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Literature / Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle

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The third novelization of Girl Genius, beginning just as Agatha, Zeetha, Wooster, and Krosp reach Mechanicsburg. It covers the first half (volumes 7-9 and half of volume 10) of the third Story Arc.


  • All Women Are Lustful: A footnote on the ladies of Mechanicsburg state they know what they went, and are very forthright about getting it, especially when wearing their weasel pyjamas.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: Threats found in the rafters of Castle Heterodyne include bloodbats, which eat people, spider-roaches, which also eat people, and venomous rafter toads, which eat the bloodbats and spider-roaches. And the occasional person.
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  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Apart from everything else about her, Agatha has this opinion of Lucrezia.
  • Ambiguously Human: Zola's contingent of Tall Men may or may not be humans. Certainly, they look human.
  • Androcles' Lion: Moloch accidentally cemented his status as Agatha's chief minion when, after she was injured during the Castle's blood test, he immediately and unhesitatingly helped bandage her up, thus being the first person to show compassion and loyalty to the new Heterodyne.
    Footnote: Nobody has ever had the heart to tell him.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Carson Von Mekkhan gets in a small one aimed at Zeetha after she shows disapproval of Mechanicsburg being a town full of minions:
    Carson: You yourself are obviously from some proud, warrior culture somewhere that hones its fighters and insists on things like honor and self-reliance. It's hardly unique. But I'm curious—who carts away your night soil? Your rulers? No, I thought not.
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  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Numerous articles and books have been written on the strength of Teodora Vodenicharoa, which the footnotes state have been ignored by the Foglios for being inaccurate, badly indexed, and poorly spelt.
  • Assassin Outclassin': Gil has to do this a ludicrous number of times to protect his incapacitated father in the hospital.
  • Berserk Button: While following Zola to the castle, Agatha blithely notes her training with Zeetha isn't important anymore. Smash Cut to Zeetha chasing Agatha with a stick.
  • Big Eater: Zeetha, who downs a lot of food in the coffee shop, and merrily notes to the waiters that this is just her idea of a snack.
  • The Bore: Boris Dolokov is not only the most boring man in the Wulfenbach Empire, he's the most boring man in the world.
  • Cain and Abel: The Red Heterodyne and the Black Heterodyne, who had differing views on "Philosophy" that tended to result in a lot of pain, for other people.
  • Call-Back:
    • While fighting off two assassins, Gil notes one of them has a knife, and once that one is dealt with, unhappily notes it's not a Sturmhalten Sewer Rat knife. He then throws it away.
    • On entering the Heterodyne Crypt, Krosp cautiously asks if it's a sewer, Sturmhalten's impressive sewers having left an impression on him.
    • Gil's lightning stick is based on the electricity generator he and Agatha used to fight the Slaver Wasps back on Castle Wulfenbach.
  • Cliffhanger: The novel ends with Zola taking off Agatha's locket and greeting Lucrezia with a cheerful "Hello, auntie. I'm here to help you."
  • Complexity Addiction: The Heterodyne device Gil had that he speculated was a lamp, and functions as an invisibility device, is also a lamp. The Heterodynes had a habit of building things with multiple functions, at least one of which was invariably for surprising people.
  • Control Freak: Moloch and Krosp speculate that this was one of the reasons (besides the obvious) as to why Lucrezia decided to transfer part of the Castle into another body, because she hated the idea of someone else being in control.
  • Cutting the Knot: While making her way through the Castle, Agatha encounters a door with a complex puzzle-lock. She barely breaks stride as she blasts a meter-wide hole in it with her Death Ray.
  • Defeat by Modesty: Tried by Gil on Zeetha. It doesn't work. And the novel implies that she wasn't wearing special underwear that was immune to the Wacky Weave Destabilizer like she was in the comic.
  • Defiant to the End: Tarvek always thought he'd go out screaming defiance from a castle wall. He even had a speech written out, in case it ever happened, and also designed a stylish outfit for the occasion.
