In this steampunk novel inspired by Twelfth Night and The Importance of Being Earnest, Violet disguises herself as a man (using her twin brother's clothing and advice) in order to attend the prestigious Illyria College, a place where mechanical geniuses create amazing marvels. She is brilliant and talented, and she just knows if she can be accepted as a student, she will have to tools to create such wonderful things, she will prove once and for all that women should have a place there as well.
It is difficult disguising her sex, particularly when she discovers that the Duke of Illyria, the headmaster, is a very attractive man indeed. When his daughter is smitten by Violet, believing her to be a dashing yet sensitive gentleman, the fun begins. The plot thickens, narrated through alternating viewpoints, and involves mysterious creatures and rooms in the vast basement of the college, killer robots, blackmail, diabolical plots, schemes of revenge, and all the other usual college antics.
This was a lot of fun - I enjoyed the characters and the parallels with Twelfth Night. It did stretch my sense of disbelief to the utter breaking point several times - the ease with which characters manage to put together remarkable inventions, for example - even characters with little to no experience - was a bit over the top. I also found that the build-up of tension for the evil Mal Voglio's plan to far outweigh the actual execution of it, which was a bit disappointing. But really, it was a very enjoyable read, and its a great introduction to the steampunk genre for those who are interested in giving it a try. This appears to be Rosen's first published novel, and I will be interested to see the direction he takes from here. He clearly had a whole lot of fun writing this book, and that made it a lot of fun to read.
To hear Lev discuss his book, and how and why he used Twelfth Night as inspiration for the novel, check out this post from The Mad Hatter's blog.
All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen (Tom Doherty Associates, 2011)
Also reviewed at:
Fantasy Book Critic: " 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."
In Which Our Hero: "All Men of Genius is far from essential reading, but if you've always thought that what Twelfth Night really needed was some killer robots, this will make you very happy indeed."
Sci-Fi Fan Letter: "As a steampunk novel there's a lot of experimentation going on, but very little scientific explanation, so those who want a more hard SF feel should look elsewhere, while those wishing for a book to ease someone into genre should think of this as the perfect gift."