Origin, by Dan Brown

First off, a note to all my followers: I read more than just YA. I also enjoy a good thriller, and I’ve read all of Dan Brown’s books—the four previous Robert Langdon books and his other two, Digital Fortress and Deception Point. All of those came out before I started posting reviews here, and maybe if I ever get enough free time, I’ll write up short reviews for them. Anyway, a coworker of mine has also read all of Brown’s books, and when I noticed he was reading Origin, I asked him if I could borrow it to read. I had lent him Inferno, Brown’s previous book to read a few years back, so I guess that makes us even.

When you’ve already read at least one of Dan Brown’s books, you kinda already know what you’re going to get. The story will be fast-paced, usually taking place within a 24-hour period. There will most likely be a grand announcement or discovery that will change the world, and that discovery will be religious, scientific, or possibly a mixture of the two. There’ll be some shady organization in pursuit of the protagonists in order either to have or to stop the announcement/discovery, and there’ll be many red herrings as you try to figure out which of the array of supporting characters are masterminding the actions of that shady organization. In the case of the Robert Langdon books, the story will take place in historical locations with great architecture—all richly detailed like you’re reading a travel guide—and usually in Europe (noted exception: The Lost Symbol, which takes place in and around Washington, D.C.). Langdon, the Harvard professor of symbology, will be thrust into this tense situation with an attractive younger woman more than peripherally connected to the proceedings. And along the way, there’ll be mention of Langdon’s key character traits: he has an eidetic memory, he’s claustrophobic, he has a daily swimming regimen, and he wears a Mickey Mouse watch.

To say that Brown’s books are formulaic is an understatement. To say that his characters lack substantial development is a criticism that has been made by others, and I’m not going to say that here, mainly because there in this thriller genre, there’s comfort in the familiar. Whatever the shortcomings levied by others may be doesn’t negate the fact that Brown’s books are eminently readable, fast-paced, intriguing, provocative, and usually enjoyable.

And Origin may very well be one of his best.

So let’s go through the checklist. Religious/scientific discovery: Edmond Kirsch, a former student of Langdon’s, is going to announce to the world where life on Earth came from and where it’s going—and he supposedly has scientific proof. Shady organization: some leaders of major world religions don’t want this announcement to be made, and Kirsch is assassinated before he can make it, with the mercenary then on the hunt for Langdon. Historical locations: Spain this time, Balboa and Barcelona. Attractive woman with Langdon on the journey: Ambra Vidal, art museum curator engaged but estranged to the future King of Spain. And their ally: Kirsch’s artificial intelligence personal assistant Winston (imagine Siri or Alexa to the nth degree), who is perhaps the coolest character in the book.

The book has the requisite clues and codes twists and turns that you’d expect from Brown, and his architectural, historical, and scientific research is top-notch. As a science teacher, I absolutely loved the references to origin and evolution theories and experiments, including one of my favorites, which gets brought up late in the story. I was concerned that Kirsch’s announcement would either be underwhelming or not revealed, but when it was, it was truly gripping.

Nothing about this fifth installment in the Robert Landgon series disappointed me. The characters—good, bad, or somewhere in between—were all believable enough in this world, much more so than some of them in Brown’s third installment The Lost Symbol (my least favorite Langdon book). Though my prevalent theory about who employed the assassin turned out to be correct, it wasn’t as obvious as the analogous character in second installment The DaVinci Code. That reveal was also unexpected, but not as much as in first installment Angels and Demons. The ending really packed a punch, similar to the ending of the enjoyable fourth installment Inferno, though I wish there had been some mention about how the world had changed after that book.

Everything Dan Brown does well in his storytelling was done well here, but his integration of the themes of where we came from—religiously and scientifically—and where we’re going—spiritually, philosophically, and technologically—all blend together extremely well in what might just be his most origin-al book yet. Comparing it against his other works, I’m giving it FIVE STARS.

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Origin is available at Amazon.

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