Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle: The best GIRL GENIUS novel so far

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsAgatha H. and the Voice of the Castle by Phil & Kaja FoglioAgatha H. and the Voice of the Castle by Phil & Kaja Foglio

“Agatha stood in his path, her deathray purring ominously.”

I have been reluctantly won over by Phil & Kaja Foglio’s novelizations of their Hugo Award winning (2009, 2010, 2011) GIRL GENIUS comic which I’ve been reading for years. As I’ve explained in my reviews of the previous novels, I thought GIRL GENIUS was perfect as it was and, since the art is such a huge factor in its greatness, I didn’t see a need for a non-graphic form. But Brilliance Audio, the publisher of the audiobook version of the novels, sent me review copies, so I gave them a try and I have to admit that at this point I am completely hooked. So much so that I’m upset that I can find no mention yet of a forthcoming fourth novel. Oh well. At least I can still follow the story with the comics.

You need to be caught up with the story before beginning Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle, the third volume. You can do that by reading the strip online, in one of its print forms, or by listening to the audiobooks. If you are only reading or listening to the novels, I urge you, with the fullest force of my influence, to view at least some of the comic strips so you can get a better feel for the tone of the story and admire the wonderful art. You can find these free at the GIRL GENIUS website.

Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle begins where Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess left off, at the beginning of Volume Seven of the comic (first strip originally published on February 27, 2007), when Agatha is finally entering Mechanicsburg, which is somewhere in Romania and is the home of Castle Heterodyne. She plans to stake her claim to her family’s inheritance. She is not sure how she’ll be received. Some people love her family and some people hate it, depending on whether they view the Heterodyne Boys as heroes or villains. She also doesn’t know how to approach the Castle. It’s sentient and malicious. In fact, it’s currently being used by Baron Wulfenbach as a prison. The mind of the Castle is thought to be broken and quite warped. Agatha will need to fix it, if she can. Another problem she has — and this is a big one — is that another girl has shown up in a pink airship, claiming that she is the Heterodyne heir. When this imposter enters the Castle, Agatha must follow her in and neutralize her.

Meanwhile, Gil Wulfenbach, the Baron’s son, is in Mechanicsburg at the hospital with his father, who Agatha nearly killed in the last book. Gil has just learned that Agatha is still alive (he thought she was dead) and he’s elated. He’d like to help Agatha with the Castle, but he has to protect his father from the many assassins who are eager to take out the Baron while he’s weak. When Gil is finally able to get involved, he discovers that the Heterodyne imposter is an old girlfriend of his. This causes much hilarity.

Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle was an absolute blast from beginning to end. I could not put it down. It moved fast, the plot was exciting and funny, the dialogue was witty, the characters were colorful, and the imagery was vivid (and I occasionally peeked at the comic online). There was plenty of mad science, cackling monologuing villains, minions, and even a love rectangle. I especially loved the crazy Castle.

There is still sometimes the sense that we’re moving from frame to frame and I can occasionally feel the transitions between strips (it’s a daily comic strip, and though it’s a continuous story, the day’s strip often ends at a natural stopping place). But the Foglios have smoothed out most of these transitions by having the narrator give some details that are not in the comic, such as characters’ internal thoughts and motivations, and some extra history and backstory on the world and its inhabitants. So, in this volume, fans will learn more about some of the major characters such as Gil, Tarvek, Baron Wulfenbach, Von Pinn, Lucrezia, Theopholous, and the Heterodyne Boys. Moloch and Othar show up again, too. And (I love this!) a mad psychologist!:

Agatha nodded. “I see. You don’t meet many mad social scientists.”

Mittlemind snorted. “Of course not! All the funding goes toward building those flashy clanks and deathrays! It’s so unfair! I told the Baron ‘Give me a thousand orphans, a hedge maze, and enough cheese, and I can give you the Empire of the Polar Lords within three years, but noooo!”

Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle was the best novel so far, and it would make a great animated film. (Listen to me now. After saying that we didn’t need novels because the comic was so good, here I am planning new media formats!) This installment ends in the middle of Volume 10 of the comic (this strip from June 25, 2010).

Angela Dawe continues to narrate the audio version of the GIRL GENIUS novels. She’s been superb. Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle is 17.3 hours long. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I highly recommend these audiobook novelizations of my favorite comic. But, again, I insist that you take a look at the art, too. You have not properly experienced GIRL GENIUS until you’ve seen Agatha doing labwork in her underwear.

Published in 2012. 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 Jägermonsters, and the fabled Storm King ― it’s going to take more than a spark of Mad Science for Agatha to get through… From Phil and Kaja Foglio, creators of the multiple WCCA and Hugo Award-winning webcomic Girl Genius, comes Agatha H and the Clockwork Princess, a gaslamp fantasy filled to bursting with Adventure! Romance! And Mad Science!

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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