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Thursday, September 29, 2011

"All Men of Genius" by Lev Rosen (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Lev Rosen Website
Read the First Two Chapters HERE
Order "All Men of Genius" HERE

INTRODUCTION: With the super enticing blurb below, "All Men of Genius" is a novel I have planned to read as soon as I could obtain a copy:

"Inspired by Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, All Men of Genius takes place in a Victorian London familiar but fantastical, where mad science makes the impossible possible.

Violet Adams wants to attend Illyria College, a widely renowned school for the most brilliant up-and-coming scientific minds, founded by the late Duke Illyria, the greatest scientist of the Victorian Age. The school is run by his son, Ernest, who has held to his father's policy that the small, exclusive college remain male-only. Violet sees her opportunity when her father departs for America. She disguises herself as her twin brother, Ashton, and gains entry.

But keeping the secret of her sex won't be easy, not with her friend Jack's constant habit of pulling pranks, and especially not when the duke's young ward, Cecily, starts to develop feelings for Violet's alter ego, "Ashton." Not to mention blackmail, mysterious killer automata, the way Violet's pulse quickens whenever Ernest speaks to her, and a deadly legacy left by Ernest's father. She soon realizes that it's not just keeping her secret until the end of the year she has to worry about: it's surviving that long."

In contrast to the trashy crop of contemporary mashups of UF with classics that both degrade the original works and pander to the lowest common denominator, I am quite excited when an original work that reinterprets classic works in a sff-nal context appears and while last year's Shades of Milk and Honey was a bit lighter than I expected and The Dream of Perpetual Motion did not connect with me, All Men of Genius hit all the right notes and I will explain why next.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: All Men of Genius succeeds because it hits the right balance in both style and content, while it charms you from the first page in accepting the over-the-top happenings that could easily transform the novel into pure farce. If you are familiar with Twelfth Night in any of its various incarnations across the centuries, you will see its clear and acknowledged influence in both naming and relationships, though of course the author adds his own modern touches.

On the other hand the world building is pure madcap steampunk with automatons, crazy inventions that somehow work and all around outrageous inventiveness. As I kept turning the pages, I was wondering what seemingly insane contraption that somehow the magical prose of the author manages to sell to us, will come up next.

And of course the characters have personalities to match - outside of the main ones, Violet, Ernest, Cecily, Ashton and Jack and several of their friends who are more or less what we expect, though they also sport last names like Cheek and Pale - most of the rest are pure mannerism with names to match like Bunburry, Bracknel, Prism and Curio, while the main villain has the sinister sounding name of Volio. And it works so well that you cannot stop but be extremely entertained every moment of this wonderful tale.

The dialog has also its share of one liners that made me crack up laughing, though there is a lot of "serious stuff" especially about the stereotyping of gender roles, but also about poverty, progress and diversity. While on first glance, there is a whiff of "children of privilege" in our characters, the novel quickly throws that on its ear with some extremely well done scenes as for example when Violet "accidentally" happens upon Ashton in bed with their family's handsome coachman Anthony in retaliation for Ashton hiding her acceptance letter to the Institute - letter that of course comes to Ashton as Violet has "to become" her twin to be admitted. And so it goes with the mixing of classes...

It goes without saying that All Men of Genius (A++) flows superbly on the page and you are compelled to turn the pages, while the ending is in the spirit of Shakespeare and offers a complete package though I would enjoy a return to this universe; maybe the hinted possibilities of space travel and an expedition to the Moon?

Highly, highly recommended and an utterly fun and charming book that I am pretty sure I will revisit on occasion in the future.


Bets Davies said...

I can't say I'm a steampunk fan, but I can't deny my love for Shakespeare and Wilde. If I read a book using them that didn't stand up to their work (and it rarely does), I have major sulking issues, but it sounds like this stands the test! I love the fact it is over the top farce because while some people get Wilde is farce, it is hard to convince a lot of people that even Hamlet has farcical elements and Twelfth Night is over the top ridiculous.

I'm so excited!

Liviu said...

I saw live performances of Tweltfh Night 3 or 4 times plus a bunch of screen adaptation and I have never failed to be enchanted and this novel reproduces well the "spirit" of the play.

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