The very basic summary of this novel’s plot is “Steampunk Twelfth Night set at a school for (mad) scientists.” Our Heroine is a young woman named Viola who desperately wants to attend Illyria, which is one of the very best schools for aspiring young scientists. Unfortunately, girls are not allowed to attend Illyria as this is the Victorian Era.
Viola however is not willing to let something like being a girl stop her from going to school. Despite the very real danger of ending up in prison or worse, Viola, her brother Ashton and their childhood friend Jack, conspire to get her into the school disguised as a boy. (She intends to reveal herself at the end of the first year. This is a very dangerous proposition whether she succeeds or fails. She is literally risking everything to pull off this stunt.)
She is able to get into the school, and has various adventures. Most of them have to do with attempting to hide her identity while being courted by Cecily, the Duke of Illyria’s ward. (Who is a scientist in her own right, though she doesn’t officially attend the school.) Then Ernest, the Duke of Illyria begins to develop feelings for Viola. And Viola is conflicted because of having sneaked into the school under false pretenses. And another student is attempting to black mail Cecily’s governess who is not as entirely proper as she first appears.
There is also the remnant of a secret society, various cases of mad science such as monsters in the basement and secret rooms, and a lot of romantic shenanigans. (In addition to the mess between Cecily and Viola and Viola and Ernest there is also an actress and one of the students, Ashton and his relationship with a (male) servant, Jack and his feelings for Cecily, and so on.)
This book’s strongest points are its character interactions and dialog. The characters are whimsical and engaging and the dialog is funny and entertaining. There are also some serious moments as Viola deals with the problems of her situation at the school. (Most of which revolve around trying to pretend to be a boy, though there are some moments where she is equally confused and frustrated about being a girl” who doesn’t really fit her culture’s standards for being one.)
I really enjoyed the book. The mad science was extremely mad and often weird, the romance was fun and entertaining, and I adored the main and supporting characters.