Thursday, July 12, 2012

Book Review: All Men of Genius, by Lev AC Rosen


All Men of Genius is a charming foray into a burgeoning genre that might be called "whimsical adult fiction." (See also Gail Carriger, Lev Grossman, etc.) Drawing on both Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde for tone and characterization, Lev AC Rosen’s debut novel is a sparkling Victorian steampunk concoction of romance, intrigue, cross-dressing, mistaken identity and lots and lots of moving parts – some of them quite dangerous.

When Violet Adams, a talented and visionary young scientist, applies to the exclusive college of Ilyria, she is quite confident of her acceptance. The problem is that Ilyria is an all-male institution, and she has applied under the name of her twin brother Ashton. Can Violet maintain the gender-bending ruse for as long as it takes to prove she (or any woman) is as skillful as any man working in her field? Need I say that complications ensue? If you've ever read Twelfth Night or The Importance of Being Earnest, you’ll have a sense of where this is going . . . except you’ll have to add a lot of gears, steam, and creepy subterranean vaults into the equation. (And if you've read neither, it's okay. You'll still enjoy this clever book, and it might inspire you to do so!)

Peopled with lively characters, full of witty banter and romantic mistaken identity, All Men of Genius still has enough dark moments to make it a thrilling steampunk adventure. Don't mistake this book for young adult literature, as despite the book’s comedic tone, some very adult situations are presented without ambiguity: sexual situations (and misunderstandings) abound; booze flows; there is some rather impressively foul language (although it’s mostly from a rabbit); and a great deal of evil-robot perpetrated violence. For sure, this one’s a delight for the all grown-up kids out there, and I’m looking forward to more from Rosen and hope he continues to impress with his unique take on the classics – both literary and sci-fi.

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