  • Double Consciousness: On finding Lucrezia Mongfish's secret lair, left as it was the night Lucrezia went missing, Agatha starts feeling Lucrezia's shock at seeing it, only for the emotions to suddenly die down.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: The weapons used by Wulfenbach troops are intentionally designed to make this sound as loud and intimidating as possible. The sound of one gun being cocked is scary enough to make a stadium full of people about to riot over a goalie obviously throwing a game quiet down (Klaus later had the goalie in question executed - he takes soccer seriously).
  • Dramatic Irony: After Zeetha boasts that in a fight with Lucrezia, Lucrezia's only the second most dangerous thing in the room, a footnote states that while Zeetha's statement is accurate from a statistical viewpoint, Zeetha (who is implying she's the most dangerous thing around) probably ranks about fourth.
  • Dreadful Musician: All Mechanicsburg children are required by law to learn to play at least one musical instrument. This was done in order to torture the entire town with the sounds of untrained musicians learning how to play due to a ludicrously brief period of rebellion. Heterodyne tradition requires that they mete out some punishment for such things, but the Heterodyne who made the law didn't want to actually kill anyone from their town for something so minor.
  • Endangered Soufflé: Invoking this trope while in one of Castle Heterodyne's kitchens will cause the castle to stop trying to kill you for a while. It may be a psychotic death machine that thinks it's funny, but that part of it is also a kitchen.
  • Eureka Moment: The invention of the chocolate mimmoth came about when a mimmoth, in an attempt to reach a peanut, wound up covered entirely in chocolate, and the result was found to taste pretty good.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Bill and Barry's father, Saturn Heterodyne, was genuinely in love with their mother, Teodora Vodenicharoa. It's telling that, when his sons failed to live up to his expectations, he planned to kill them but try again for another heir with Teodora.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The Castle actually has a moment where it sadly admits it has no idea why Bill and Barry never liked it, even after it did everything it could to please them (it killed their mom for killing their dad for trying to kill her sons, on top of being generally evil).
  • False Reassurance: The "Good" Heterodyne's name was not because he was a good person, but because he was a good Heterodyne.
  • Fantastic Measurement System: Played with. Before Baron Wulfenbach forcibly converted everyone to the metric system, every region had their own units of measurement... but they all used the same names for their units, resulting in considerable confusion (A foot could be anywhere from 15 to 50 centimeters in length, for instance). This ultimately resulted in nobody, including Castle Heterodyne itself, knowing what the traditional two league no-fly-zone around Mechanicsburg translated to in kilometers. "We just stayed away from the damn place!!!"
  • Footnote Fever: Continuing on from the second novel, there are humorous footnotes explaining (or refusing to explain) various events in the story.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The Corbettite Railways get a mention, with their having a station only a kilometre from Mechanicsburg. A later footnote expands on this. The man who developed The Lion was one of their members as well.
    • When Agatha trips on the stairs leading to Castle Heteorodyne, and Zola picks her up, the narration notes that despite her (very pink) outward appearance, she does so with surprising strength.
    • During the bar fight, not only is Higgs the only one not fighting, but the Jägers are giving him a very wide berth. Even when he throws a chair into the fray, they ignore him.
    • A subtle one: It's been more-or-less confirmed outside the comic/novels that Gil and Zeetha are unknowing brother and sister. When they first meet, she pinches at her nose while thinking, a mannerism that in turn makes a slightly-puzzled Gil think of his father.
  • Freudian Excuse: Othar Trygvassen's (GENTLEMAN ADVENTURER!) hometown has been repeatedly attacked by mad science, and the occasional Spark tyrant, which goes some way to explaining his attitude.
  • Fridge Horror: invoked Played for Laughs; the authors point out in a footnote that the Heterodyne ability to organically calculate and produce a perfect pitch to cancel out all ambient sounds (something that is absurdly difficult to do in real life, even with computers) to aid their concentration becomes creepier the more you think about it.
