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Literature / Agatha H. and the Airship City

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Fight on Castle Wulfenbach
"In conclusion, the evidence shows that there has not been a legitimate sighting of either William or Barry Heterodyne since they assisted in the cleanup of Woggleburg after the destruction of Lord Womak's castle sixteen years ago. All such reported sightings have proved to be either fradulent Heterodynes or simple cases of mistaken identity. However, amongst the general populace, the belief that they are still 'out there' fighting the good fight remains unshakable, as is the conviction that someday, they will return. This belief remains despite the fact that their castle is in ruins, their lands are overrun, their servants are scattered and indeed nothing remains but their name."
—Summary of report to Baron Wulfenbach

A novelization of the first major Story Arc (volumes 1-3) of the award-winning webcomic series Girl Genius, released in Jan 2011. It follows the webcomic very closely, often having a distinct 1:1 mapping between panel and paragraph, but it does have a few interesting departures.

Agatha H. and the Airship City is a gaslamp fantasy adventure starring Agatha Clay. As the novel starts, she is an assistant at Transylvania Polygnostic University who gets caught up in the arrival of Baron Klaus Wolfenbach, the iron-fisted ruler of most of Europa. She also seems to have ties to the heroic Heterodyne Boys, who vanished years ago.

This book is followed by Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess.


