As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. Not just had to add it to my wish list, or lazily browse the preview - had to read it. Luckily, Reichelt felt the same way and had already taken it out on her library card - then generously and wonderfully renewed it twice so I'd have time to finish it! And boy, was it worth it.
Violet Adams is a bright, headstrong inventor, and spends a lot of time tinkering with gears and springs in her laboratory. Her greatest wish is to become a student at Illyria, a college for scientific geniuses, but - alas - she is a woman and it's sort of the Victorian era and women need not apply to Illyria. Seeing as she is no common woman, however, Violet conspires with her brother, Ashton, to apply in his name, and to don a man's disguise for one year and prove that she is worthy of studying science among London's greatest minds, and may do so as a woman afterwards. Their childhood friend, Jack Feste, is in on the scheme and is also an applicant. Obviously Violet and Jack get in and hi-jinks ensue - especially when Duke Earnest, the headmaster of Illyria, finds himself enamored of Violet while his ward, Cecily, falls for the pretend Ashton!
Yes, not only does this book explore Twelfth Night, but also The Importance of Being Earnest! It is a comedy of manners, with polite conversation precluding any hurt feelings, but with a bawdy underside as so many cross-gendered comedies sometimes forget to include.
First, let me say my heart was SO happy with the way relationships were built in this novel. Characters like Cecily fall in love at first sight (she is, after all, only sixteen), but Earnest and Violet's relationship takes its time to blossom. I'll let you find out why that's a play on words later. Everything was handled deftly and sweetly: Jack's infatuation with Cecily; Toby and Miriam's comfortable affair, and Ashton and Antony's discreet to-do's. Each character is presented, their relationships laid out, and nothing ever felt forced.
And there are so many textual in-jokes - but they weren't just plainly lifted (like how Cecily keeps her diary with her for something interesting to read, and insists to Violet that they simply must be the very best of friends), but also show a real knowledge of the plays they were based on. For example, when Malcolm Volio (a really twisted psychopath) receives his forged love-letter from "Cecily,"
"But in retrospect, it wasn't really so surprising. He was, as she said, a genius, and he did have piercing eyes, not to mention a proud masculine brow like his brother and father, a scientist's brow. It all made sense to him now. Her seeming to never know he existed was pure shyness."
Just like the textual Malvolio doesn't see how Olivia could not love him. Similarly, later, he muses that he may have to take Cecily by force, and thrust himself upon her. Oh - this is not simply your maligned Malvolio, though his character is handled in much the same way (abandoned and imprisoned and forgotten), this is a really sick individual with Malvolio-like tendencies - which actually makes me afraid of the Shakespearean characater.
I loved how well-drawn the characters in this book were, overall, and how naturally the action unfolded. I enjoyed reading it so very much, and I cannot give it higher praise than that.
- Hardcover: 464 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (September 27, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765327945
- ISBN-13: 978-0765327949