Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Rule of Four

Because the plot of this novel is so complicated and intertwined, I'm going to share the review from Publisher's Weekly:

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.

Authors Caldwell and Thomason are two long-time friends who wrote this book during their last semester at Princeton. I definitely would compare this book to The Da Vinci Code in that it has a mystery to solve, the mystery is complicated because few people know the secret cults/manuscripts/legends of which either book refers to - however, you can't help but be swept up in it. I think I enjoyed this book more than Da Vinci, if only because it had less hype along with it and it involves college students who are closer to my age. The ancient text and the secret puzzles within it are confusing, but the reader gets it after hanging in there for awhile. The book jumps back and forth in time, a ploy I actually liked; it adds to the suspense. Because the authors went to Princeton, I felt a lot of the school culture they wrote of was probably close to the truth (minus the murders and fraud, hopefully). And, I loved the ending.

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