Hardcover, 462 pages
Published September 27th 2011 by Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
Source: Personal copy
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.
I am not in the habit of mincing my words so I’m going to come right out and say it. Reading this was a painful experience. Not an impossible feat (like Shatter Me but that’s another story) but very, very painful. But I persevered and completed it just so I can review it with a clean conscience.
I was sold on the book the moment I read the synopsis. I found the title to be particularly witty (All Men of Genius, only it’s a woman’s genius we are going to be seeing, get it?) and I thought that the title reflected the content of the novel. So after lusting after the book for a week, I decided that eating was overrated and bought it. I needed to have it, okay? None of my libraries have it and none of them are considering getting it so…I had no choice. I’m telling you this so my review is framed in a way that will let you understand why I was so colossally disappointed.
I didn’t read this book expecting the worst. In fact, I began this book with a fervent hope that it would be insanely awesome.
Unfortunately, no one was listening to my prayers. The biggest obstacle I faced in my enjoyment to this novel was the writing. None of the characters are ever allowed to develop. The author either thinks readers are too dimwitted or he doesn’t trust our ability to decipher the subtext, what’s happening between the lines. One of the greatest reasons I love reading is because while a good author builds the foundation for his/her story, the details are left for the reader to decode, interpret. You are allowed to draw what conclusions you will because that is what reading is. A personal affair. We are not given the chance to do so in All Men of Genius. The author insists on spelling out how each character feels, what his thoughts (and hence feelings may mean), every single thing. It’s like whatever free voice there may have been in the characters is choked off by the narrator’s (interfering and jarring) voice taking over. There is no subtlety, there is no flow to the narrative. And it pissed me off.
So, the writing was bad enough but couple that with flat, one dimensional characters (who aren’t able to be more because, well, the writing refuses to let them). They are not fleshed out, they are not interested and they read more like representations of stock characters than original characters. Is this because this is a conflation of two different classic novels? I have no idea. I just know that any time an author uses “everyone laughs” or any other generalizing sentence, he/she kills whatever individuality that may have been present in the novel. If you want your characters to sound and act like real people, do not seriously, just don’t, lump them all together when narrating their reactions. Not all people will laugh and even if they do, you don’t need to say it because you risk your narrative sounding campy when you do.
Moving on from the characters, let’s talk about the plot. Which is predictable and lacking twists. So this is a steampunk novel and I realize that you can’t be minutely versed in all aspects of mechanical engineering but if you are going to write about a genius, you should at least pretend in a sincere enough manner that your genius evinces her intelligence persuasively. The fact that she can make such complicated machines in so little time is not just improbable but also ridiculous and takes away from believability of the novel on the whole. And the housekeeper becoming proficient at all things mechanical? Is it really that easy? It felt that the author did not do as much research on his topic as he needed to and usually, I don’t notice such things but when your subject requires a lot of jargon, or at least description of mechanical parts etc, you can’t help but notice the lack of it.
The romance. Oh. My God. I think I mentioned that this book has the year’s worst love interest ever. Violet, is, I believe around fifteen years old. The love interest is no other than the “headmaster” of the school she is attending in disguise. He is also around thirty years old though he behaves like he is a hundred. A bare handful of meetings and Violet is falling in love. And oh dude, it is SO interesting that the narrative voice chimes in that “Violet doesn’t want to be in the company of other students because she doesn’t to feel attraction to them” or something to that effect. Or, on another occasion, how she can control whom she is attracted to because of course, with a college full of handsome men more her age, she is going to fall for the headmaster who is about as appealing as a turnip.
I was also, deeply, uncomfortable with the ease with which the casual killing of animals was related. They feel sorry about it but it’s for science so it’s okay. Um, no, it’s not. It felt vicious, callous and whatever little regard I had for the story, died along with it.
In conclusion, in case you haven’t figured it out by now and I need to spell it out (like the book does), I wouldn’t recommend this novel to you. I really wouldn’t. If you want to read steampunk, read The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott. Vastly superior in all ways that matter.