The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason


I’m not sure what to make of this book.  Even sitting here starting to write my review, I’m not entirely sure what I am going to say.

The book follows a group of friends during their last days at Princeton University.  The protagonist, Tom, is the son of an academic who devoted his life to studying an obscure renaissance text called the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili to try to crack the secrets the text holds.  He dies in a tragic car accident before his work is complete, however at Princeton, Tom meets Paul, a fellow undergraduate who hero worships Tom’s father and is also studying the Hypnerotomachia.  Tom gets further and further drawn into Paul’s research, with dangerous consequences as the hidden meaning within the Hypnerotomachia start to be revealed.

This book is billed on the front cover as “The Da Vinci Code for people with brains.”  I did enjoy the parts of the book where they were working out how to crack the code and read the meaning within.  This was very intelligently done and put simply enough to be able to follow.

This book was written by two authors and there was a very clear division within the book.  This was not stylistic, in fact I think they did a very good job of maintaining the voice and style given that two people were contributing.  The division was between the back story and the narrative.  When reading it, I felt as if the writers has started from a fixed point and then one had written backwards and the other forwards.  The back story focuses on the strain that the Hypnerotomachia put on Tom’s relationship with his father and then later with his girlfriend, and traces the discoveries that Tom and Paul made when working together.  The back story was important for understanding Tom and in understanding the Hypnerotomachia.  However, I felt that it was a bit much and interrupted the flow of the more exciting and dramatic action.

The Hypnerotomachia is a real book, however I do wish that the authors had shortened the name or invented a nickname for it early on.  It is not an easy word to read, and so I found that it did interrupt the flow of reading, as I would stumble over this word every time.

Overall, I did enjoy the book and at 25p in a library sale, it was definitely a bargain for me.  However, my overall impression of the book is a sense of an opportunity missed.  I think there is a lot of promise in the concept of this book, it is very intelligently thought out and they have obviously really done their research well.  But I think there is another level that they could have taken this to.  It had drama and pace, but this kept seeming to peter out before it has reached it’s full potential, and I think this comes down to a little bit of a lack of ambition with the motivations of the “bad guys”, and the interruption of the narrative with whole chapters devoted to back story.


Posted on September 1, 2013, in Book Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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