Agatha H series: A Brief Review
I greatly enjoyed the first three novels of Phil and Kaja Foglio's Girl Genius series (2011, 2012, and 2014). Kaja coined the term "gaslamp fantasy" to describe the genre of this series. It is a combination of alternate history and "mad science" that incorporates elements of steam-punk. The story takes place in a world controlled by mad scientists called Sparks and the various crazy, usually deadly monsters (Constructs) and machines (Clanks) that they build. I loved the settings, characters, and themes. The plots are exciting and distinct. The sense of humor is spot on. I really liked the "editorial" footnotes as exposition in the second and third books. In this review, I'll focus on the characters.
Agatha Clay is a satisfying female character who exhibits both intelligence (common sense and academic engineering) and a strong moral compass, the latter of which repeatedly sets her apart from other Sparks, who are not above human experimentation, creating Frankenstein-like monsters, and designing Clanks to kill people in particularly gruesome ways. She makes friendships easily, and, even though others are constantly trying to manipulate her once they know her true identity, she trusts others easily as well. I found her to be a very believable character, and a likable one.
|My new copy of Agatha H and the Voice of |
the Castle. It is the third of the series.
Love the cover art by Tom Kidd!
Other characters are also well rounded. Gil has a fully-fledged back story complete with past friendships, adventures, betrayals, and a lineage reveal of his own. His relationship with his father is complicated, but not resentful or angry. Very few flat characters exist in the Foglios' world, but the story is never bogged down by the past. The information all works towards the seamless integration of Agatha into their lives.
The Baron was also a satisfying character. Although arguably the antagonist of these books (The Other is certainly worse, but she doesn't present a continuous threat yet.), he is a reasonable ruler. His empire was built by soundly beating any Spark who attacked him and then absorbing his lands. He gives these Sparks useful tasks and protects ordinary citizens from the dangerous inventions they produce. There are many people who call him a tyrant and avoid him (for good reason), but the expansion of his empire is always in reaction to an attack, and his rule has provided stability. Granted there is still human experimentation done by the Baron himself, but that seems to be a side effect of being a Spark. Even Agatha does some on willing subjects.
I would definitely recommend this series for anyone interested in steam-punk or fantasy. The Foglios wrote graphic novels starring the girl genius first, so check those out, too, if that medium interests you!