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The Rule of Fourby Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
Humanities is the milieu that this intense intellectual thriller traverses. But it's not just another book comparing its plot to that of its subject: an ancient Italian text. Rather, Rule of Four connects and weaves the story and intricacies of the fifteenth-century text to that of the main characters who are attempting to solve its riddles.
The topics may seem esoteric, but the outcome is a detailed and nuanced adventure story, complete with rich character development. Caldwell and Thomason make it easy to root for the protagonists, two college students bombarded with day-to-day life but driven to unlock the many secrets of the mysteries at hand.
The pace is quick and resonates the archetype of "quest," but on an intellectually challenging level rather than a relic-gathering type of journey -- enlightenment and dedication to the pursuit of knowledge vs. a Tomb Raider, Da Vinci Code treasure hunt. But note: you don't have to be a humanities lover to find a lot to enjoy in this consuming, erudite thriller.
Synopses & Reviews
An ivy league murder, a mysterious coded manuscript, and the secrets of a Renaissance prince collide memorably in The Rule of Four — a brilliant work of fiction that weaves together suspense and scholarship, high art and unimaginable treachery.
It's Easter at Princeton. Seniors are scrambling to finish their theses. And two students, Tom Sullivan and Paul Harris, are a hair's breadth from solving the mysteries of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili — a renowned text attributed to an Italian nobleman, a work that has baffled scholars since its publication in 1499. For Tom, their research has been a link to his family's past — and an obstacle to the woman he loves. For Paul, it has become an obsession, the very reason for living. But as their deadline looms, research has stalled — until a long-lost diary surfaces with a vital clue. And when a fellow researcher is murdered just hours later, Tom and Paul realize that they are not the first to glimpse the Hypnerotomachia's secrets.
Suddenly the stakes are raised, and as the two friends sift through the codes and riddles at the heart of the text, they are beginnning to see the manuscript in a new light — not simply as a story of faith, eroticism and pedantry, but as a bizarre, coded mathematical maze. And as they come closer and closer to deciphering the final puzzle of a book that has shattered careers, friendships and families, they know that their own lives are in mortal danger. Because at least one person has been killed for knowing too much. And they know even more.
From the streets of fifteenth-century Rome to the rarified realm of the Ivy League, from a shocking 500 year-old murder scene to the drama of a young man's coming of age, The Rule of Four takes us on an entertaining, illuminating tour of history — as it builds to a pinnacle of nearly unbearable suspense.
"Caldwell and Thomason's intriguing intellectual suspense novel stars four brainy roommates at Princeton, two of whom have links to a mysterious 15th-century manuscript, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. This rare text (a real book) contains embedded codes revealing the location of a buried Roman treasure. Comparisons to The Da Vinci Code are inevitable, but Caldwell and Thomason's book is the more cerebral — and better written — of the two: think Dan Brown by way of Donna Tartt and Umberto Eco. The four seniors are Tom Sullivan, Paul Harris, Charlie Freeman and Gil Rankin. Tom, the narrator, is the son of a Renaissance scholar who spent his life studying the ancient book, 'an encyclopedia masquerading as a novel, a dissertation on everything from architecture to zoology.' The manuscript is also an endless source of fascination for Paul, who sees it as 'a siren, a fetching song on a distant shore, all claws and clutches in person. You court her at your risk.' This debut novel's range of topics almost rivals the Hypnerotomachia's itself, including etymology, Renaissance art and architecture, Princeton eating clubs, friendship, steganography (riddles) and self-interpreting manuscripts. It's a complicated, intricate and sometimes difficult read, but that's the point and the pleasure. There are murders, romances, dangers and detection, and by the end the heroes are in a race not only to solve the puzzle, but also to stay alive. Readers might be tempted to buy their own copy of the Hypnerotomachia and have a go at the puzzle. After all, Caldwell and Thomason have done most of the heavy deciphering — all that's left is to solve the final riddle, head for Rome and start digging. Agent, Nicholas Ellison. (May 4) Forecast:You don't have to be an expert at decoding to see that an excellent cover, high production values throughout, a gripping story, a strong publisher push and reader interest still stirred up by The Da Vinci Code will add up to big numbers for this one." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A]n astonishingly good debut....Scholarship as romance: intricate, erudite, and intensely pleasurable." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"The Rule of Four is an extremely erudite thriller....This fussier but also ingenious novel aspires to out-anagram, out-acrostic and out-cipher-text [The Da Vinci Code]." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"An impressive debut, a coming-of-age novel in the guise of a thriller." Booklist
"[A] truly satisfying literary thriller....The novel has a darkness that recalls Umberto Eco's monastery thriller, The Name of the Rose, and twinges of Donna Tartt's debut novel set in a boarding school, Secret History." The New York Post
"As much a blazingly good yarn as it is an exceptional piece of scholarship...a smart, swift, multitextured tale that both entertains and informs." San Francisco Chronicle
"Profoundly erudite — and far less windy than The Da Vinci Code — this is the ultimate puzzle-book for anyone who dares to solve a geometric problem like 'How many arms from your feet to the horizon?' by consulting Curious George." Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
"Riveting, poignant, and intensely intimate, The Rule of Four is a thinking person's thriller of the highest order." BookPage
"This debut packs all the esoteric information of The Da Vinci Code but with lovely writing reminiscent of Donna Tartt's The Secret History...a compulsively readable novel." People (Critic's Choice)
"Caldwell and Thomason have created a stunning first novel; a perfect blend of suspense and a sensitive coming-of-age story. If Scott Fitzgerald, Umberto Eco, and Dan Brown teamed up to write a novel, the result would be The Rule of Four. An extraordinary and brilliant accomplishment; a must read." Nelson DeMille, author of Up Country and The General's Daughter
"[A]n unusual hybrid of adventure story and college novel....[The protagonist's introspection is] subtle...and one of the reasons this odd book is interesting beyond its plot and puzzles. Another reason is patches of excellent writing." Washington Post Book World
"As a thriller, The Rule of Four is a lively read, with all the mechanics whirring nicely in place....[It] survives solely on its plot. Is the mystery solved in satisfactory fashion? Sure." Boston Globe
"The Rule of Four is more intellectually satisfying than emotionally titillating. It's perfect beach reading for Princetonians, would-be Renaissance scholars and all who are looking to absorb some of the authors' awesome erudition." USA Today
"The book's current-day plot is deflated by the flatness of the characters: It's hard to care about the lifeless college lads or the purported villains..." The Oregonian (Portland, OR)
"The Rule of Four is more literary in tone than [The Da Vinci Code], but Caldwell-Thomason's story often sinks into clumsy side episodes that make it difficult for readers to remember where the main story line left off." San Antonio Express-News
"[A]n unusually intelligent thriller, one that mixes action with unlocking the riddles of an enigmatic text....Caldwell and Thomason capture the worry about leaving the comfort of college to head into an unknown future..." Denver Post
"If you loved The Da Vinci Code but winced at Dan Brown's cheesy writing, pick up a copy of The Rule of Four....[A] charming and compulsively readable novel..." Orlando Sentinel
When a long-lost diary surfaces, it seems Tom Sullivan and Paul Harris have found the key to a secret labyrinth. However, when a fellow researcher is murdered only hours after their find, the friends suddenly realize that they are caught in a web of great danger.
A stunning first novel in the vein of Umberto Ecco and Dan Brown. Two friends find the key to the labyrinth that holds the secrets of an ancient text called the Hypnerotomachia. But when a fellow researcher is murdered, they suddenly realize they are caught in a web of great danger.
About the Author
Ian Caldwell attended Princeton University, where he studied history. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1998.
Dustin Thomason attended Harvard University, where he studied anthropology and medicine. He won the Hoopes Prize for undergraduate writing, and graduated in 1998. Thomason also received his M.D. and MBA from Columbia University in 2003.
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