Agatha H and The Clockwork Princess | Phil and Kaja Foglio

Agatha H and the Clockwork Princess by Phil and Kaja Foglio is the 2nd novelisation of award-winning webcomic Girl Genius.

Intrigue! Subterfuge! Circus Folk! In a time when the Industrial Revolution has escalated into all-out warfare, mad science rules the world… with mixed success. With the help of Krosp, Emperor of All Cats, Agatha has escaped from the massive airship known as Castle Wulfenbach. After crashing their escape dirigible, Agatha and Krosp fall in with Master Payne’s Circus of Adventure, a traveling troupe of performers dedicated to staging Heterodyne shows – dramatizations of the exploits of Bill and Barry Heterodyne and their allies – who are unaware of Agatha’s connection to the Heterodyne line. Pursued by the ruthless Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, his handsome son Gil, and their minions (not to mention Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer), Agatha hides in plain sight among the circus folk, servicing their clanks and proving herself adept in performing the role of Lucrezia Mongfish, nemesis to – and later wife of – Barry Heterodyne. She also begins training under Zeetha, swordmistress and princess of the lost city of Skifander. Together, Agatha, Krosp, and the performers travel across the treacherous wasteland of war-torn Europa, towards Mechanicsburg, and the ancestral home of the Heterodynes – Castle Heterodyne.But with many perils standing in her way – including Wulfenbach’s crack troops, mysterious Geisterdamen, savage Jagermonsters, and the fabled Storm King – it’s going to take more than a spark of Mad Science for Agatha to get through.

I’m a big fan of the Girl Genius comic, so when I saw this in my local Oxfam, I had to pick it up.Novelisations are weird beasts. Because they add more internal thoughts and more background action to a work, they can change it in subtle ways. This is certainly the truth with Agatha H. The comic is a riotous fun thing with a great deal of colour and life. It has dark moments, but they are always lightened by the art.

Girl Genius is a lot creepier and darker in novel form. The monsters are more frightening, the situations more deadly. When we know peoples internal thoughsts and desires, you become more sympathetic to some characters and less sympathetic to others.

Its… I almost prefer it to the comic, to be honest.

The writing is generally OK – the Foglio’s take the chance to fill in some detail, background and description that they don’t have the chance to in the comic – but it suffers from far too many cliched descriptions and expressions. Sometimes it can be clunky, or generally conjour up weird images. It’s perfectly good most of the time, though.

Because I already knew the plot of this from the comic there were no surprises, though I have to say (love it as I do) that a novelisation reveals plot-holes that were easily covered up by the webcomic. More detail is good, but often it can do this – point out places where coincidence and deus ex machina have been used to get the writer out of a tight spot. Interestingly, it can also make the emotional impact of certain things deeper and more lasting.

It’s a damn good adventure tale. One of my lasting regrets is that the straight-forward, swashbuckling adventure story is not as popular as it used to be, having been swallowed up by novels that are just grim and ultra grim piled on top of some rape and murder. Sometimes it’s nice to read something where people just have an adventure, and while there is darkness and horror, it’s mostly just fun.

And that’s what this is. It’s not great literature, but it’s fun and decently-written and you can read it over and over again. But does it have appeal to people who don’t know about the Webcomic? I think so. It doesn;t rely on you knowing the webcomic at all, and I think readers of adventure fantasy and steampunk would easily enjoy it without even knowing about Girl Genius.

You should give it a shot. At the very least, it’ll make travelling go faster.

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