Friday, September 26, 2008

The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason (Audiobook)

With my recent move came a longer commute that I make once or twice a week. To fill in some time and arrest the static, I have begun picking up the occasional audiobook. The first book I grabbed is the Da Vinci Code knockoff, The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason and read by Jeff Woodman (US, UK, Canada), thinking that mindless entertainment goes well with driving. I was wrong.

The Rule of Four follows four roommates at Princeton University. Starting with typical college antics, a conspiracy revolving around one roommate’s (Paul) research into an ancient Roman book slowly develops. Paul’s best friend, Tom, the narrator of the story, struggles with his past, his girlfriend, and his future as Paul’s research heats up and becomes deadly serious.

I intentionally used a rather cliché phrase to close the above paragraph – as it’s entirely appropriate for any description of this book. To put things bluntly, if I were reading this book, I would have been shocked if I lasted more that 50 pages. The book is simply that bad. The best way to describe things is that the authors attempt to show off for the entire book. The first half is dominated by silly, nostalgic college stories with the overwhelming feel of how ‘cool’ the authors were for attending Ivy League institutions. Even the authors attempts to forgo this problem only serve to reinforce it – the modest origins of two of the roommates and the token black guy for the third – the fourth is your stereotypical Wall Street banker’s son. Beyond the sickening feeling of how awesome college at Princeton is, the authors make darn sure that the reader is aware of their historical brilliance and literary prowess. Several times I found myself exclaiming ‘Oh God’ as I listened and I even decided I’d rather endure the interspersed static of 80s and 90s pop music or NPR stories I’d already heard than listen to one more minute of the book.

The story itself was cliché, utterly predictable, and populated with characters that I couldn’t find any interest in. Only the isolation of a long drive allowed me to continue. The ending, while definitely not a surprise, does work out well, but it is far from redeeming the rest of the book.

Another aspect of an audiobook is the presentation by the reader, Jeff Woodman. In this case, the reader only seems to reinforce the weaknesses of the book. He insists on making sure each character has a unique voice, and the result is damn near offensive – especially for the token black guy. When not offensive, it is certainly annoying. The main two characters come across as whiney wimps that I really just wanted to hit and the rest are nearly as bad. As mentioned above, the silence of the void (or bad 80s music) was often preferable to listening to this book.

My expectations were low to begin with, and those low expectations served me well since the book was even worse than I had imagined. I can’t recommend The Rule of Four for reading and I certainly can’t recommend the audio version. 2/10

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