“Adventure! Romance! MAD SCIENCE!”
Posted March 31, 2011on:
Agatha H and the Airship City, by Phil & Kaja Foglio
Published in 2011
Where I got it: purchased new
Why I read it: I adore the Girl Genius Graphic Novels
I don’t remember the last time I smiled so much while reading a book.
I’m nervous to simply call Agatha H and the Airship City a novelization of the first three volumes of Girl Genius (reviewed here), perhaps it’s more of a companion? Yes, the plotting and characters are the same, practically word for word, but the novel gives you much more background on just about everything – the state of the world, the characters, and most importantly exactly what a spark is. Can you enjoy Agatha H and the Airship City if you haven’t read the graphic novels? Absolutely and vice versa. The novel offers all those little details that there simply isn’t room for in a graphic novel, and this is much appreciated as the pace of the early graphic novels is fast and furious. If you enjoy humor, adventure, light romance, you will simply adore this book.
Did I mention it’s hilarious?
Agatha Clay is a frustrated student. Nothing she builds ever works, and when she tries to think through mechanical problems she gets headaches. It’s amazing she hasn’t been fired from her job as lab assistant at Transylvania Polygnostic University. The day of Baron Wulfenbach’s surprise visit to the lab coincides with a strange apparition in the sky and the last regular day of Agatha’s life. In a case of very (very!) mistaken identity, Agatha finds herself a guest/hostage of Castle Wulfenbach, a giant floating dirigible and the mobile center of the Wulfenbach empire.
Ahh, sparks. Those geniuses of science and engineering who can ignore most of the laws of physics! Imagine what they could do, how they could change the world! Unfortunately, in this alternate Europe, most sparks go a little loopy and don’t realize that adding death rays, cappuccino machines and clockwork opera singers to every single thing they invent isn’t the best idea. Also, many of them experiment a little too intimately with reanimating the dead, often starting with themselves. Did I say geniuses of science? I meant mad geniuses of science. For generations, Europe has been ravaged by clanks of all sizes, most of whom only obey their mad (and often dead) masters. The citizens only hope lies in the return of the famous Heterodyne brothers, who disappeared over fifteen years ago. All that remains of those boys is the stories. But what stories they are! Stories of adventure, of machines that saved the world, of going to Mars and back! Stories that every child, even Agatha, was raised with.
The Castle hosts a few dozen guest/hostages, mostly children of noble families, the Baron and his son Gilgamesh, the Baron’s enslaved sparks, Jagermonsters (part of the Baron’s army), a crazed egocentric hero, a vicious and violent pirate queen, a number of experiments gone horribly wrong (see enslaved sparks), a slaver-wasp nest, and one talking cat.
Agatha wants more than anything to escape the Castle and return to her parents. When romance blossoms between Agatha and Gilgamesh, they bond over a love for designing ridiculous contraptions and he offers to help her. But how long will they be able to hid her latent spark talents from the Baron? And what are they going to do about this egomaniac hero who won’t die and insists that Agatha is his sidekick? and do you hear they sound of angry slaver wasps?
I thought I adored the Jagerkin when I read the Girl Genius graphic novels. Humanoid monsters of Germanic-ish descent, the Jagers were created by a Heterodyne ancestor to protect the family and Castle Heterodyne. They talk phonetically (which will take some getting used to if you haven’t read the graphic novels), eat everything, enjoy scaring people half out of their mind, have a great sense of smell, and are fiercely loyal. The Jagermonsters are easily my favorite parts of the book.
There’s so much more going on that I haven’t told you, and that’s on purpose. Behind all the funny and silly and strange machines and clanks and constructs is a dramatic and epic backstory regarding exactly who and what Agatha and Gil really are. It’s lightly touched on in the book, in a delicious and subtle fashion. Also, because I really want you read this book. I want you to laugh your head off at Phil Foglio’s insane sense of humor, and root for the good guys while you’re trying to figure out who the bad guys are. I had such a fun time with this book and I want you to experience that too.