Literature: Dan Brown's Inferno
(2013) is Dan Brown
's sixth published novel and the fourth to star Robert Langdon, the protagonist of Angels and Demons
, The Da Vinci Code
, and The Lost Symbol
. As the title suggests, the plot is very heavy on The Divine Comedy
Langdon wakes up in a Florentine hospital with a gunshot wound in the back of his head and a complete blackout about the last couple of days
, including such important details as who shot him and how he ended up in Italy without any documents in the first place. Before long, the sinister Consortium
's hitwoman catches up with the wounded professor, who barely escapes with some help from Sienna Brooks
, a visiting ER doctor from Britain. Together, they have to uncover the truth about who and why hunts Langdon and what the whole thing has to do with Dante Alighieri and a prominent biologist who committed suicide a few days earlier in Florence.
Then, in the course of the novel, the entire premise gets turned on its head.Spoilers ahead.
Tropes found in the novel:
- Alas, Poor Villain: Vayentha's death becomes this in retrospect, after we learn that she never actually tried to kill Langdon, that Sienna has been the Big Bad all along, and that she killed Vayentha mainly to keep Langdon working for the wrong person. It's made even worse by the fact that this murder is never brought up again after The Reveal.
- Amnesiac Hero: Langdon wakes up in a hospital with a Laser-Guided Amnesia about the last couple of days. Much later, it is revealed that the trope was specifically Invoked on him by the provost's men, who drugged him with a substance that wipes a person's short-term memory clean in order to try to gain his trust with an elaborate ruse.
- Attempted Rape: Part of Sienna's Back Story and the reason why she gave up charity work and plunged into her second major bout of depression.
- Author Filibuster: Besides the central Green Aesop, there are Robert Langdon rants about e-publishing, although he later admits there are gems in them.note
- Bald Women: Sienna is actually wearing a wig because a medical condition cost her most of her natural hair. Helps her and Langdon escape their pursuers later, when she gives him her wig so they look like a young punk girl and an aging rocker.
- Big Bad Friend: Sienna is actually one of the people behind the whole Inferno scheme.
- Big Good: Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey, chief of the WHO and the woman who appears to Langdon in visions, pleading for his help.
- Child Prodigy: Both Sienna and Zobrist were this back in the day.
- Depraved Homosexual: Subverted. They make Zobrist look like one briefly. See Gender Misdirection below.
- Downer Ending: Zobrist succeeds in his plan to make one third of the world's population infertile. Strangely enough, the main characters seem to take the stance that this is not such a bad thing. Granted, they were mentally preparing for a second Black Plague killing billions all around the world, so at least their relief at that moment is understandable. And considering that the alternative to the villain's success was humanity's extinction in about a hundred years, it was not that much of a downer ending, after all.
- Evilutionary Biologist: Zobrist, who believed humankind cannot evolve without most of its population dead.
- Gender Misdirection: At least twice:
- When Agent Brüder reports to "his superior", you assume it's the provost, who is also on the phone around the same time—but it's actually Elizabeth Sinskey, which you are not supposed to learn until much later in the story.
- When "FS-2080", whom you probably identified as Jonathan Ferris, describes "his" first encounter with Zobrist (which results in a supposedly homosexual relationship), it's actually Sienna's memories you are reading.
- Good All Along: Agent Brüder and his team.
- Green Aesop: Done very blatantly. "Overpopulation leads to human extinction" is repeated many times.
- Hot Scientist: Dr. Sienna Brooks. Langdon finds Dr. Sinskey (who's twice as old as Sienna) very attractive, too.
- Lecture As Exposition: In the true Langdon fashion, he uses his Photographic Memory to recall his own lectures on Dante in search for clues about the Shade's riddle.
- Linked List Clue Methodology: For once in a Dan Brown novel, this is fully justified: Zobrist never intended to give Sinskey, his perceived Arch-Nemesis, any chance of stopping his plan by solving his riddles in time—he only wanted to have a last laugh at her attempt, even if he doesn't get to see it. Therefore, he arranged his riddle to be delivered to her by the time the Inferno has long been released into the wild.
- Made of Iron: A gunshot wound to the head stops bothering Langdon (well, except the amnesia part) by the time the anesthetics wear off. Turns into Fridge Brilliance when it's revealed that he was never shot in the first place and that his wound was actually just a shallow cut inflicted for verisimilitude.
