Thursday, 31 May 2012

'Girl Genius Volume One: Agatha Awakens' - Phil & Kaja Foglio (Tor)

If you were around a couple of days ago you'll remember that 'The Battle of Blood and Ink' didn't exactly set the world on fire for me. Quite the opposite in fact. If you haven't read the review yet, scroll down a couple of posts and you'll see what I mean.

I love reading comic books & graphic novels and it takes an awful lot to sour the experience for me. The experience was well and truly soured here though and I'll admit to not being too keen on getting back in the saddle straight away.

The 'Girl Genius' book did look intriguing though as did the comment next to my cover art post that the webcomic had won so many Hugos that it had been voluntarily withdrawn to give others a chance. That is really sweet of the authors isn't it? That's also a lot of hype for someone who hasn't read the books to deal with. Is any book so good that it has to be voluntarily withdrawn from the Hugos so the rest of the competition stands a chance...?

You're getting cut and pasted blurb again today as I'm writing this along with a lot of other stuff I need to be doing at the same time (that means the possibility of spoilers, you've been warned)...

The Industrial Revolution has become all-out war! Mad Scientists, gifted with the Spark of genius, unleash insane inventions on an unprepared Europe. For centuries, the Heterodyne family of inventors kept the peace, but the last Heterodyne disappeared twenty years ago, leaving their ally Baron Klaus Wulfenbach to maintain order with his fleet of airships and army of unstoppable, if not very bright, Jaeger Monsters.

At Transylvania Polygnostic University, Agatha Clay dreams of being a scientist herself, but her trouble concentrating dooms her to be a lowly minion at best. When her locket, a family heirloom, is stolen, Agatha shows signs of having the Spark in a spectacular, destructive fashion and captures the attention of the Baron—and the Baron’s handsome young son, Gilgamesh.

I had a whale of a time reading 'Agatha Awakens', that's the bottom line here. I wasn't too sure what to expect here but once I got going I couldn't stop reading (quite literally, this is a book that is all too easy to devour in a single sitting). To be honest, I don't pay a lot of attention at all to the Hugos but it's pretty clear why 'Girl Genius' has scooped a handful of these awards. It's an engaging read that is humorous and full of action in all the right places.

In the aforementioned cover art post, I did have a couple of reservations about a cover that looked as if it wasn't sure whether it wanted to be Manga or not. I didn't like the air of uncertainty that came over as a result and thought it could have benefitted by being one thing or the other. This theme remains the same going into the book but it somehow felt easier to deal with as the plot moved on. Most of this was down to the 'Manga Effect' only really applying to the characters and as I got to know them more it really didn't matter how they were drawn at all. Agatha, Gilgamesh and the rest are all characters that are full of life and people that you really want to get to know more about. More on that in a bit.
What really balanced things out though was the sheer amount of detail and colour on display. The world that Agatha has to find her way in is beautifully drawn with no expense spared in terms of detail. Now this is what I'm after in terms of a Steampunk tale, something fully immersive for all the right reasons.

The story itself starts out along familiar lines, and ends on a familiar note as well, but it's all the bits in between that make the difference with enough surprises and little twists to make you feel like you're reading something a little different even if you're not. The humour on display is infectious, to say the least, and I couldn't help but chuckle pretty much the whole way through. It's the cast, and the way that you get a real insight into their personal journeys, who made this for me though. Agatha, in particular, comes across as someone that you really want to get to know more about with her determination not to let the world get the better of her (even though the odds are stacked against her every day).

Phil and Kaja Foglio have come up with something very special here and I'll certainly be in line for Volume Two if I don't jump headfirst into the webcomic beforehand. It felt like I was the only person who hadn't read 'Girl Genius' before now but if you haven't read it yet then I recommend you set that straight right away.

Nine out of Ten


Unknown said...

Sounds like my kind of read - I'll be on the hunt for this one, definitely. Thanks for the review :)

Kat Hooper said...

I love Girl Genius!

Elfy said...

Both the comic and the novel that was based on the first 3 volumes are fantastic. They're well worth reading.