Audiobook Review: Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil and Kaja Folio

18 04 2013

Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil & Kaja Folio (Girl Genius, Book 1)

Read by Angela Dawe

Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 15 Min

Genre: Gaslight Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Agatha H and the Airship City is a wonderful tale that blends a unique and fascinating world with comfortable tropes and recognizable character creating the perfect canvas for a rollicking adventure. The story is full of uproarious humor, and clever dialogue that more than makes up for the sometimes confusing action and strangely developed romantic subplot. I really enjoyed my first trip into this world, and am quite looking forward to the next entry in this series.

Grade: B+

At this point in my life, I haven’t been blessed with children and being that I am closer to 40 than I am to 37, well, it’s not something I see happening. That being said, I think I would be a good father. I know I would go to elaborate means to make sure my child has the best upbringing. Case in point, I think developing a sense of self esteem is important. Every child should feel special. So, one day, I’d like to adopt a child. I would then gather my resources and move to a country with a monarchy. I would tell my child tales, stories of fallen kings, and great betrayals. I will tell of rumored heroes and a prophecy that one day a descendent will rise to restore order to the kingdom. Some times, late at night, I would wake my child up, telling them we need to leave now, not to ask any questions, just gather your things and hurry. I would give my child an archaic piece of jewelry, perhaps a ring or broach, and tell them never to lose it. Every time the royal family is mentioned, I would make cryptic comments under my breath, about how their crimes will one day be repaid. I would hide old maps, strange trinkets and journals written in old languages around the house, and purposely avoid any questions about them, quickly locking them away whenever my child notices them. And, when they get old enough, I would get drunk one night, and ramble about how their parents would be so proud, then fall asleep in my own filth. The next day, I would have myself arrested by the royal police, screaming at my child to run, to find the old wizard and take him the ring or locket, that he would know what to do. This, of course, would make my child feel special, like every child should.

Agatha H and the Airship City is an audiobook version of the novelization of the popular Hugo winning Girl Genius Webcomic series by Phil and Kaja Folio. It tells the story of young Agatha Gray, a student and assistant at the Transylvanian Polygnostic University, who gets swept up in the politics of the region, and finds herself under the thumb of the ruthless Baron Wulfenbach. Agatha H takes place in an alternate history world that blends Steampunk with magical fantasy, where Sparks, mad scientists with almost magical genius, create all types of intricate creations that both help, and wreak havoc on civilization. One legendary family of Sparks is the Heterodynes, great adventurers who battles many of the more dangerous creations and attempt to restore order, but have mysteriously disappeared and their stories are chronicled in popular adventure novels. To be honest, the world is sort of confusing, Brilliant, and colorful and full of so much awesomeness, but initially quite confusing. The novel begins with a bit of exposition that really doesn’t do much for settling the confusing, but as you get to know the characters more, the world begins to fill out, and make a bit of sense. I think that translating between a visual medium and prose contributes somewhat to the confusion. Fans of the Webcomic series should have a bit more ease transitioning into the prose, but those like me who haven’t experience this world before may have to work at it a bit first. Luckily, the book is full of such engaging, wonderful characters and recognizable fantasy tropes, that there is enough to keep you embedded in the story while figuring out the world as a whole. My favorite part of the book is the humor, especially with some more outrageous characters and monsters. There are a group of altered soldiers called Jagermonsters, who are simply hilarious, and Agatha’s interactions with an imprisoned Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer who viewed all events as if they were immersed in the pages of an adventure novel had me bursting out with inappropriate public laughter. The story plays out well, with lots of action, and while many of the twists were telegraphed (hell, the title of the book is a major spoiler) the build up to them was worth the lack of real surprises. My main complaint about the story is the very long action sequence building up to the finale. So much was happening, with so many characters involved, it was tough to keep it all straight. One moments they were trying to escape the airship, the next they are battling magical wasp constructs, then some kissing, some cool inventions, some weird weapons, the Baron discovers Agatha secret, mad scrambles, talking cats, sudden appearances of characters from earlier, a bit of this, some of that a boom, a bang… wait… let me catch my breath. Honestly, part of me is quite tempted to go back and reread theses parts in print because I’m still not sure I got them all straight. Yet, besides this complaint, Agatha H and the Airship City is a wonderful tale that blends a unique and fascinating world with comfortable tropes and recognizable character creating the perfect canvas for a rollicking adventure. The story is full of uproarious humor, and clever dialogue that more than makes up for the sometimes confusing action and strangely developed romantic subplot. I really enjoyed my first trip into this world, and am quite looking forward to the next entry in this series.

There really were lots of challenges in this audio production. Taking a world created in comic book form, and turning it into a prose novel is tough enough, but doing it in such a way that translates well to audio must have been even more of a challenge. There were definite moments where I feel reading the print version of this would have been a better choice, but, then I would have missed out on the wonderful performance by Angela Dawe. She is simply brilliant in her narration, infusing this tale with charm, spunk and so much humor. This book is full of over the top characters, and Dawe never fails to embrace that. I especially love her voices for the Jagermonsters. Not only does she create a voice and pattern of speech for these altered creatures, but gives each individual monster its own twist. The novel is full of a wide range of accents, and Dawe nails them all. She gives Agatha a wise beyond her years, but still naive sort of voice. At first I was a bit worried, because there were moments that Agatha was a bit whiney in the beginning, and Dawe didn’t really pull of the whiney very well, but this was very early in the novel, and by the time we really got it going, she had it all nailed down tight. While the action was at times overwhelming, she paced it well, never racing too far away from the listener. She gave the whole production a comic book feel, with just the amount of over the top antics, without making it feel like a cartoon. It was such a fun and beautiful performance that I am really not shocked she was nominated for an Audie for the next book in the series, which I cannot wait to get my hands on.

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