The Rule of Four – Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

The Rule of Four is a novel written by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. It is set at Princeton University and follows two seniors, who are both good friends and roommates, as they finish off their theses and prepare to graduate.

One of the men, Paul, has been working on a thesis about the book the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. This is a rare book (and very real too) which was written in 1499 in Venice. It is an allegorical story written in several different languages and it’s English translation is “Poliphili’s struggle for love in a dream”. It is unclear who actually wrote the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, but some scholars believe it was a man named Francesco Colonna, so for the purposes of this book, the authors name Colonna as the author. No one really knows what the true meaning of this book is, so Paul, like many scholars before him, sets out to find the answers for his thesis.

Enter Tom. Paul’s best friend. They met at the beginning of university after Paul tracked Tom down. Tom’s father had spent many years working on finding the hidden meaning behind the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and Paul and Tom quickly develop a strong bond because of their mutual interest in the book. Tom helps Paul work on his thesis over the years. Now, however, Paul is quickly reaching his deadline and still has not solved the puzzle. Can Paul and Tom do so before his deadline? Or has all their work been in vain?

Tom Sullivan, about to graduate from Princeton is haunted by the violent death of his father, an academic who devoted his life to one of the rarest, most complex books in the world. Coded in seven language, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, an intricate mathematical mystery and a tale of love and arcane brutality, has baffled scholars since 1499.

Tom’s friend Paul is similarly obsessed and when a long-lost diary surfaces they finally seem to make a breakthrough. But only hours later, a fellow researcher is murdered and the two friends suddenly find themselves in great danger. Working desperately to expose the books secret, they slowly uncover a Renaissance tale of passion and blood, a hidden crypt and a secret worth dying to protect…

The Rule of Four is a fast paced story with a number of main characters. Not only do you have Tom and Paul, but their two roommates, Gil and Charlie. Tom also has a girlfriend named Katie who struggles with Toms addiction to solving the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and the hold it has over him. Then there are Paul’s mentors, Richard Curry and Vincent Taft, aging scholars who have spent their lives chasing the meanings behind this text to no avail.

All of these characters come together to build a web of intrigue and mystery not only surrounding the meaning in the text, but someone wants to find the secrets to this book and be accredited for them so badly, that they would literally kill to do so.

I liked this book. The story was written in parts. Some chapters followed the present day Tom and Paul chasing the thesis deadline. Others deal with how they reached that point, tracing Tom and Paul from their childhoods, to their meeting at Princeton and then to now. Finally, some chapters look back at Frances Colonna and how he could have possibly written the book. The Rule of Four is just one big puzzle that needs to be solved.

If you liked The Da Vinci Code or The Last Templar, then you may like this novel.

Rating 3/5


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