The normally reclusive author of such groundbreaking works as The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol has granted Barnes and Noble an exclusive glimpse of his new work in progress, currently entitled The Mysterium Artifact. Brown, usually extremely secretive about his work, has given us a sneak peak at his latest novel and some insight into his writing process. Brown’s book takes a radical new direction plot wise from his previous work, incorporating themes of Mesoamerican culture in addition to his well-known trademark of Christian apocrypha. However, the same crisp, enthralling writing style remains, along with the complex and relatable characters. Brown shows a natural maturation, unafraid of the avant garde, taking the proven formula of his past success and modifying it slightly.
In The Mysterium Artifact, the main character, Dr. Adam Sansworth (arguably an incarnation of Dan Brown himself,) is a well-meaning but as-yet unsuccessful sociologist, studying the ancient society of the Mayans. Even his dual background in early Christian literature and Mayan society couldn’t prepare him for what he was about to uncover. Here is an early excerpt:
Sansworth slowly brushed the crackling dust from the tablet’s face in the pale light of his flashlight which he held above himself like a beacon. Sweat ran down his smoothly shaved face, dripping into the floor below, which was also covered in dust, the dust it had been covered with for thousands of years, since man last set foot in this sacred temple. His hands were shaking with the anticipation that he felt. This tablet could prove his theories and vindicate him to the academic community.
“At last,” he said, pantingly, “this mystery will be revealed. I hold in my hands the artifact that proves Christianity was not founded in the Near East, an offshoot of Judaism, but is actually a Mayan belief system, brought back by the Conquistadors.”
It was then that he noticed the characters on the tablets surface slowly becoming legible. Using his expert translation skills acquired during long nights in the campus library while the jocks and preps were out at parties, making out with girls, he made out the ancient characters one by one.
“My god,” he said, gasping, “this says...” He paused and took a deep breath. Unable to move, he sat down on the floor. “This says … 2012. 2012, the year of the second coming.”
Brown’s genius lies in taking well-known myths and religions and writing entertaining “what-if” scenarios. In The Mysterium Artifact, Brown postulates that all of the transcendent and spiritual ideas of Christianity and the ancient Mayan religion are actually just ciphers for actual, physical events, people, places and things, hidden away because of their power and mystery. Out of fear, the power structures of these religions have occluded the concrete reality with vague and amorphous ideology. But what's truly stunning, what makes one shake one's head in utter disbelief, is how Brown manages to tie everything together. The connections Brown makes between early Christianity and Mayan mystic ritual come alive with the impact of a summer blockbuster film.
Fans of Dan Brown will not be disappointed. The novel flows with a prose style that one can only describe as Brownian. In addition to the action/mystery main plot of the novel, there is also a love story. Dr. Sansworth meets the mysterious Shymmer Hautebaud in a Central American poker game, when she rescues him from certain death at the hands of a gambling pig farmer and a one-eyed cocaine dealer. Here is another exclusive excerpt from later in the novel:
“Damn it, Shymmer, don’t you see what this means?” he said, exasperatedly. “This, you, me, everything we know, my apartment in Manhattan, it’s all going to be gone. Gone! All this time we thought the Second Coming was Christ’s second salvation of man, but really it’s the return of the Undying Mayan Shaman, Jesusta! Can’t you see why I’m upset? And what can I do, I’m just a man, just a doctor of sociology. I’m no hero."
Shymmer lithely moved over to him and draped her elegant arm around his pale neck. “Adam, I didn’t come with you all this way because you’re a hero. I came with you because you believe in truth. You’ve shown me the truth. The truth of love. And now it’s up to us – to you – to show the world the truth about Christianity, the Mayans, 2012 and the Second Coming,” she said, coquettishly.
Sansworth stood and gathered himself about him, adjusting his belt. He looked at the artifact in his hands and a grim determination set in his face. “You’re right,” he said, sternly. “You’re absolutely right. All this time I’ve been running away from what I thought I was running towards: the truth. All I believe in: science, facts, truth, everything I am, knows that I must stop the second resurrection of the Undying Shaman Jesusta. I couldn’t do it without you, Shymmer Hautebaud. I need you, by my side, until the end.”
The thing that separates Dan Brown from other mystery writers is his ability to both suspend disbelief and create characters that the reader can identify with. Despite his prodigious creativity, Brown manages to keep things believable, with a strong, effortless hand, his words roll over the reader like a soothing tide, while simultaneously holding them on the edge of their seat for the next amazing plot twist. Another of Brown's strength is his fearless approach to writing. The way he incorporates facile elements of well-known religions and uses their inherent mysteries to propel his plot might prevent other writers from plunging forward. But Dan Brown, in this book as in all of his novels, doesn't let it stand in the way of his craft.
There aren’t any spoilers here, but let’s just say that if you make it to the end of the book you won’t be disappointed. But don't take my word for it; I'll let Brown's latest hero do the talking for me:
Dr. Sansworth stared in utter disbelief as the
the continents of creation collapsed around him.
"Happy April Fools' Day", were the last words he
Mark Brendle is a writer living in Oregon. His short fiction is available on the web at http://brendlewords.blogspot.com
Cover art by Cuggy
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