Short reviews of mediocre books: Part I – The Rule of Four

January 23, 2006

I’ve read a couple of similar books recently and thought I’d share my impressions. I’ll start in this post with:

Ruleoffour_2The Rule of Four: A first attempt (and clearly so) by a couple of writers just out of prestigious East

Coast schools. Apparently following the old adage to "write what you know" (see sidenote here), the authors focus on the lives of pretentious, intellectual, angst-ridden college students on the campus of Princeton. The story has some resonance based on the main character’s inner conflicts surrounding the two loves of his life: his girlfriend and a mysterious ancient book that his father studied extensively before his death. However, the authors are often too clever for their own good, substituting ridiculous similies and metaphors where plain language would do. They also tend to be a bit elitist about Princeton and its famed attendees, mentioning F. Scott Fitzgerald in what seemed like every chapter. The end result for me was that I finished the book feeling just a small bit of unreasonable hatred for the school.

The book has been compared to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (which I will discuss in another post), likely due to its plot about unlocking the secrets of the past and its attitude toward organized religion (though Brown’s book is much, much more radical on this front). Unfortunately, the book is not particularly reader-friendly due to the esoteric nature of many of its characters’ comments/thoughts as well as the solutions to the riddles in the book, very few of which could conceivably be solved by the reader. Instead, the reader must continue along until one of the characters remembers that the clue must (of course) be referring to the writings of Gilderblatt the Middle-Aged in his treatise on the nocturnal habits of the shrew…or some such. Since the reader can have no expectation of solving the riddle without the specific knowledge possessed by the characters, the mystery aspect of the story falls somewhat flat. The other main complaints I would have are that the actions and motivations of the characters are not always sensible and that the authors ignore some modern technology, such as cell phones and computers, that could have solved quite a few potentially life-threatening problems.

My complaints aside, the book is a very quick read and has its good moments. The main character’s conflict between his love of scholarly study and his love for his girlfriend is interesting, if occasionally over-wrought, and the historical information can provide some entertainment. Current and former Princeton students would likely find the focus on the school charming rather than irritating and could enjoy finding the places in which the authors took some creative license with the details. While I certainly can’t recommend the book on its literary merits, it was entertaining enough for a plane ride. The authors are clearly very bright and the book had an interesting premise, so I hope their next effort will prove more worthwhile.

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