the Little Red Reviewer

“Adventure! Romance! MAD SCIENCE!”

Posted on: March 31, 2011

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.

7 Responses to "“Adventure! Romance! MAD SCIENCE!”"

I read Girl Genius briefly, many years ago, and have eyed this book a couple of times, wondering if I would be able to get into it without going back to read/re-read the graphic novels, something I truly don’t have time to do. It sounds very, very good though, and I have a hard time resisting any book with a Tom Kidd cover.


no re-reading needed, you can jump right in. and I suppose you could read this, then head right to volume 4 of the graphic novel, if you wanted.


This sounds so totally awesome and the sort of craziness I’d really enjoy. I haven’t yet bought it because they’re charging a small fortune down here. I may have to see if I can get a more affordable copy by ordering from O/S.
Have you checked out the new Bone novel by Tom Sniegowski? Very YA in tone, but good fun all the same.


Elfy, I’ve been seeing the Bone books floating around, I should really give one a try, they look fun.

I admit to some sticker shock when I got Agatha H. It was hardback and not cheap. But it was one of those times when I just took a deep breath, closed my eyes, handed over my debit card, and was richly rewarded! (btw, same thing with Valente’s Deathless)

Any option of getting a local library to purchase it for their collection?


I got totally hooked on Girl Genius last year thanks to the Hugo voters’ pack; it had volume 9, so I read that, and then went riiiight back to the start and read the whole thing! And now of course I only get a dose Mon/Wed/Fri and it drives me a bit nuts… I was so excited when they announced they were doing the books. You’re right, it’s quite a different experience; you get different aspects of the world from the different formats.

Also, I too am an utter Jagerkin fangirl 🙂


Ooh, I’ve been wondering about this one! I love the comics, but I’m always a little leery of novelization-type things. I’m glad to hear this one’s a success.


[…] the novelizations of the comics. (read my review of the first novel, Agatha H and the Airship City, here) Not interested in webcomics or graphic novels? You should still pick up their Agatha Heterodyne […]


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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