  • Gargle Blaster: Double-Fortified Lingonberry Snap. Made through a combination of distilling, freezing, hallucinogenic fungi, and aging (in stone vats, because wooden ones tend to spontaneously combust). Most people start hallucinating after the first glass. The man who invented it (who surprisingly was not a Spark) drank a liter a day, which is why it took three days to put out his funeral pyre.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Touched upon by Krosp, on inspecting Lucrezia Mongfish's lab. He wonders if the whole insane mess with the Other was the end result of her messing with consciousness transferral.
  • History Repeats: A key theme of one song of the Storm King Opera ("This Has Happened Before, But It Gets Better Every Time").
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Boris, on finding himself in charge of the entire empire, feels he could really do with a large drink of vodka.
  • Informed Attribute: When introduced, Snapper is described as being "uncannily smart". He ends up trapped in a pit and then tries to take Sanaa hostage seconds after learning she's Othar Trygvassen's sister.
  • Instant Awesome: Just Add Dragons!: Back when they were known as Mad Alchemists, Sparks had a fondness for creating dragons. This usually ended with the death of the dragon, followed soon after by the knight that slayed it going after the smart arse who decided to make a dragon.
  • Irony: A noted playwright, whom Tarvek complains about toward the end of the book, died in a situation not unlike the sort of soap-opera worthy nonsense he tended to write - killed by a woman mistaking him for his clank double built by a Sparky fan.
  • Kill It with Fire:
    • Bang's general idea for everything is that it would look so much better if she were to set it on fire. Including Gil, though she acknowledges after seeing his handiwork with Klaus' would-be assassins that doing so would be difficult.
    • A footnote mentions that Barry and Bill did this to the part of Mechanicsburg known as The Flesh Yards before building the Great Hospital. In fact, it was their first act as the Heterodyne Boys.
    • A footnote mentions that the old-school Black Heterodyne's favorite color was "charred".
  • Large and in Charge: Otilia, the former Muse of Protection, is noted to be three meters tall.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Once Othar is convinced that Agatha might really be the Other, Klaus is extremely disturbed to find that his goofy Large Ham persona flips off like a switch.
  • Love at First Sight: Averted. Agatha internally admits that she's attracted to both Gil and Tarvek, but also notes that she had spent maybe a day in Tarvek's company, and a few months at most with Gil, so she doesn't know them well enough to be sure it's love.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: When Tarvek witnesses Higgs casually destroy the Muse of Protection before it can say too much, he realizes that there are about a dozen ways Higgs can kill him and make it look like just a random accident. The rock that could have cracked his skull, the live wire that could have electrocuted him, the clank itself... he agrees with Higgs' Blatant Lies very quickly.
  • Mama Bear: Teodora Vodenicharova, mother of the Heterodyne Boys and unwilling bride of Saturn Heterodyne, poisoned her husband to prevent him from killing their sons. She was killed by Castle Heterodyne for doing so, and was eventually declared a holy martyr by five of the seven popes and canonized as the Patron Saint of Those Who Have To Put Up With Sparks.
  • A Master Makes Their Own Tools: Mentioned in a footnote when Agatha borrows someone's tools. The master craftsman in question objects strenuously, as he had made them himself as an apprentice. The Baron is trying to limit these types of practices in the interest of industrialization, though he does approve of the work ethic that this tradition implies and is working on making sure that doesn't get limited as well, such as getting would-be factory owners to physically help with building their factories.
  • McNinja:
    • Smoke Knights, of course. Violetta is the primary one in the book, focused on misdirection and sleight of hand.
    • Zola also has Smoke Knight training, focused more on pure combat.
  • Military Moonshiner: Some Wulfenbach engineers have have managed to home-distill vodka that spontaneously ignites when exposed to strong sunlight.
  • Missing Mom: It appears that not only is Gil's mother not a major part of his life, he knows absolutely nothing about her, not even her name.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Mechanicsburg will obey their Heterodyne in all things, but the Heterodyne Boys and their bizarre predilection with being good greatly shocked and unnerved the town, and brought them as close to outright rebellion as Mechanicsburg ever got. However, the keystones of Heterodyne power still held true, regardless of the Boys' strange moral outlook - the Dyne, the Castle, and the loyalty of the Jägers and von Mekkhans.