- No Name Given: The provost is just... the provost for the entire novel.
- The Plague: The eponymous Inferno, with parallels constantly being drawn between it and The Black Death. Or so it appears.
- Plague Doctor: The origins of the plague doctor are discussed, and Zobrist wears the iconic mask in his video message and in the alteration he makes to the Map of Hell.
- Posthumous Character: Bertrand Zobrist.
- Pride: The Shade freely admits to be guilty of it.
- Red Herring: Hoo boy. Dan Brown has really outdone himself on this one.
- The scary biohazard-marked cylinder that Langdon finds on his person? Actually, its contents aren't dangerous at all; Sinskey just needed to place the object in a secure container before giving it to Langdon.
- The Consortium's killer squad that storms Sienna's apartment? Actually, an emergency response group of the WHO, ostensibly the good guys for whom Langdon was working before his amnesia and who desperately tried to establish contact with him, not to kill him. Why did they keep Sinskey locked up and drugged, then? She has a rare medical condition that required it, and they were just taking care of their boss.
- The menacing, mannish hitwoman Vayentha who nearly offs Langdon twice? Actually, the Consortium's specialist on Death Faked for You called in to make Langdon believe he is targeted and solve the riddles for the Consortium.
- The poor, unfortunate Dr. Brooks whom Langdon drags into this mess? Actually, a Double Reverse Quadruple Agent who dupes Langdon, the Consortium, and eventually the WHO to keep her lover and mentor Zobrist's research out of their hands—and to destroy it herself. Basically, she is the Big Bad of the story.
- The plague-infected spy who stalks Langdon and Sienna in Florence? Actually, he is with the WHO and merely has a bad case of contact allergy that looks like plague symptoms to the uninitiated—oh, wait, that's not true, either...
- The mysterious FS-2080 who gains their trust en route to Venice? Actually, FS-2080 is Sienna herself, see above, while Jonathan Ferris works for the Consortium, and is basically the same guy whom Vayentha "killed" in the hospital earlier.
- The sinister Plague that the Consortium's client plans to unleash on the world? Actually, a "mere" Sterility Plague to control the world's population growth. Also, he is not "planning" it. He already unleashed it six days ago.
- Shaggy Dog Story: The whole plot of the book involves Langdon trying to follow the clues that the Big Bad The Shade intentionally left behind in order to try to prevent The Plague from being released to the atmosphere, and find the Ground Zero where the pandemia would begin. On the other hand, The WHO is trying to do this very same thing, the Consortium is trying to stop these from finding it, because they work for the "now deceased" Big Bad without even knowing a plague was involved, and Sienna is using everyone to find The Plague for her own personal plans. On a Heel-Face Turn, The consortium decides to team-up with the WHO when they discover that they were actually helping to produce a global epidemic and a possible genocide, thus making all of their previous effords of hiding the truth from governmental agencies, useless. When they finally find the location a day before the day the plague was supposed to be released, the Big Bad had already released the plague a week before, thus manipulating everyone into an useless journey of chasing their own tails, while the real plague was on its way to infect everyone on Earth. Most readers actually believed The Shade would actually leave a chance for the heroes of stopping his plans.
- Starts with a Suicide: The prologue concerns the last moments of the Shade's life (actually, Bertrand Zobrist's).
- Sterility Plague: What the eponymous Inferno actually is: a virus that randomly renders a third of the world's human population infertile.
- The Syndicate: The provost's Consortium. It's not so bad, however, since it basically concerns deception on a grand scale, rather than outright assassinations and other obviously criminal activities.
- Title Drop: The references to Dante's Inferno are dropped constantly throughout the novel, both literally and metaphorically, but it actually refers to The Plague about to be unleashed on humanity.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Shade, a.k.a. Bertrand Zobrist. Even his lover and closest confidante agrees that his methods are monstrous.
- White and Grey Morality: Apart from the Consortium, a Punch Clock Villain group by itself, the story really does not have a real bad guy as such. Even the Shade/Zobrist is portrayed as merely a Well-Intentioned Extremist—although most of his posthumous characterization comes from his lover and apprentice, whose views are naturally skewed in his favor.
- You Are Too Late: Zobrist's Sterility Plague was quietly unleashed in Istanbul a week before the book's events take place (except for the prologue). The much touted date one day after Langdon's awakening is not the day the virus is released—it's the day it finishes spreading and infects every human being on Earth.