November 15, 2011

BOOKS: All Men of Genius, Lev AC Rosen (2011)

Lev AC Rosen's All Men of Genius is an odd mashup of Twelfth Night and The Importance of Being Earnest set in a steampunk Victorian London.

Violet Adams wishes to study science at Illyria College, but Duke Ernest only accepts male students, so she disguises herself as her twin brother Ashton in order to gain admission. Once she's there, she finds herself falling in love with the Duke, while simultaneously fending off the attentions of his ward, Cecily; the Duke also finds himself mysteriously drawn to "Ashton," which confuses him mightily, as he has never had any tendencies to inversion before.

(Yes, "inversion," that charmingly antiquated term for homosexuality. I suspect that the characters' generally tolerant attitudes towards inversion are somewhat out of keeping for the era, but then, they are scientists and therefore relatively well educated.)

The plot derives principally from Shakespeare, with the Wilde influence limited mostly to tossing in the character names here and there; Duke Ernest's late father, for instance, was Duke Algernon, and Illyria's faculty includes Professors Prism, Bunburry, and Bracknell. And with a plot as solid and time-tested as that of Twelfth Night, it's hard to go too wrong; the most boring parts of the story are those things added by Rosen, like the army of evil robots hidden in Illyria's labyrinthian basement.

It's also hard, however, to do anything too surprising when you're mostly playing out Shakespeare's story beat for beat; you know that "Ashton's" nemesis, Malcolm Volio, is in for a world of romantic humiliation, and that Violet and Duke Ernest will find happiness in the end.

But Rosen's version of the story is not without charm; his prose is not distinctive or memorable, perhaps, but neither is it ever particularly ungraceful. 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.


Topiary for a Free World! said...

This was a strange book, I kept thinking I would drop it but did continue gamely on to the end.

Unlike Twelfth Night, the romance here was flat, and I kind of got dismayed at the emphasis on the gay characters.

I guess if I had read the blurb I would have know it was a mash-up, as it was I was a bit through it when I realized it was Twelfth Night, one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.

I felt the book didn't know what it wanted to be: a girl's coming of age, a romance with the Duke, a gay romance/coming out, a mechanical horror book (the things in the basement) or a lighthearted comedy.

In the end I didn't feel it succeeded at anything very well, and probably won't read anything by the author again.

Keith said...

Welcome! Always happy to have new readers and commenters.

I'm a bit perplexed by your comment about the "emphasis" on gay characters; it seemed to me that they were a minor background element of the book.