"A hangbag?" she said.
"Heigh-ho, the wind & the rain,"
answered Robin Feste.
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, done up in a steampunk academy; a high concept pitch that happily lives up to the promise of the core conceit. Twelfth Night is my favorite of Bill's comedies, including the Amanda Bynes adaptation teensploitation vehicle She's the Man. When I had first moved to Metropolis I saw a "Gorilla Theater" production of Twelfth Night in Fort Tryon Park-- which is one of my favorite places-- where the audience sat in a square on the grass & instead of a stage the group just ran from side to side for scene changes, with each side representing one of the sets. Charming as hell, & other than the sudden marriages at the end with everything reverting back to the status quo, a pretty fun piece of gender bending. I picked this volume up for the title-- "good old Napoleon!"-- & the cover art-- "hey, this is a pretty convincing girl dressed as a boy piece of artwork!"-- but reading the back of it & seeing Twelfth Night is what sold me. That, & the amazing author photo. & I guess this is where I must confess-- I've neither read nor seen The Importance of Being Earnest, the other pole star by which this novel sails. Not being an English major, I really missed out on the canon. I know it means that a large chunk of the novel's cleverness is going over my head, but it was still really clever, so I figure if you've read it it must be even more so. The heart of the plot is fairly typical of this sort of thing-- Violet must cross-dress as her twin brother in order to gain admittance to Illyria College, the school for geniuses-- but it is definitely otherwise in execution. Rosen has a knack for showing the bohemian underbelly of England in romantic glory-- "inverts" & Jews & everything! No really-- much the way that Cherie Priest portrays characters who are outside the white heteronormative male mold, who are effected by their cultural context but not defined by it, Lev A. C. Rosen has his share of "outsiders," people disenfranchised by (pseudo)-Victorian society who are characters & not caricatures. Something as simple as a little diversity really brings a traditionally white-washed genre to life. & as I mentioned, the book is very, very clever. Perhaps the most appealing facet of the book is that the characters are plagued by self-examination. That is-- the Duke of Illyria is attracted to Violet-as-Ashton, the gender-obscured protagonist. It leads to the Duke questioning his heterosexuality, his attraction to the twins (really Violet & Violet-as-Ashton) & a generally fun interior monologue. Making the genderqueer subtext of Twelfth Night into aspects of the text itself is a simple twist that really achieves something of substance. Asides like the invention of the...uh, "lady's aid against hysteria" are also fun chapters, just spicing up the over all narrative. I expected to like this book but was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.