Narrator: Angela Dawe
Series: Girl Genius #1
Published by Brilliance Audio on 1/25/11
Genres: Fantasy, Steampunk
Sometimes I like a book because the writing is evocative or a character resonates with me. Sometimes the descriptions are so eloquent I can’t help but be in awe of the writer’s skill. Sometimes there’s a breakneck current of action that sweeps me past any less-than-stellar-writing rocks. Sometimes, I come across a book that is just plain downright fun. Agatha H and the Airship City is that kind of audiobook. It is chock full of mildly amusing lines that are delivered with more than mildly amusing vocal attributes and inflections as part of a very accomplished narration and it all takes place in a fantastic world that invites the listener to sit back and watch events go by.
In an alternate-history world where some people have the Spark (think mad geniuses) and can create amazing mechanical constructs, Agatha Clay is a less-than-accomplished student at Transylvania Polygnostic University. The worst day of her life begins when she loses her locket (a gift from her long-absent uncle) in a mugging. When Baron Klaus Wulfenbach arrives at the university with his heir Gilgamesh, Agatha’s boss ends up dead and she is banned from TPU. The Baron takes over the city of Mechanicsburg and Agatha soon finds herself removed from her home, taken from the constructs who have acted as her parents for the past sixteen years, and ensconced at Castle Wulfenbach, the Baron’s airship stronghold. There she falls in with a group of youth who are being held as hostages to ensure the good behavior of their parents or other family members, all of whom are using their Spark in the employ of the Baron. It soon becomes clear that there is more to Agatha than meets the eye and the core adventure of the story begins.
When I picked up this audiobook several months ago, I was aware that it was based on a comic book/webcomic series named Girl Genius but other than that and the book description, that’s all I knew about it. I mention that because I can’t speak to how the book varies from the comic and can only offer the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the whole series. The story portion has a lot to recommend it. There’s a plucky heroine with a nice blend of smarts, some insecurity over her inability to create things, otherwise decent self-confidence, and an admirable practicality; a large cast of interesting and varied characters whose motivations never boil down to a simple case of good or evil intent; plus nifty world-building with a nice “gaslight fantasy” vibe and a dash of romance. The pacing is excellent and although I was initially a bit lost as to how the pieces of the world fit together, everything soon lined up nicely in my head. The ending wasn’t a cliff-hanger but there were a ton of loose plot threads that were left flapping in the wind. I can console myself with the fact that I can always turn to the webcomic but I’m really hoping for another audiobook.
I would have enjoyed this as a dead-tree book but as a listen? Angela Dawe knocked it out of the park with this one. Although this was written as a long-form story, I think the vibrancy of the narration took the place of the illustrations that a comic/graphic version would have included and added that extra something to the story. Differentiation between characters (and there were a lot of them) was the most varied I have heard in a single-narrator audio: from Othar Tryggvassen (Gentleman Adventurer) and his bigger than life egotistical super-hero-like voice, to the Jägermonsters with their Germanic accents who always talk like they are delivering bad pick-up lines, to Krosp, the cat construct who speaks like, well, like you’d imagine a cat would if he could talk – smug and with a hint of a meow to many words. The voices of the younger kids in the story, often a problematic narration point for me, were excellent. There was a cornucopia of accents (American, English, East Indian, German, French, Irish) and I enjoyed every one. The humorous lines had just the right snap to them and the delivery of the narrative was nicely paced.
Quite frankly, this book could have been a thousand times longer and I would have been content to listen to the continuing story for the next year.