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Steampunk Review: ‘Agatha H and the Airship City’ by Phil and Kaja Foglio

How seriously do you take a book that in no way, shape, or form takes it’s self seriously?  ‘Agatha H and the Airship City’ is a novelization taken almost directly from a web comic, and it shows.  How much enjoyment a reader takes from the book would depend on how capable they are of turning their brain off.  Lucky for me, I can turn my brain off at will, so I enjoyed the hell out of this little steampunk yarn.

This is steampunk with all the trimmings.  Alternative Europe, mechanical everything, airships, even characters in goggles.  It is also very Saturday morning cartoon, with mad scientist a plenty, daring heroes, and non-stop action.  You see history has been turned sidewise by ‘Sparks,’ super-geniuses that snap into their ‘powers’ with little warning.  Often they use their new found super intelligence to build lots of machines and take over the surrounding area, mad scientist style.  Constant battles between sparks are slowed down when one particular talented man named Baron Klaus Wulfenbach consolidates his power and finds way to control other sparks, using their talents to consolidate it further.  The plot moves at such a fast pace that any other background would really be a spoiler, so let’s move on.


First for the good.  By running at a comic book like pace the story moves along very quickly.  The action is exciting, and if you like classic steampunk the world building will work great for you.  While none of the characters are particularly complex, they are fun to follow.  The Baron seems way to nice to be a tyrant, but shows his darker side from time to time.  His son Gilgamesh rebels in the tiniest ways, and has some of the stories best lines (I love his constant attempts to explain that a now dead professor WAS trying to throw a bomb at him).  And of course the story wouldn’t work at all if Agatha wasn’t fairly engaging.  Her genius is kept under wraps early on, and while it drives the plot, she is much more fun when it comes out near the end.  For most the story she is guided by the plot rather than in control, but toward the end that changes quite nicely.

Fans of this sub-genre will also love the various constructs and techs that are shown.  Once I got past the idiotic accent the Jagermonsters are always worth a chuckle.  I wanted to know more about the slaver wasp hives.  And I am a sucker for airships, for reasons I can’t explain.

Of course everything I just considered a plus could be seen as a negative in a different light.  There is very little back story, once you know that you’re in alt-Europe and history has been taken over by mad scientist you know it all.  If your consider steampunk trite by this point then you will see nothing new to this story.  And if you’re looking for more than action scene followed by action scene, keep looking.  Lastly, if you can’t stand the cheese factor (such as said Jagermosters talking in horrible German accents, cities called Mechanicsburg, people named Doctor Doomsfrenzy, and a lab called Large Dangerous Mechanical Lab), then run far, far away.

I want to give this book 4 stars, because I enjoyed it a lot.  But I got to be honest with myself, it was a pretty simple story, and having now checked out the “Girl Genius’ web comic, I think it would have been a lot better if I had read the same story with the fun artwork.  In fact, I plan too.

3 stars

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