Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess by Phil & Kaja Foglio
GIRL GENIUS is one of my favorite webcomics. I love both the art and the story. It’s about Agatha Heterodyne, the orphaned genius daughter of two famous “Sparks” who disappeared years ago. After they left, the peace and stability of Europa disintegrated after numerous mad Sparks built and let loose various mechanical constructs that tend to terrorize all the normal people. Many of these Sparks have been vying for power since the Heterodyne Boys (one is Agatha’s father and the other is her uncle) disappeared. Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, a powerful Spark who was once a friend to the legendary Heterodyne Boys, now rules most of Europa, though he’s had to resort to some rather Barbaric methods to get it under control. For years he has been collecting and keeping the children of other famous Sparks and some nobility. These kids live in luxury aboard his airship city (Castle Wulfenbach), but really they are hostages who assure the good behavior of their parents. At the beginning of the story, Agatha doesn’t know she’s a Spark, much less that she’s the daughter of two famous ones.
When I first heard that this Hugo-winning (2009, 2010, 2011) comic was being novelized, without art, I wondered why. What’s the point? The art is such an integral feature. I talked about this four years ago in my review of the first novel, Agatha H. and the Airship City and I stick by everything I said in that review. If you read the novels without viewing the art, you are missing the best part of GIRL GENIUS. However, the novels, which have also been produced in audio format, are quite entertaining by themselves, thanks to the fun plot and pervasive dry humor. I’ll continue to review them as long as the audio publisher (Brilliance Audio) keeps sending me review copies, but I’ll also continue to follow the art online (free) at Girl Genius.
Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess begins immediately where Agatha H. and the Airship City left off, at the strip that begins Volume 4 (originally posted online on October 4, 2004 (Please click that link! Now tell me, why would you not want to LOOK at this?) and finishes at the end of Volume seven (this strip of February 23, 2007). You’ll need to be familiar with the story so far to enjoy Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess. You can do that with the free strip online, or by reading the print comic, the novel, or the audiobook.
Agatha and Krosp (the talking mechanical cat) have escaped from Castle Wulfenbach (the floating airship city) and have crash-landed in the wastelands, a harsh terrain where dangerous constructs run free. Soon they meet a traveling circus and join up because the circus plans to eventually arrive in Mechanicsburg, the home of Castle Heterodyne. Agatha needs to get there, but she knows that the Baron will be looking for her because, as a Heterodyne, she threatens his control of Europa and plans for expansion. The circus is a great place to hide… and it turns out to be not your average circus. Meanwhile Baron Wolfenbach sends his son Gil (who might be in love with Agatha) to find her. He’s accompanied by Bangladesh Dupree, the extremely scary pirate woman who loves to torture and kill people.
Once I decided to get over the issue of wondering why this story had been novelized and just decided to try to enjoy it as a novel, I actually really did enjoy it. The story is exciting and well-paced. There’s plenty of action, mad science, and romance. I love the Foglios’ sense of humor. Because I’m familiar with the comic, it sometimes does feel like we’re going from frame to frame in the comic strip (which we are), and I can feel those scene breaks which at times don’t feel natural for a novel, but the Foglios have done a good job of smoothing these transitions as much as possible and actually adding in some extra history, backstories, and other information that’s not in the comic. Sometimes this information is related by funny footnotes:
See our previous textbook, which, due to unfortunate market forces is entitled Agatha H. and the Airship City. We had suggested The Life of Agatha Heterodyne; Part One — Leaving the University. An Examination of the Causes and Tribulations Leading to the Restoration of the House of Heterodyne, A Reexamination of the Storm King Mythos and Some Clues as to the Underlying Troubles Within the Political Structure of the Wulfenbach Empire. We will concede that this was a bit dry. However we were able to prevent it from being titled Agatha’s Electrifying Orbs of Scientific Seduction! So we must take our victories where we can.
It is true that most madboy devices are built for purely utilitarian purposes: I want to go faster; How can one person stack all of these starfish; I will gain the respect of my peers if I can turn this entire town into ham, and so on. But there are some things that burst forth from their creator’s brain simply because they want to make the world more aesthetically pleasing. So what if it doesn’t help one conquer the world? It looks awesome. It’s Art.
From the description, it seems likely that the Princess Anevka was wearing something from Monsieur Oliphant of Paris’ “Beautiful Abominations of Science” line. A perennial favorite amongst Sparky fashionistas with a taste for vivisection. As the Journal of Paris Fashion said in a favorable review: “Tres mad? Tres chic!”
I chose to quote these footnotes not only because they made me laugh, but because they’ll give you a feel for the madcap plot and sense of humor. I can’t resist any story where a panicky heroine has lines such as “I need your lab.”
The Foglios have won me over with these novelizations, and especially the audio versions which are read by the fabulous Angela Dawe. She does a wonderful job with both the male and female voices, and she understands and properly relates the humor. Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess is 18.5 hours long and produced by Brilliance Audio.
Here’s a heads up: The third volume, Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle is even better than Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess. I could not put it down. My review is coming soon.