Agatha looked at her angrily. “What makes you say that? It’s a perfect plan. They think I’m dead!”
“There is a serious flaw in this ‘perfect’ plan of yours…you’re not really dead now, are you?”
Beginning shortly after the events of Girl Genius: Agatha H and the Airship City, Girl Genius: Agatha H and the Clockwork Princess chronicles the story of our titular heroine, Agatha Heterodyne, and her feline familiar Krosp 1, (Emperor of Cats) as they flee the forces of Baron Klaus Wulfenbach across the Wastelands of Europa. The Baron, essentially Emperor of Europa, has quite the history with the Heterodyne brothers and wants to keep any offspring of his former rivals under his thumb. Agatha is also fleeing the attentions of the Baron’s heir apparent, Gilgamesh, who is not only the son of her nemesis, but a possible suitor. Having recently learned she is heir to the Heterodyne dynasty, Agatha is headed for Mechanicsburg, the ancestral home of the Heterodynes, in hopes of finding answers regarding the disappearance of her parents and uncle.
The land across which she is fleeing is called the Wastelands for a reason. A hazardous place, it’s full of nasty surprises, the result of various experiments and previous wars by some of Europa’s most gifted—and craziest—Sparks. Abandoned—but otherwise functional and deadly—war machines roam the forests, as do various unnatural creatures, hiding in wait to scoop up the wayward traveller as a snack. Anyone traversing the Wastelands spends most of their time fighting off the various dangers along the way. Owing to a bit of luck, Agatha and Krosp come across Master Payne’s Circus of Adventure, a travelling road show of various performers and artisans, plying their trade from city to city and banding together for safety while on the road. Realizing that a Circus would be a good way to keep both her anonymity and security, Krosp and Agatha join the circus after proving their worth, Agatha, by virtue of her natural affinity for all things mechanical—she is a Spark, after all—and Krosp by merely being a talking cat.
Within the travelling circus, they soon meet a series of interesting characters, such as the vain and talented actress Pym; Abner, Pym’s paramour and right hand man to Master Payne; and Lars, circus hand, reluctant hero, and possible love interest. Agatha also meets the dour and decidedly dangerous Zeetha, a warrior princess of the lost city of Skifander, and soon is taken under her wing to learn the warrior skills she never needed while working in a lab, but definitely does in the real world.
There’s still the problem of Gilgamesh’s pursuit, but the members of Master Payne’s Circus of Adventure are nothing if not inventive, and masters of misdirection. One faked death later, and Agatha is out from under the scrutiny of the Wulfenbachs. During the course of their journey, Agatha manages to gather a following in the form of three Jagermonsters, sworn protectors of the family Heterodyne. Jagermonsters are Hyde like creatures—formerly human—who use their superior strength and martial prowess to keep their lady from harm. They’ve also been looking for the Heterodyne heir for the past ten years, and when they find Agatha, become her self-proclaimed heroes.
Agatha also proves herself to be a natural actress, playing the role of Lucrexia Mongfish (Bill Heterodyne’s wife) in many of the Heterodyne Brothers plays put on by the roadshow to entertain locals in the various cities they travel through. Luckily, a lot, if not all, of their plays revolve around the Heterodyne brothers and their various quests to save the townsfolk of the realm from unhinged Sparks and their nefarious creations. Unbeknownst to the other players, Agatha is the long lost daughter of Lucrexia, making her acting all the more believable.
The story comes to a head with the arrival of the circus at the stronghold of Sturmhalten, the ancestral home of the Sturmvaraus family. The present rulers of Sturmhalten, Tarvek and Anevka—the titular Clockwork Princess–recognize the potential in Agatha to further their own dark designs, and take Agatha captive at the first opportunity. From there, it’s up to Krosp and the members of Master Payne’s Circus of Adventure to rescue Agatha—before the forces of Baron Wulfenbach descend upon Sturmhalten and take her back into custody—and before Agatha succumbs to the will of the most malevolent being to have ever threatened the people of Europa—a.k.a. THE OTHER.
Girl Genius: Agatha H and the Clockwork Princess reads much like an old-time serial, those weekly installments of great classics like Flash Gordon one might see at the theatre week by week. Understandably so, since Girl Genius is based on the serialized web comic by Phil and Kaja Foglio. It’s extremely entertaining to be able to flip back and forth between comic and book to compare one’s inner conception of the various characters with the author’s own visuals. This sequel also helps to flesh out a bit of the back story behind the events of the first novel. However, it is useful to have the Girl Genius Wiki on hand, as the sheer number of characters can make for confusion.
With this second volume, we also discover some interesting aspects of the Heterodyne family—namely that until Bill and Barry changed their image, the Heterodynes were feared throughout the realm and generally regarded as the worst of a bad bunch. Hence the instinctual fear everyone seems to have when confronted with the terrifying visage that is your average Jagermonster. (Note to readers: Jagermonsters are my favourite!)
One notable aspect of both Girl Genius novels is the demonstration of a number of strong female characters, ranging from Agatha herself, a young lady plunged into a situation in which she has to rely on her natural talents, to Zeetha, the lonely, yet dangerous warrior woman, and extending to some of the more villainous characters. Even the OTHER, the epitome of villainy in this Steampunk world–is a female.
There’s also a strong comedic element to the story, usually embodied in Agatha and her reactions to new experiences, or the comedic relief of her feline familiar. Sometimes bawdy, sometimes slapstick, there is generally a lot of humour to counterbalance the darker aspects of the characters experiences as they move through a world that hides danger around every corner.
The biggest drawback to this novel is that it’s so very, very, looooooooonnnngggg! Granted, Girl Genius is translated to print from the web comic and comic story arcs can last for years, but at 590 pages, the novel could be a strain on the attention spans of younger readers. Honestly, this novel wouldn’t suffer a bit if they had cut out a hundred pages (at least), and I wonder if their intended target audience–bear with me, I’m assuming young teens–would be willing to invest so much of their time. The Foglio’s previous novel topped out at a more manageable 300 or so pages.
Agatha H and the Clockwork Princess is a lot of fun, although it seemed to take forever to get through. The payoff is well worth it though, and I do hope to see further print installments of the series. That, I imagine, will depend on how well the first two books of the series sell. Agatha’s story has barely begun—and I know I’d like to read the rest of it.