Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
Angels & Demons is a 2000 bestselling mystery-thriller novel written by American author Dan Brown and published by Pocket Books and then by Corgi Books. The novel introduces the character Robert Langdon, who is also the protagonist of Brown’s subsequent 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code; his 2009 novel, The Lost Symbol; and the 2013 novel Inferno. Angels & Demons shares many stylistic literary elements with its sequel, such as conspiracies of secret societies, a single-day time frame, and the Catholic Church. Ancient history, architecture, and symbolism are also heavily referenced throughout the book. A film adaptation was released on May 15, 2009. The Da Vinci Code film had been released in 2006.
Angels and Demons – From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Da Vinci Code comes the explosive thriller that started it all.
An ancient secret brotherhood. A devastating new weapon of destruction. An unthinkable target. When world-renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to his first assignment to a Swiss research facility to analyze a mysterious symbol — seared into the chest of a murdered physicist — he discovers evidence of the unimaginable: the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati…the most powerful underground organization ever to walk the earth. The Illuminati has now surfaced to carry out the final phase of its legendary vendetta against its most hated enemy — the Catholic Church.
Langdon’s worst fears are confirmed on the eve of the Vatican’s holy conclave, when a messenger of the Illuminati announces they have hidden an unstoppable time bomb at the very heart of Vatican City. With the countdown under way, Langdon jets to Rome to join forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and mysterious Italian scientist, to assist the Vatican in a desperate bid for survival.
Embarking on a frantic hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and the most secretive vault on earth, Langdon and Vetra follow a 400-year-old trail of ancient symbols that snakes across Rome toward the long-forgotten Illuminati lair…a clandestine location that contains the only hope for Vatican salvation.
Critics have praised the exhilarating blend of relentless adventure, scholarly intrigue, and cutting wit found in Brown’s remarkable thrillers featuring Robert Langdon. An explosive international suspense, Angels & Demons marks this hero’s first adventure as it careens from enlightening epiphanies to dark truths as the battle between science and religion turns to war.
Like the majority of readers, I read Angels & Demons by Dan Brown after reading The Da Vinci Code. I would venture that most people reading this review are asking the question, “How does Angels & Demons compare to The Da Vinci Code?” The short answer is that they’re very similar. If you enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, you should enjoy Angels & Demons.
Angels & Demons introduces the character of Robert Langdon, professor of religious iconology and art history at Harvard University. As the novel begins, he’s awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call from Maximilian Kohler, the director of CERN, the world’s largest scientific research facility in Geneva, Switzerland. One of their top physicists had been murdered, with his chest branded with the word “Illuminati.” Since Langdon is an expert on the ancient secret society known as the Illuminati, he’s asked to help solve the murder. A high tech X-33 plane transports Langdon from Massachusetts to Switzerland in a little more than an hour.
The murder victim is Leonardo Vetra. Not only is he one of the world’s leading physicists, he’s a Catholic priest. He’s a priest who has adopted a daughter, Vittoria, who is also a scientist at CERN. This was the largest suspension of disbelief for me, a man who is a priest, a father, and a top physicist, but accepting it sets the rest of the story in motion. Vetra and his daughter were using the world’s largest particle accelerator to create antimatter, and then suspend the antimatter properly in canisters so that it doesn’t interact with matter. If a canister is removed from the electrical system which keeps the matter and antimatter separated, then backup batteries will serve the same purpose for 24 hours. When those 24 hours expire, the two will collide in an instantaneous explosion of unprecedented power.
Lenoardo Vetra created the antimatter to simulate the Big Bang. In his mind, this would show proof that God exists, being able to create new matter and antimatter in the same way God created the universe. Vetra’s murder, though, allows one of the canisters to be stolen. The question of who stole the canister and what they planned to do with it is soon answered. The canister is quickly found on a security camera in Vatican City, with its LEDs counting down the time until the batteries run out. The security camera, however, is nowhere to be found, leaving the canister’s whereabouts a mystery too. Langdon and Vittoria Petra are quickly sent off to Rome and Vatican City, to help find the canister and return it to CERN before it explodes at midnight.
Not only does the canister threaten to destroy Vatican City, but with the recent death of the Pope, the cardinals of the Catholic Church are all within the city for the conclave to choose the new pope. They are all about to be locked within the Sistine Chapel where, according to church law, they must remain until a new pope is chosen. They are awaiting the preferiti, the four cardinals from four different European countries who are the preferred candidates to become the new pope. While Langdon and Vittoria are trying to convince the captain of the Swiss Guard and the camerlengo, the Pope’s chamberlain who leads the church until the new pope is named, that the antimatter bomb is real, a phone call is received from a man who claims to be from the Illuminati. He has the four cardinals, which he will murder one by one, and then allow the bomb to destroy Vatican City, which houses not only the church hierarchy, but also its possessions and wealth. He has no demands; his only wish is the destruction of the Catholic Church in retribution for the church’s treatment of scientists and the Illuminati over the centuries.
