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Friday, August 5, 2011

Review: Like Its Protagonist, All Men of Genius Gets An 'A'

The last steam punk novel I read was The Difference Engine, and that was over 10 years ago. I liked it well enough, but the genre didn't catch on with me. I think had I read All Men Of Genius by Lev AC Rosen, though, steam punk would have been more consistent fare in my literary diet. This sideways retelling of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is a fun, witty tale, with characters you wish you could befriend and drink with at a dingy London pub. 

Rosen's devotion to character does not detract from the main tenant of steam punk, the revisualization of a more scientifically advanced Victorian world. His England is wondrously detailed, original, and still maintains an element of mystery. If I have one criticism, it's that I want to know even more about the parts of this world that were not mentioned in the story. The school of science where the lion's share of the action takes place is architecturally well thought out. (I've never been to London, but feel as though the place as described must exist in some form or another.) The comradery and competition within the school is spiritually reminiscent of Harry Potter's Hogwarts, only with the eccentric students pursuing scientific discovery instead of magic spells. Alliances are made early on between the students, with Violet and her friend Jack falling in with a noble crowd suggestive of Gryffindor. 

I don't want to go into much detail about the story itself because this is really a journey best discovered by letting it unfold. The short of it is that the protagonist, a young woman who's been denied the opportunity to study science due to her sex, is actually one of the great scientific minds of her age. Sufficed to say, she doesn't take "no" from the school's admission board very well and concocts a scheme to get her education anyway, at the risk of massive reprisal. Violet is a heroine you can't help but root for. Despite her unorthodox methods of getting into the school, and the doubts and tribulation that come along with her plan, Rosen never loses the beauty of Violet's innocence despite her intellect, and keeps her true to herself. You just want to jump into the pages and help Violet and the gang in their adventure. 

I would love to see this book as a movie or television series. Violet, as a character that uses her mind and promotes the benefits of study and education, would make an excellent and entertaining heroine for girls (and boys) to aspire to be like. Maybe Spielberg or J.J. Abrams will pick up All Men of Genius and be inspired to make it happen.

Edward Lazellari is the winner of Playboy's 1999 Short Fiction Contest and the author of fantasy novels Awakenings and The Lost Prince, from Tor Books.

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