Titan Books, p/b, Â£7.99/Kindle, Â£6.07, 258pp
Reviewed by David Brzeski
The first thing I noticed, when I picked up this second book in the Girl Genius series, was that it was the same price as the first. When you consider it’s not too far off double the size of the first one, that’s a pretty good deal! The other thing I noticed was that I actually liked the cover better than I liked the cover of the first volume. Whether this is because it’s better, or simply because at this stage I’m less disappointed that they didn’t go with Phil Foglio’s own art, I’m not sure.
It picks up where ‘Agatha H and the Airship City’ leaves off, following Agatha as she escapes from Baron Wulfenbach. As with the first, it’s a perfect melding of fantasy, steampunk, comedy and adventure. While sharing many tropes with steampunk, co-author Kaja Foglio prefers to describe it as â€œgaslamp fantasyâ€. Apparently, she accidentally made up that term, while misremembering a description of the work of Jules Verne and H. Rider Haggardâ€”which seems strangely fitting in the way it mirrors the methods of the less accomplished (or slightly madder) â€œsparksâ€ in this world. If you imagine a high fantasy novel, where the wizards, witches and magic have been replaced by mad scientists and their dangerous creations, you’ll get the idea.
The travelling carnival that is more than it seems is a classic concept in fantasy literature, and the authors make great use of it in this book. Agatha falls in with Master Payne’s Circus of Adventure, a travelling troupe of performers dedicated to staging Heterodyne showsâ€”dramatizations of the exploits of Bill and Barry Heterodyne and their allies. They, of course, have no idea that they’re travelling with a Heterodyne heir.
To be frank, the plot gets downright complicatedâ€”but it’s okay, the authors know where they’re going, so you can just relax and enjoy the ride. And a rollicking good ride it is, as we meet more strange beasties, characters who I’m not actually sure even know for certain whose side they’re really on and more mad science than a whole city of Frankensteins could cope with. Despite the 590 page length, the pace never slackens.
It all leads up to a climactic battle, which is as confused as it is spectacular, and leaves Agatha as she embarks on the next stage of her adventures. One sincerely hopes there will be a book 3, but if not, we needn’t worryâ€”we can always read the online comic strip, which has already progressed far beyond this point.