Review: Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle by Phil and Kaja Foglio


Reading this was like coming home – nostalgic with a high-possibility of holiday-related violence. This novel is a brilliant adaptation of volumes 7partway through volume 10 of the Girl Genius Graphic Novels, and really challenges the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And if you know the incredible detail in every panel of Girl Genius, you know what high praise it is to say that they transmuted art to prose with commendable efficiency.

“Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle” is the third installment in this series. If you have not read the first two books, DO THAT NOW. And you probably should read at least the first 6 volumes of the Graphic Novels as well (free online for your frugal viewing pleasure!)


I have been a long-time fan of Phil Foglio – ever since he illustrated the covers for Robert Asprin’s Myth Inc. books and came to my attention. So when he and Kaja began posting Girl Genius as a webcomic I devoured them. I am fortunate enough live in the same area as the pair of them, which makes tracking them down several times a year to fangirl at them very convenient.

So when my husband came to me in late November to tell me that Phil and Kaja were at our local Barnes and Noble, doing a signing, I rushed right down there. And only made a LITTLE bit of a fool of myself. I couldn’t help it. Unfortunately, part of the agreement was that the book was part of my Christmas present. So much torture! But I finally got my hands on it and you wouldn’t believe how fast 485 pages went…


Agatha H VOC


As I said… I’m a fan. I have not only read all the webcomics and novels posted to date, I have read and re-read them (and will probably start another journey through as I do some cross-checking of facts learned in the course of reading this novel). So to start off I have a bias to not only like this book, but obsessively adore it.

It would be an interesting experiment to see if those who read the novels first receive nearly the same enjoyment as those who have already read the webcomic. But what would I use for controls? Brain-enhanced monkeys who have never read anything beyond the papers that line their cages? Genetically engineered bookworms who have crawled their way through the entire literary offerings of the Library of Congress? Or the perennial favorite test subject – hungover undergrads?

Well, either way, I am certain that this is a book not only to be enjoyed, but to possibly be locked up lest it entertain TOO MUCH. I know I came close a couple of times to laughing myself to death. The Foglios have the unique talent of making characters both lovable and scary-beyond-words, humorous and horrifying. Girl Genius is a world full of mad-scientists called “Sparks” who are naturally gifted with talents for bending time, space, reality, mechanics, biology, morality and loyalty to their ends. And the main character, Agatha Heterodyne, is one of the most powerful Sparks of her time – the last surviving member of the Heterodyne dynasty. Her family of Sparks was known for taking the “mad” part of mad scientist a mite too far. OK, a lobster too far. Maybe an ocean full of lobster with some spider-crabs and ghost-shrimp thrown in for interest…. *slaps herself*

Um… Anyway, Agatha has returned in secret to her family’s stronghold of Mechanicsburg to claim her birthright as Heterodyne. The only problem is that to do that, she has to make the fiendish intelligence inhabiting Castle Heterodyne recognize her legitimacy. Which would be easy, except the Castle was badly damaged over a decade before when it was attacked by the Other, and now has an even more unpredictable sense of “humor” than before. And it’s currently inhabited by press-ganged criminal mechanics, murderous Sparks, and their fanatically loyal minions – sentenced to repair the Castle in what amounts to a death sentence. But Agatha has friends of her own – a Warrior Princess, a talking cat, a British spy, two of the last members of a family that has served Agatha’s own since they first founded Mechanicsburg (one who drilled holes in his own head, and the other who lives in a booth at a coffee shop) and, of course, the eternal loyalty of (nearly) every Jagerkin.

You know, on second thought it’s a good thing Agatha had to enter the Castle alone.

But she’s not alone for long – in addition to the convicts, Agatha is beaten into the Castle by another woman claiming to be the Lady Heterodyne. Normally the Castle would take care of imposters in short order, but this pretense is actually the well-organized tip of a massive plot to overthrow the largest Empire in Europa… and of course having the REAL Lady Heterodyne around is inconveniencing their plans. And then there is Gilgamesh Wulfenbach, the son of the Baron Wulfenbach who controls said Empire… and onetime suitor of Agatha. When other old friends and enemies start coming out of the woodwork in Castle Heterodyne, Agatha has much more on her hands than merely proving her bloodline. But if there is any Spark in the world capable of reworking the entire circus into a beautifully orchestrated ballet with hardly any thrown pies at all, it’s Agatha. Oh wait… that was the last book. BUT I STAND BY MY ANALOGY!!


IT’S PERFECT!! *sobs* … OK, maybe there are more adverbs and dialogue modifiers than are currently fashionable, but you know what? I didn’t care. It didn’t irritate my brain one bit while reading. I only noticed them when I started copying out sections to post to Facebook because laughing that much all alone should really be against the law.

The book does end on a pretty massive cliffhanger. So I recommend getting the hardcover –much less pricey to hurl across the room than an eReader or tablet…. But if you have the tablet, you can immediately dive back into the webcomic (don’t forget to read this fun side-adventure first)… and then hurl that when you find out it’s still a work in progress…


Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle” can be purchased on Amazon or in many brick-and-mortar stores. If your local favorite doesn’t have it in stock, maybe you can ask them to order it for you. But first you HAVE to start with “Agatha H. and the Airship City” and then read “Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess“… well, you don’t have to, but you’ll snag them immediately afterwards and then kick yourself for not reading them first – really, I’m just trying to save you some pain and effort.

And once again, this is all based off of one of the best-illustrated, best thought-out webcomics OF ALL TIME. So start at the beginning of that and… try to remember to sleep eventually, OK?


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