  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: A minor one. In the original comic, Gil complains on seeing Theo that he never replied to his letters, but quickly moved on. Here, the students of Castle Wulfenbach make mention of having sent letters to Gil he never replied to, and they're greatly hurt by the apparent snub. (The comic eventually revealed that Xerxsephnia von Blitzengaard has been intercepting mail both to and from him for years — effectively isolating him from his peers while giving the little Yandere a sneak-peek into his life. Wow.)
  • Adaptation Expansion: The prologue is set 16 years before the main story starts and focuses on Bill and Barry Heterodyne, who have only been seen in flashbacks (and alluded to by storytellers) in the comic. Otherwise small details and background information are added, particularly with Krosp and his creator Dr. Vapnoople.
  • The Artifact: Sleipnir, or at least her name; in the original comic she was called that by the Foglios because she was Agatha's roommate who Sleeps Near her. In the novel, Agatha gets stuck with Zulenna.
  • Came Back Wrong: Given the world, this happens so often that it's been termed PRT or Post-Revivification Trauma.
    • This is speculated to be what's wrong with Von Pinn, given that most of the Wulfenbach students think she's Lucrezia Mongfish.
  • Covers Always Lie: The US version of the cover attempts to depict the scene where Agatha and Gil battle the slaver-wasps on board the airship. Except Agatha is wearing the wrong outfit, Gil has been replaced with Krosp and a Wulfenbach clank, and the wasps with.. giant toothy mechanical snakes? Or tentacle-claws, or something.
  • Drunken Song: Chapter 4 opens with a hilarious drinking song about Castle Wulfenbach, which is laden with innuendo about how large and powerful the Baron's "great big thing" is.
    Hide the women! Hide the beer!
    The Baron’s great big thing is here!
    It’s huge and fat and long and round
    And you can see it from the ground.
    It flies way high up in the air
    He rides it here, he rides it there.
    And every mad boy lives in fear
    That Klaus will stick it in his ear.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: Chapters are prefaced with snippets of in-universe media. Examples include a report on false Heterodyne sightings, folk-wisdom-y peasant sayings and truisms, the drinking song that appears in the above "Drunken Song" entry, excerpts from children's rhymes, and a diary entry.
  • Foreshadowing: Othar's comment upon being told by Agatha that she is not The Baron's Beautiful But Misguided Daughter: "Are you sure? I'm usually very good at spotting the offspring of evil geniuses."
  • Friendless Background: Agatha, in part due to her general social awkwardness, constant moves while she was growing up, and also because Professor Beetle tended to have words with anyone who tried to approach her.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Zulenna, on account of being arrogant and haughty, and the only one on-board Castle Wulfenbach who gives a damn about the pecking order. She and Agatha don't get along, not helping when one of her comments when they first meet touches a nerve with Agatha.
  • Funny Background Event: Wooster and Zoing's fight over who'll serve the tea.
  • Funetik Aksent: The Jäger/Mechanicsburg accent.
  • Hoist by Her Own Petard: The reason Zulenna's attempt to distract a guard and get over to Castle Wulfenbach during the mess with the Hive Engine doesn't work. Some weeks prior, Zulenna had upbraided that same guard for being improperly dressed while off-duty, and said guard points out that if such a person was suddenly trying to be nice to him, in a world where Slaver Wasps are a thing, he'd have to be pretty damn stupid to fall for it, wouldn't he? If Theo and Sleipnir hadn't been present with a good wrench, he'd have had her arrested then and there.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Used for Slaver Wasp infection.
  • It Tastes Like Feet: Sleipnir's favorite cheese, which no one else can stand.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Agatha was repeatedly bullied as a child, on account of children noticing she didn't fit in. It was one particularly horrible case that drove the normally inattentive Barry to move to Beetleburg. Subverted with the mention that one of Agatha's most treasured possessions in Beetleburg is a small cow sculpture an unnamed boy gave her at some point.
  • Kill It with Fire: The prologue describes how the Heterodyne Boys took out three newly-landed Hive Engines with phosphorous grenades, cutting down any soldier wasp that tried to flee the inferno. This proved for the first time that the Other's attacks could, in fact, be defeated.
  • Love Epiphany: Gil gets one just after he and Agatha take down the Slaver Wasps.
  • Military Moonshiner: Moloch, in fact he's such a conosueire that he can drink something that melts through a tin cup.
  • Mundane Object Amazement: Given she lived as a commoner away from Sparks Agatha has never had a Shower before, let alone scented soap.
  • Novelization: It's the novelization of the webcomic that started out as a regular print comic. This may surprise some readers who were led to expect more of a spinoff and instead got a very direct prose adaptation.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: The Jägers, or at least the officers, even moreso than in the original comic. Notably the sergeant who figures out Agatha's identity at Beetleburg and has to stop his less schmott troops from giving it away.
  • Outside-Context Problem: The Other, when it first arrived. This is how it got its name, because it killed all of the other people that it could have possibly been.
  • Political Hostage: Discussed given the various children on the ship, some of the kids see it as an adventure others as the Gilded Cage it is.
  • Retcon: The book changes a number of events from the webcomic in subtle ways, especially regarding Gil and Agatha.
    • In the webcomic, when Agatha mentioned Dr. Vapnoople to Gil, Gil got threatening, implying that she was in serious danger just for knowing about what happened. In the book, Gil is simply confused as to why she's worried.
    • In the webcomic, when Agatha refused Gil's advances, he got violent. In the book, it's emphasized that he has no idea what to say to get her to accept the engagement, and he only grabbed Agatha because they were in a dangerous situation and needed to escape.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Hinted at, while Agatha's walking home from the university post Baron, several shopkeepers and residents of Beetleburg are already packing up shop in a big hurry.
  • Secret Legacy: At the end of the book Agatha learns that she is the daughter of Bill and Lucrezia Heterodyne and heir to one of the most powerful of Spark dynasties.
  • Sensory Overload: Agatha suffers a mild version of this during the first week after she loses her locket. This implies that her locket didn’t just suppress her Spark but her other senses as well.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: From the description of him in the prologue this is what Bill Heterodyne has become after the destruction of his home, death of his son, disappearance of his wife, and three years of fighting the Other.
  • Uncertain Doom: The last time Bill and Barry were seen together by anyone (who is talking, anyway) was over a decade before the story starts, helping the survivors after another attack by The Other. The last Adam and Lilith heard from Barry was a vague, garbled and much-traveled note shoved under their door while they were out.
  • We Can Rebuild Her: This is what Klaus says he'll do for Zulenna after she was fatally stabbed.
  • World Half Full: It's made evident in the Fictional Documents at the beginning of each chapter.
  • You, Get Me Coffee: One of the added bits. Right after the Baron walks off alone in Beetleburg (to show he can), the Jägermonster in charge tells two of his Jägers "Go get me coffee, from that shop on the other side of town, and don't let him see you!" This is his roundabout way of giving the Baron an armed guard - without appearing to give him an armed guard. Who says the Jägers aren't schmott?