As The splendid The Orpheus Descent appears from Hodder, its author, Tom Harper, points up the similarities to (and differences from) the latest Dan Brown…

When Dan Brown chose May 14th 2013 to publish his new novel, even he can’t have guessed the full implications of what he’d set in motion. Sure, the date’s a numerical anagram of Pi (duh). More significantly, it created an apocalyptic publishing face-off: Dan Brown, against his shadowy nemesis, the author known to many as ‘the thinking person’s Dan Brown’. Within ten short days, Tom Harper and Dan Brown (no-one ever calls him ‘the dumb person’s Tom Harper’) would both unleash their newest creations on the world. But which would have readers reaching for their Wikipedias? In the best villainous tradition, Tom Harper twirls his moustache and asks: Are we really so very different, you and I?

Is it heavy?

INFERNO: 778g (463 pages)

THE ORPHEUS DESCENT: 784g (483 pages)

Is there a brainy protagonist?

INFERNO: Robert Langdon, a pony-tailed symbologist, never without his lucky Mickey Mouse watch.

ORPHEUS: Plato, a bearded philosopher, never without his lucky shipwreck stone.

Does he have any academic qualifications?

INFERNO: Langdon teaches at Harvard University, when not gallivanting around Europe solving riddles (though in four novels, he’s never actually been seen on campus).

ORPHEUS: Academic? Plato invented academia when he founded The Academy in Athens, the western world’s first institution of higher learning (though in the whole novel, he’s only there for four pages).

Has he published anything

INFERNO: Langdon has authored seven books, including The Symbology of Secret Sects and The Art of the Illuminati: Part 1.

ORPHEUS: Plato wrote thirty-five dialogues, including The Republic and The Symposium.

Does he embark on a dangerous quest that takes in some exotic locations?

INFERNO: Florence, Venice, Istanbul?

ORPHEUS: Athens, Sicily, Wandsworth*

Does he find a mysterious artefact?

INFERNO: A medieval cylinder seal made of human bone, which contains a kinetic-powered laser pointer, which projects an image of Botticelli’s Map of Hell, which has been digitally modified to contain clues, which lead… You get the idea.

ORPHEUS: An ancient Greek grave tablet: a piece of gold leaf engraved in tiny writing with a poem that gives instructions on how to navigate the paths to the underworld.

But does that really exist?

INFERNO: No.

ORPHEUS: Yes. A dozen or so of these tablets have been found in graves across the Mediterranean, but the ancient cult that produced them remains totally unknown. Some people ascribe the poem to Orpheus.

Does our hero have any help?

INFERNO: Dr Sienna Brooks, a ‘natural beauty’ with a ‘lithe figure’ and ‘an off-the-chart IQ’. She also knows martial arts.

ORPHEUS: Diotima, a sphinx-like courtesan who’s dangerous to know.

Is there a supervillain who must be stopped at any cost?

INFERNO: Bertrand Zobrist, a green-eyed Swiss genetic engineer convinced that the world needs about three billion fewer people.

ORPHEUS: Dionysius, Tyrant of Syracuse, a red-haired Sicilian dictator who’s overthrown democracy, and plans to conquer the known world.

But surely he has some redeeming features. Cultural pursuits, maybe?

INFERNO: ‘Zobrist may have been a lunatic, Langdon thought, but he certainly had a sophisticated grasp of Dante.’

ORPHEUS: Dionysius was a keen amateur playwright, and won first prize at the drama competition in Athens. He was so thrilled, he drank himself to death.

Is there any sex?

INFERNO: ‘He takes his time, his patient hands coaxing sensations I’ve never felt before out of my inexperienced body.’

ORPHEUS: ‘There’s some pretty good ancient sex, exciting without resort to pornography, unworldly, but then the lady concerned could be immortal.’ (Shots Magazine)

In my experience, these action heroes usually have an unhealthy dose of repressed homoeroticism.

INFERNO: ‘Their naked bodies were locked in an awkward-looking wrestling match, which included a creative "penile grip" which always made Langdon cringe.’

ORPHEUS: Don’t be ridiculous. There’s no place for repressed homoeroticism in ancient Greece.

Are there references to a really famous book I never quite got around to reading?

INFERNO: Dante’s Inferno

ORPHEUS: Plato’s Republic

Do say

INFERNO: ‘As a stylist, Dan Brown gets better and better…’ (Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph)

ORPHEUS: ‘An act of great daring, pulled off to perfection… Thoughtful, thought-provoking and intelligent: mind-blowingly good.’ (MC Scott)

Don’t say

INFERNO: ‘Sub-Scooby Doo’ (Amazon.co.uk)

ORPHEUS: ‘I was dropping off to sleep very often.’ (Amazon.co.uk)

The Orpheus Descent, by Tom Harper, is out now in hardback and e-book. So is Inferno.

* Technically, Plato doesn’t go to Wandsworth. But it does feature in the novel.

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