Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil and Kaja Foglio
Mad, bad and dangerous to know…and in charge. If your country gets taken over by an army of intelligent lobsters, well, that’s pretty much normal for this alternate universe. The story and world are littered with mad inventors, crazy ideas, strange politics, stories of derring-do and general insanity…
Agatha starts the story as a lab assistant who can’t quite get any of her inventions to work. When Dr Beetle gets an unexpected visitor, a dose of double-crossing (possibly involving a fishbowl) mean the visit doesn’t quite go to plan. Agatha opts for getting away from it all – but runs straight into the forces of Baron Wulfenbach, Europa’s least mad inventor and therefore its Force For Sanity, and is imprisoned aboard his airship. In short order, she has to find out where she is, who she is, what she can do, and why she apparently smells quite so good – although apparently not to Wulfenbach’s son, who consistently puts his foot in his mouth, mostly when it comes to Agatha.
I really enjoyed this; it’s a fast-paced and amusing romp, all done with tongue firmly in mechanical cheek and littered with jabs at steampunk, inventors, scientists, history and mad machines. The plot does get quite intricate and it can be hard to follow the politics, but I found that I just sat back and accepted a lot of it, trusting that it would be sorted out later – and it usually was. You definitely can’t take this book seriously, and it’s a tremendous amount of fun.
Agatha H and the Clockwork Princess is the second in the series. Agatha has succeeded in escaping from Baron Wulfenbach’s airship, but has landed herself in the middle of the dangerous, monster-infested Wastelands with only a talking cat and a home-made doomsday machine to assist her. When she stumbles across a travelling circus, they take her in and she learns to fight – and build. But the circus soon arrives at even more trouble; Wulfenbach is not the only mad inventor around, and other people have plans for Agatha – and her voice.
The second book doesn’t let down the pace – very often a sequel starts wandering. This one? Nope! It’s got as many mad inventions, laughs, perilous situation and general mad shenanigans as the first. The political situation develops further, landing Agatha in a whole heap of trouble, but we do meet some more faces. The ending is something of a cliffhanger for the third book…
Agatha H and the Voice of the Castle follows Agatha on her quest to return to the castle in Mechanisburg, hereditary home of the mad genius Heterodyne family. The only issue is that the castle itself is insane and there’s another Heterodyne claimant around, determined to take over the castle and fight Baron Wulfenbach’s rule. In addition to those problems, Agatha’s got to sort out two genius lovesick inventors and keep her mind intact, all while trying to convince the Castle that it’s not fun to kill guests…
As mad, as fun, as interesting – but while the story is as fast-paced, I’m not as sure about the plot. This book is longer, and it feels it: without spoilering, I feel an entire arc towards the end could have been chopped out without any problems – and I’m currently not entirely sure about where it ended. The first and second books ended on natural arc end points, whereas this book has ended very much on a nailbiting cliffhanger of “they’re actually in mid-peril”…and now I have to wait? *scowl* So while I do have grabby hands for the next one, I’m also a little miffed. However, the world’s as insane, the machine are as monstrous, and the jokes are still firmly present; the book’s a thoroughly enjoyable piece of madness.
I am definitely enjoying the series, and if you like steampunk, mad scientists, general chaos and a fun romp through absolute chaos, you’ll enjoy these.
On a side note, the books are based on the webcomic Girl Genius by the same authors. I read the books first, and have only got a few pages into the webcomic before deciding that actually, I’d rather have the images in my imagination!