Girl Genius, Omnibus Volume 1: Agatha Awakens by Phil and Kaja Foglio. Book review

GIRL GENIUS, OMNIBUS VOLUME 1: AGATHA AWAKENS by Phil & Kaja Foglio, Tor, h/b, £24.99.

Reviewed by Selina Lock

Agatha Clay is a lab assistant at Transylvania Polygnostic University, but dreams of being a top scientist and is brimming with ideas for new machines. Unfortunately none of her ideas work and her luck takes a turn for the worse when she’s mugged and her mentor is blown-up. Through a series of mishaps she finds herself in Airship City under the rule of the megalomaniac Baron Wulfenbach, and working alongside his son Gilgamesh.

Girl Genius gives us mad scientists, talking cats, dashing gentlemen, budding romances, Jaeger Monsters, heads in jars, robots and a feisty heroine with a hidden past. It’s an interesting take on a steampunk world, as it’s set during the industrial revolution, but one where only inventors with the Spark can make working machines and the Spark tends to send them mad. There is a huge streak of humour running through the book, but underneath lie dark themes and violence giving it more depth.

The artwork tends towards the cartoony, but is wonderfully detailed and bursting with an energy that reflects the characters and the plot. The machine designs and the double-page spread (on page 116) of Airship City will certainly appeal to those who like the steampunk aesthetic.

I was surprised by the bright colour scheme when flicking through the book, but it soon became clear that the colours reflected Agatha’s development through the book. Starting out with a traditionally bronze steampunk palette with flashes of colour when Agatha shows signs of the Spark, it morphs into bright colours when her powers come to the fore. Flashbacks and stories within the main plot use appropriate colour schemes.

My main criticism would be that the Jaeger Monster dialect pulled me out of the story until I got the hang of how they were pronouncing words.

Overall, Girl Genius is a fun, fast paced story, now presented in a lovely hardback omnibus edition, demonstrating why the series has won several Hugo Awards.