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A Reader of Fictions: Review: All Men of Genius

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Review: All Men of Genius

All Men of Genius

Author: Lev A.C. Rosen
Pages: 464
Publisher: Tor Books
Source: Publisher for review

Description from Goodreads:
Inspired by two of the most beloved works by literary masters, "All Men of Genius "takes place in an alternate Steampunk Victorian London, where 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, and the way Violet's pulse quickens whenever the young duke, Ernest (who has a secret past of his own), speaks to her. She soon realizes that it's not just keeping her secret until the end of the year faire she has to worry about: it's surviving that long.

First Sentence: "The two men sat silently in the carriage."

How did this book not end up on my radar until now? Seriously, how did I miss this? A book inspired by two of my favorite works of literature, Twelfth Night, my very favorite Shakespeare play, and The Importance of Being Earnest? On top of that, add some steampunky goodness, and you have a book that was obviously just made for me.

Now, when I say inspired by those plays, I don't mean that All Men of Genius is a retelling. It's not. For the most part, Rosen uses those two plays for character names, some assistance with characterization, and the basic shenanigans of a crossdressing plot. There's a stronger correlation to Twelfth Night, obviously, but Rosen has very much created his own story and characters. If you are as much of a fan of these two works as I happen to be, you will probably giggle with delight at the way he weaves quotes and references to them together in brilliant ways. If you haven't read them, I see no reason why All Men of Genius cannot be greatly appreciated on its own merits; there should be no confusion for not having read his inspiration materials, though I do greatly recommend that you do so for your own well-being.

Rosen has created a rather large cast of characters, and done so quite deftly. In some novels, an author attempts to trace a number of story lines and characters, with the end result that all of the characters feel rather flat. Rosen, on the other hand, has created a loveable group of genius misfits, giving depth even to those with smaller parts, like Mrs. Wilks, Violet and Ashton's housekeeper. I really appreciate authors that take the time to care even about more minor characters. There are a few instances where he would have been better off leaving some of the detail out, as with a few of the professors, since we track them for such a brief time and don't accomplish much of anything, but, for the most part, I approve wholeheartedly of how he constructed this.

A handful of the characters are directly comparable to their counterparts in either Twelfth Night or The Importance of Being Earnest, while others come largely from Rosen's own brain or have been tweaked ever so delightfully. Cecily Worthington, for example, has the same sweet, naive spirit of the character of the same name in Wilde's play, as evidenced in her poor choice in a crush and her toy rabbit Shakespeare, which she still takes everywhere with her at sixteen. In All Men of Genius, she also happens to be a genius, rather than a bit of a ditz. Others who hearken strongly to their inspirations are Toby Belch, Miriam (Maria of Twelfth Night), and Malcolm Volio, although in most every case, perhaps with the exception of Volio, they have additional complexities.

As with Cecily, Violet has much more intelligence than Viola, her counterpart in Twelfth Night. While she goes through the same ordeals, she has a much more powerful idea of what women are capable of, while also figuring out that she does want to be a woman, rather than wishing to have been born a man. Her transition throughout the novel had a lot of power to it, allowing her to truly feel that women really are just as powerful as men. Rosen did a good job navigating the dangerous waters of the gender divide. In some cases, as with Ernest Worthington and Jack Feste, Rosen has borrowed the name, but largely built the character from scratch. Whether the characters really served as references or not, I found that I greatly delighted in nearly every single one of them.

Obviously, All Men of Genius is rather lengthy. Much as I enjoyed it, plowing through it did take some time. There's quite a lot of discussion of the various sciences, but kept at a reasonable level that even I, who have always been atrocious at science, could understand. For those who delight in steampunk, Rosen has created a swath of wonderful inventions. Personally, I would love to get my hands on Toby's hangover cure.

My favorite aspects of the novel have to be some of the clever references that Rosen threw into the book. For example, in All Men of Genius, a big change from Twelfth Night is that Violet's brother is gay, whereas in Shakespeare's play he gets to hook up with the woman who falls for his sister disguised as a man. In Rosen's novel, Ashton falls instead for Antony, which every reader of Twelfth Night can probably admit would have been the ending were Shakespeare honest. Rosen also does something quite clever and hilarious with Bunburry. Seriously, if you love those plays, you MUST read this.

As I conclude my review, I've just checked Goodreads to see if Rosen had any more books for me, and found that he doesn't have any other books out yet. He should get on that, because I want more. Witty literary references, well-drawn characters, and good writing to boot? This is my kind of author.

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Quote: "'Ah, but those genius women, they are the most difficult of all womankind.'"

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Blogger kara-karina@Nocturnal Book Reviews said...

I am definitely buying this book, Christina! Sounds like something I'd really love :) Thank you for a great review!

November 25, 2012 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger Nori said...

This sounds awesome! I love anything to do with Twelfth Night! Seriously, what a fun idea!

November 25, 2012 at 7:01 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Steampunk and Shakespeare?! Yes please! Although, sounds like I should read up on Twelfth Night and The Importance of Being Earnest in order to fully enjoy how integrated those two plays are.

All Men of Genius has definitely been put on my radar - thanks Christina!

November 25, 2012 at 7:20 PM  
Blogger Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer said...

Now I am so glad I saw your vlog because honestly the cover looks like a Middle school book and I would simply have skipped the review. This sounds awesome..I love Steampunk, Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is brilliant. So excited to add this to my list.

November 26, 2012 at 2:27 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yay! I think you will. This is excellent steampunk!

November 26, 2012 at 4:33 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

So awesome. Twelfth Night is THE BEST.

November 26, 2012 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yes, I could not believe I'd only just heard of this, because, seriously, the concept makes me want to spin around and sing Maria Von Trapp style. Rereading would probably be a good call to get the inside jokes, but it should be fun either way.

Yay! Thanks for stopping by!

November 26, 2012 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

The cover could be so much better, but the subject matter was delightful!

November 26, 2012 at 4:36 PM  

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