Title: Agatha H. and the Airship City: A Girl Genius Novel
Author: Phil and Kaja Foglio
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Release Date: January 2011
Agatha H and the Airship City begins (after a brief prologue) with Agatha Clay, a young student at Transylvania Polygnostic University, being accosted by two ex-soldiers who steal the locket her uncle gave her. At first it may seem insignificant, but the locket turns out to be quite important for reasons that will become clear as the book progresses. Agatha Clay is not just a bumbling student, but much more than that.
The book really drew me into the story right away. Since it is based on a series of webcomics, it is very visual and action packed. After Baron Klaus Wulfenbach takes over her city of Beetleberg, Agatha finds herself on the Baron’s Airship City. The Baron is a Spark, a steampunk version of a wizard who has the almost mystical ability to create clockwork inventions called Clanks. At first, the Baron thinks that Agatha is the assistant to another (alleged) Spark, one of the men who stole her locket, Moloch Von Zinzer. The two of them form a plan to escape, but events beyond their control lead to other complications. Along the way, she meets the offspring of various other Sparks that the Baron has basically kidnapped, the Baron’s own son, Gilgamesh, as well as a talking cat that turns out to hold the key to her escape. It’s really only towards the end of the book, however, that the real conflict begins and, although some of the events that are revealed are predictable, there are plenty of surprises along the way.
The Foglios have created a rich, interesting world. It’s definitely steampunk, but it’s steampunk set in a fantasy setting instead of the typical alternate past setting. I liked this different approach and it allowed for some cool takes on the genre. I’ve already mentioned the Spark, which is a bit like magic, but without incantations. Instead, the Sparks are able to create virtually anything they set their minds on, although often with disastrous results. There are even fantastical creatures in the form of the aforementioned Clanks, Constructs (a sort of Frankenstein’s monster into which Sparks can transfer their consciousness), Jägerkin (the comical but surprisingly efficient body guards somewhat reminiscent of Gamorrean Guards), and Lackya (super-engineered squirrels). Characters aren’t as black and white in this book as in typical fantasy novels. For example, the swashbuckling hero, Othar Tryggvassen, who has been captured by the villainous Baron, is more interested in saving himself than in helping others. The Baron’s own son tries to befriend (and actually marry) Agatha, but he’s more like his father than he first appears. This gives the text a depth that drew me in even further and contributed to my desire to read more.
This is not to say that I have no criticisms of the book, however. Fortunately, they are minor quibbles. The first has to do with the major conflict. As I mentioned, it’s not really until towards the end of the book that we really get a sense of what it is. I realize that some of the reason for that is because Agatha herself doesn’t really realize the full extent of the conflict, but since the point of view is third person omniscient, it seems to me that the reader should have known it sooner. I did, in fact, find myself wondering this very thing a couple of times throughout. Fortunately, there is enough action to keep the reader interested. The other quibble is something I only mention because I am an English teacher. I realize that what I was reading was an advance uncorrected proof, but the grammar and usage errors threw me at times. Of course I’m sure these will be fixed in the final product, but I felt compelled to mention them as someone who cares perhaps a bit too much about grammar (which, I suppose, says more about me than about the book).
I really did enjoy this book. It has just the right amount of action, romance, and even silliness that I would expect from a book based on a series of webcomics. I deliberately didn’t read any of the comic beforehand because I didn’t want any spoilers. Having skimmed through the first three volumes of the online version, however, I think I still would have enjoyed the book just as much. It’s a bit like seeing the movie then reading the book: sure, you know the story, but now you get more insight into the characters. Armed with this insight, I’ve already started continuing the webcomic where the book left off. So far it’s working quite well, and I’m enjoying the comic as much as I did the book.
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars