiracy with the Illuminati was fascinating, and so were Berini’s sculptures.  I had to look up the locations and artwork after finishing reading the book, and I must say that those are some fascinating pieces of artwork.  There’s no doubt that Berini was an incredibly talented artist and sculpture.

While the subject of secret societies is easily debatable (just like any other conspiracy), Angels & Demons did make me appreciate Renaissance art more than I could have ever imagined.  It’s interesting taking a closer look at paintings and sculptures, and wondering if there really were hidden symbols placed there intentionally.

For me, the best parts of Angels & Demons are when Langdon and Vittoria are following the clues along the Path of Illumination.  The assassin needed a bigger role, and the parts involving the antimatter seemed a bit too simplistic, especially the ending before it explodes in the sky.

Angels & Demons was adapted into a movie and released in 2009.