Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
Digital Audiobook narrated by Richard Poe
Published by Corgi Books on May 1, 2001
Series: Robert Langdon #1
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
Length: 620 pages or 18 hours, 28 minutes
Goodreads • Amazon • Barnes & Noble • Book Depository • IndieBound
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: 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 sworn 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 Langdon and Vetra reeling and at the mercy of a seemingly invisible enemy...
I’ve always found the conspiracy and the theology and the science in Angels and Demons fascinating. It’s been over a decade since I have read the book, so most of what I remembered of it comes from the movie (which, in all fairness, I still think is a fantastic interpretation). It seemed time to revisit, so here I am!
Most of this is still very good. The pacing keeps you on your feet the whole time. The treasure map through Rome is fascinating – even though there’s murder, Dan Brown has done a fantastic job making the reader excited for the next stop. As a historian, this part is what I gobble up, even though the situation in which Vittoria and Robert Langdon find themselves following the markers is horrible. There is an ancient beauty to Rome and the Vatican that Dan Brown manages to bring to life, despite the grisly circumstances. Following the Path of Illumination is, to me, the most incredible part of this story and it is situated so well in the middle of the book that it makes a great deal of the story fly by.
All that said, there’s some aspects here that I don’t like as much. I’ve reviewed very little of the Robert Langdon series on the blog because most of it, I’ve read while I’ve been on (sometimes year-long) hiatus. Nevertheless, there’s this running theme that Dan Brown introduces a “strong female co-star”, then uses none of her skill and lets her be a ride-along for Langdon. It happens in every single book and in this world of strong female heroes, it’s a constant pet peeve. Vittoria is one of the most glaring in this respect – she’s a renown scientist who knows a great deal about the anti-matter technology explored in Angels and Demons and yet, she is constantly shut down and out by the men. All the men – not just Langdon. Vittoria’s biggest moment in Angels and Demons is when she is bound and gagged and about to be raped and BAM! In runs Langdon to save the day! This scene had absolutely no significance to the greater storyline, and just gave Langdon a bit of a hero moment. It’s… exasperating. Plus now we have a rape trigger warning and there’s no point in this scene existing. Period. Adds nothing, belittles the woman, and we already have plenty to be disgusted about in the Hassassin, thanks.
Which brings me to the next frustration here – the Hassassin. Really, Dan Brown could have chosen anyone to be the criminal in this story, but instead, he went with a grossly damaging stereotype and created a brutish African man to be the unenlightened, virtue-less assassin. Time and again, the Hassassin is portrayed more as a scruple-less animal than a man, taking joy from murder and raping and killing women effortlessly. This is just… so disappointing. I mean, it’s just… between Vittoria and the Hassassin, it feels very much like this is just another book written by a Typical Racist Sexist White Male Author and it’s disappointing because outside of some terrible characterization choices, this book is interesting. Beyond Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, I do feel like Brown has been more careful in casting his villains, but in these first two books… this is cringy.
It’s funny to me that The Da Vinci Code was the one that blew up, because to me, the story in Angels and Demons is so much more interesting. It’s difficult, even now, for creative types to take on religious themes without receiving significant criticism. The secret history behind the Catholic Church and the conversation about some of its darker dealings are all reflective on true history, and it’s part of what lends me to be so fascinated in these novels. I applaud Brown’s ability to balance the virtues of science and religion in this novel, showing both good and bad sides to each and generally being respectful to both institutions. That takes some nuance, and he’s done it well.
So many fans of the Robert Langdon series start with The Da Vinci Code and never look back, so to you I say, please read Angels and Demons! The discussions of creationism and the marriage of science and religion and the chase around Rome are all fascinating! There are some issues at its core, but generally speaking this is very much a book worth reading and if you enjoy thrillers, especially scientific thrillers, this is a great book. Plus it’s a historical treasure hunt and has some great theological conversations and it’s altogether a good intellectual experience with lots of thrills and twists and turns. I definitely recommend it.
Do you ever re-read thrillers? The thing I find with thrillers is that if you know the ending and every twist taken to arrive there, they lose a bit of their magic. I re-read the ones I really like, but only after I’ve sat on them long enough to forget most of it! What about you? Tell me in the comments!