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Agatha Clay has had a bad day. Waking up late was just the beginning. She got mugged in a dark alley on her way to university and her precious locket was stolen. Things did not get any better when she arrived at the university. When demonstrating her latest mechanical design, it malfunctioned and exploded in front of her instructor. Then, without warning, the faculty had an impromptu inspection by Baron Wulfenbach, the ruthless dictator who controls most of the continent. By the time the day was through, the university had been reduced to a pile of rubble and her beloved mentor killed. And then,of course, she had those blinding headaches to deal with. But if today was bad, tomorrow is set to be even worse...
Girl Genius-Agatha H and the Airship City starts as it means to go on, plunging the reader into the heart of the action. The novelization of a multi award-winning online comic strip with the tagline: Adventure! Romance! Mad Science! Girl Genius is an action packed, zany adventure in a madcap alternative universe of cogs, clockwork and corsets. Set several years after the Industrial Revolution, Europa is controlled by an ambitious dictator, who uses an army of machines, monsters and biological constructs to contol the populace and maintain an uneasy peace. But this is Agatha's story, a story about her journey to discover her noble roots and her ultimate destiny.
Phil and Kaja Foglio have created a rich, immersive world for Agatha and her companions to inhabit. The stories are set in a Steampunk inspired Eastern-European village where Humans, Clanks, Constructs and Jagermonsters roam freely, whilst giant airships loom gracefully overhead.
As the story is a direct adaptation from a comic, the action is non-stop. The pages buzz with escapes, chases, swordfights and epic battles, culminating in a gripping conclusion that makes the book hard to put down. Whilst some of the scenes clearly contain gags that would have worked better visually, the beauty of the textual format is that the reader gains a deeper insight on the personality of the characters and is also able to include background information to flesh out the story in a way that the comic cannot.
The characters were interesting, humorous and well drawn. The Foglios have a way of blurring the lines between good and evil and adding a complexity and depth to the characters which goes beyond simply labelling someone as good or bad. Heroes are deeply flawed and villains have some surprising redeeming qualities. One of my favourite characters was Von Pinn, a psychotic, leather-clad female construct with sharp claws and a red monocle who works as a nanny aboard the airship. I also loved Krosp, a talking cat who walks upright on two legs but refuses to do "the boot thing".
Being the first in a series of books, the ending left things rather up in the air (in more ways than one!) and set things up nicely for a sequel. I must admit that I enjoyed the story so much and was so keen to see what happened next to Agatha that after reading the book, I visited the Girl Genius website to read the comic and pick up the story where the novel left off...
I previously published this review on The Bookbag website and I thank the publishers for my review copy.