The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

Two college students, Tom Sullivan and Paul Harris, attempt to solve the mystery about an old allegorical Renaissance manuscript, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Poliphilo's Struggle of Love in a Dream), which had eluded historians for generations. Each has his own deep connection to the coded text and it is this to which they threw their passions and also could lead to their ruin. Set in an Ivy League school, the scholarly atmosphere and ruminations of post-graduation life served as a background for treachery, murder and suspense.

The Rule of Four is bit scholarly than most historical fiction with the premise quite promising, drawing out the nostalgic school life, literary pursuits and intellectual squabbling so to speak. It also displays the human psyche by delving more on character background and the seduction of passion (in this case the devotion to study the text) which could either soar one so high or make one a slave for life.

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is a total enigma to me and curiosity mostly drove me to read the book. Just as well it's a story that was least likely related to government investigation. It dampens the romanticism for me sometimes when utilitarian institutions arrive on the scene.

Historical fiction seeped with mysterious ancient relic or scripts often is an intriguing draw to readers however there is a narrow line which must convince and hold its audience at least on a suspended belief for it to work. This book toed that line before it slid a little off mark. I must say the two authors might have been carried away, not unlike two friends on a cafe whose conversations wind in and out of the top topic of the day.

Nevertheless, it was enjoyable to read the theories made regarding it albeit it lost its academic momentum somewhere halfway. After all the edgy anticipation to break the ancient allegorical texts, it somewhat left me wanting as if the last half of a rich tapestry got done rushed. It is, shall we say, more of a character driven piece than plot wise, not much about the allegorical text but more of how the enchantment of past mysteries shape one's dreams, one's future.

In a way, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili reflects that as well. It presents philosophies about life, pain, desire and most of all, love. There is a curious section in the book about the explanation of a particular drawing of Caracci, Love Conquers All, which may answer the following questions. Who wins against it all? Who is the master and who is the slave?

Book Summary:

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 beginning 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.

Title: The Rule of Four
Author: Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
Genre: Mystery Thriller
Published: 2005
Publisher: Dell
Rating:  ( 4 cups - A very interesting historical take, a bit unique with its subject though a little drawn out and winded. It encompasses many emotions of life leaving us with deep thoughts and more captivated with Renaissance works. A treat for history lovers.)