Langdon and Vittoria Vetra are in a race against time. They dig through archives and ancient mysteries to find clues, which also requires an extensive background in art history and religious symbology. This makes Robert Langdon the expert tour guide through all this arcane knowledge with his congenial and scholarly fashion, doing his best to educate without seeming superior with his own intelligence. Much like The Da Vinci Code, Langdon understands enough about each mystery to go in search of the missing pieces necessary to solve each puzzle, which leads him to the next one. Vittoria is beautiful, tough, intelligent, and determined to avenge her father’s murder and keep the canister from exploding. The two of them are constantly one step behind the Illuminati, and once it’s clear that the Swiss Guard and Vatican City have been penetrated by the ancient society, they don’t know whom to trust. This leads them through churches, fountains, crypts, forgotten passages, secret passages, and catacombs. Death stalks them at every turn, in one form or another.
So it’s time for the comparisons of Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code. In some ways, Angels & Demons has a more suspenseful storyline with the antimatter bomb and the race to prevent the destruction of Vatican City. Both share a hired assassin, a tough and beautiful woman as Langdon’s sidekick who’s mourning the murder of a loved one, and mysteries that require extensive knowledge of art history, religious symbology, and secret societies. Robert Langdon is a protagonist that you can’t dislike in any way, with just enough vulnerability to go along with his intelligence and right amount of charm. Angels & Demons is a looser story. It takes longer to get going, each new puzzle takes longer to solve, and too much character background is given for too many characters. While Dan Brown’s writing style will never be called literary, he’s obviously matured as a writer between the two books. The chapters in The Da Vinci Code are shorter, tighter, and the suspense is never allowed to wane.
While some judicious editing might have made it a tighter and more focused novel, Angels & Demons is still a highly enjoyable read. For those who love plot-driven novels, and for those who love thrillers and mysteries full of strange bits of information that tie everything together, grab a copy of Angels & Demons and find a comfortable chair. It’s time well spent.
It takes guts to write a novel that combines an ancient secret brotherhood, the Swiss Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, a papal conclave, mysterious ambigrams, a plot against the Vatican, a mad scientist in a wheelchair, particles of antimatter, jets that can travel 15,000 miles per hour, crafty assassins, a beautiful Italian physicist, and a Harvard professor of religious iconology. It takes talent to make that novel anything but ridiculous. Kudos to Dan Brown (Digital Fortress) for achieving the nearly impossible. Angels & Demons is a no-holds-barred, pull-out-all-the-stops, breathless tangle of a thriller–think Katherine Neville’s The Eight (but cleverer) or Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum (but more accessible).
Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is shocked to find proof that the legendary secret society, the Illuminati–dedicated since the time of Galileo to promoting the interests of science and condemning the blind faith of Catholicism–is alive, well, and murderously active. Brilliant physicist Leonardo Vetra has been murdered, his eyes plucked out, and the society’s ancient symbol branded upon his chest. His final discovery, antimatter, the most powerful and dangerous energy source known to man, has disappeared–only to be hidden somewhere beneath Vatican City on the eve of the election of a new pope. Langdon and Vittoria, Vetra’s daughter and colleague, embark on a frantic hunt through the streets, churches, and catacombs of Rome, following a 400-year-old trail to the lair of the Illuminati, to prevent the incineration of civilization.
Brown seems as much juggler as author–there are lots and lots of balls in the air in this novel, yet Brown manages to hurl the reader headlong into an almost surreal suspension of disbelief. While the reader might wish for a little more sardonic humor from Langdon, and a little less bombastic philosophizing on the eternal conflict between religion and science, these are less fatal flaws than niggling annoyances–readers should have no trouble skimming past them and immersing themselves in a heck of a good read. “Brain candy” it may be, but my! It’s tasty. –Kelly Flynn
From Publishers Weekly
Pitting scientific terrorists against the cardinals of Vatican City, this well-plotted if over-the-top thriller is crammed with Vatican intrigue and high-tech drama. Robert Langdon, a Harvard specialist on religious symbolism, is called in by a Swiss research lab when Dr. Vetra, the scientist who discovered antimatter, is found murdered with the cryptic word “Illuminati” branded on his chest. These Iluminati were a group of Renaissance scientists, including Galileo, who met secretly in Rome to discuss new ideas in safety from papal threat; what the long-defunct association has to do with Dr. Vetra’s death is far from clear. Vetra’s daughter, Vittoria, makes a frightening discovery: a lethal amount of antimatter, sealed in a vacuum flask that will explode in six hours unless its batteries are recharged, is missing. Almost immediately, the Swiss Guard discover that the flask is hidden beneath Vatican City, where the conclave to elect a new pope has just begun. Vittoria and Langdon rush to recover the canister, but they aren’t allowed into the Vatican until it is discovered that the four principal papal candidates are missing. The terrorists who are holding the cardinals call in regarding their pending murders, offering clues tied to ancient Illuminati meeting sites and runes. Meanwhile, it becomes clear that a sinister Vatican entity with messianic delusions is in league with the terrorists. Packing the novel with sinister figures worthy of a Medici, Brown (Digital Fortress) sets an explosive pace as Langdon and Vittoria race through a Michelin-perfect Rome to try to save the cardinals and find the antimatter before it explodes. Though its premises strain credulity, Brown’s tale is laced with twists and shocks that keep the reader wired right up to the last revelation. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Dan Brown is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Da Vinci Code and, previously, Digital Fortress, Deception Point, and Angels and Demons. He is a graduate of Amherst College and Phillips Exeter Academy, where he spent time as an English teacher before turning his efforts fully to writing. He lives in New England with his wife.