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Review: Girl Genius – Agatha H and the Airship City / Author: Phil and Kaja Foglio / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: Out Now

This is the first in a series of prose fiction spin-offs of the Girl Genius webcomic and graphic novels. Described by the authors as a 'gaslight fantasy', the set-up sees an alternative Europe convulsed by the Industrial Revolution and at odds with itself thanks to the machinations of various super-powered mad scientists known as Sparks. In this first title, the heroine, Agatha, a humble lab assistant, is plucked from obscurity to become an unwilling guest of the mighty Baron Klaus Wulfenbach aboard his massive airship, where she begins to learn more about her own abilities and the tumultuous world she inhabits.

It's a funny, frenetic read, crammed full of jokes, OTT characters, Heath Robinson machines, grotesque monstrosities and violent slapstick – like watching a bunch of old Saturday morning cartoons on fast-forward, with comedic overdubs. The Foglios' prose style is pleasantly witty without being in-your-face facetious, and there's a bubbling inventiveness throughout. On the downside, a worrying streak of sadism gives a chill to some of the pratfalls (a scene where the Baron is about to torture a prisoner only to be delayed by a number of farcical interruptions leaves a particularly bad taste in the mouth), there's a scarcity of likable, relatable characters and, with so much else going on, Agatha herself constantly seems to be fighting for elbow room in her own novel. Even so, this is winning stuff that will have budding mad scientists enthralled.

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