The Rule of Four

The The Rule of Four was recently released in paperback, so we are running our book review again for those who are interested.
Before The Rule of Four can be well reviewed, it is necessary to mention another work, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: The Strife of Love in a Dream. The book has been attributed to many authors through the ages, but is most commonly thought to have been authored by Francesco Colonna, a priest of the Dominican Order at Treviso, Italy. The book was published in Venice in 1499 and has captivated scholars for 500 years with its enigmatic tale of Poliphili’s (lover of many things) love for the nymph Polia (many things). The bizarre text incorporated many languages into a tale replete with Roman gods and goddesses, exquisite architecture, trysts with nymphs, as well as hidden messages. The book has been a mystery for many years on account of its questioned authorship, the unusual mix of languages, and the possible meanings behind the love story as well as the intricately descriptive architecture.
The Rule of Four (Dial Press) by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, is a gripping fictitious perspective on the mystery of the Hypnerotomachia. Written by two former Princeton students, the book is a vivid depiction of Princeton life seen through the eyes of Tom Sullivan, whose father was ensnared by the Hypnerotomachia before his early death. Tom’s best friend and roommate, Paul Harris, is equally beguiled by the antique manuscript and has determined to write his thesis on it.
What follows is a mystery within a puzzle, much like the Hypnerotomachia itself. The Rule of Four is richly textured with layers that must carefully be pulled back to reveal each new perspective. It is a complex love triangle that pins Tom between the mesmerizing lure of the Hypnerotomachia and his down-to-earth girlfriend, much like his father was torn between Tom’s own mother and the book. It is a tale of obsession as men are murdered for the sake of the manuscript, and Paul like Colonna before, him stands ready to sacrifice almost anything for the secrets locked inside the text. As Paul deciphers codes and algorithms to uncover the secrets of the Hypnerotomachia, so the reader is led along circuitous paths, following unexpected twists and turns, doubling back before coming almost full circle to an ending that is as satisfying as it is virtually unexpected.
Brimming with Renaissance history, the book takes a hard look at church doctrine during the 1490’s when Savonarola, the evangelical preacher who brought a new revival to Florence, ushered in his most infamous legacy, the bonfire of the vanities. Colonna’s message presents two views of Christianity at war with one another. At issue is the question: is faith the source of truth and beauty, or are truth and beauty only servants of faith?
Well worth reading, The Rule of Four is ultimately a revealing look at the dual nature of love. As Paul’s father says, Love is not supposed to be on your side. You fight with him; you try to undo what he does to others. But he’s too powerful. No matter how much we suffer, Virgil says, our hardships cannot move him. The final lesson is learning not to fight it.
The Rule of Four deals with some moderately graphic adult situations, especially as portrayed in the Hypnerotomachia.From our archives 8.13.04

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