Agatha H. and the Siege of Mechanicsburg: A Girl Genius Novel, by Phil & Kaja Foglio. Reviewed by Gregory G.H. Rihn
Ok, full disclosure, here. I’m a huge fan of Girl Genius, and I have been ever since it started out as a paper comic book. I’ve bought all the bound volumes, and backed all the Kickstarters. That said, I’m here to convince you that reading the novel adaptations is not just a symptom of fanboy completionism. The books expand upon what is happening in the comic strip. Since these are allegedly history texts prepared by the Foglios in their capacity of faculty at Transylvania Polygnostic University, they are copiously and amusingly footnoted, which gives the reader background information not only on new characters present, such as the prisoners in the Castle, but also historical and literary figures referenced, events, and economics. The descriptions of action and dialog include the character’s internal scripts, which often give the reader greater insights, such as that, of the Castle prisoners, Saana Wilhelm and Fraulein Snaug are more dangerous than we thought, and that Sparks such as Professor Mezzasalma and Doctor Mittelmind are more likeable than they appear. Even scene descriptions include telling detail, such as the observation that, before the attack on the Castle, Lucrezia had redecorated the master bedroom with portraits of herself.
The book picks up the comic strip action at Volume 10, page 72, with the tense negotiations between Lucrezia, currently in control of Agatha’s body, and Zola, whom it turns out is Agatha’s cousin, Lucrezia’s niece, and playing her own game. We follow the primary characters, Agatha, Gil, and Tarvek, supported by Zeetha, Higgs, Violetta, and Von Zinzer, as they complete repairs to the Castle and use its powers to fight off Baron Wulfenbach’s attempt to subjugate the city of Mechanicsburg and recapture Agatha. The text continues through strip Volume 13, page 48, with Agatha about to enter the Red Cathedral as part of her ritual recognition as The Heterodyne.
The books are not “novels” in the classical sense of having a self-contained plot arc with a beginning middle and end, since they of necessity follow the picaresque internal structure of the comic strip, which has an overarching plotline as lengthy and detailed as George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” (and nearly as many factions and named characters–). They do, however, provide satisfying hunks of the ongoing narrative. You might think of it as the comment channel on a favorite DVD.
Recommended for fans of the series. The “Siege of Mechanicsburg” is not a recommended jumping-on place for new readers. For that, I would recommend the first book, Agatha H and the Airship City.