  • Mystery Meat: Castle Crab, a soft shelled crustacean-like creature found in Mechanicsburg that is only eaten by tourists and prisoners at the castle, mainly because the locals know that it's really a species of lice large enough to be put on a sandwich.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Subverted with the Poisoner's Market, which thanks to gentrification has long been removed of the horrific features it used to be known for. All the disreputable businesses known for tampering in God's domain have moved to another neighbourhood.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The Mechanicsburg "Petting Zoo", which tourists are under advisement to never visit.
  • Noodle Incident: The description of the legendary opera "The Storm King" goes into great deal of detail of how the Storm King came to power in the first act, and his clashes with the Heterodynes and his falling in love with Euphresenia in act two, and then the description of act three, in which his love for a Heterodyne dooms the Empire, is glossed over in a single sentence, leaving the reader with no real knowledge of exactly what happened between Andronicus and the Heterodynes.
  • Noodle Implements: The Rescue Dance number of the legendary opera "The Storm King" involves seventeen soup waiters, three ladder teams, and a roller-skating giraffe.
  • Not So Above It All:
    • Dr. Sun, noted for his gruff disposition, becomes amazingly cheerful when having to tidy up the first would-be assassin, and merrily suggests shoving what's left of her in a cupboard that he just happens to have. He is, after all, a Spark.
    • Gil often wonders whether he is in fact remotely human (not an unfair observation with his father), and is exasperated by common acts of stupidity. So when he faces an army of war-stompers head on with a weapon he isn't even sure will work, he's elated at the idea of being like everyone else.
  • Not So Stoic: Zola, in comparison to the original version, stutters briefly on seeing one of her Tall Men killed by the Castle. Of course, knowing Zola, this could be more acting.
  • Oh, Crap!: The captain of the Pink Airship when it's pointed out that technically what the Knights of Jove are planning to do is try and conquer Mechanicsburg. As in the unconquerable Mechanicsburg.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • Carson notes that when they returned after the Castle was damaged, Bill and Barry spent most of the night arguing, louder than he'd ever heard.
    • Likewise, during his recounting of the attack, it's noted that the Jägers, who never even shed tears when their Heterodyne dies, were crying.
  • Pet the Dog: Subverted when Lucrezia encounters Theo, her long-lost nephew. She pretends to reminisce with him in order to get her hands around her neck. She never liked either of his parents.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Tarvek is very intrigued by the idea of cloning Agatha...
  • Properly Paranoid: Professor Tiktoffen notes that while he's certain the room he and Zola meet in is a dead zone, he still doesn't feel safe talking in it, feeling like the castle is still listening in somehow. It is.
  • Ready for Lovemaking: According to one of the footnotes, the reason Da Boyz think about teaching Gil about "the birds and the weasels" is because girls in Mechanicsburg traditionally dress in weasel pajamas when attempting to seduce their boyfriends.
  • Real After All: Moloch is terrified to learn that the Skull-Queen of Skral, whom his grandmother used as a bogeywoman when he was a child, was in fact real, to say nothing of her being Agatha's ancestor.
  • The Reveal:
    • All Smoke Knights are supposed to be wasped...and Violetta isn't.
    • Zola is Lucrezia's niece, and thus Agatha's cousin on the Mongfish side.
  • Seppuku: What any Jaeger who returns to Mechanicsburg while the Heterodyne is missing is supposed to do. And from the phrasing, Oggie and Maxim weren't joking when they prepared to do it.
  • Smug Super: One of the reasons Sparks disapprove of consciousness transferal is because the few Sparks that get it right are amazingly smug about it.
  • Stepford Smiler: Mechanicsburg as a whole. When tourists are looking, they're all smiles and cheers, but Agatha quickly notices it's a sham, and the town is in serious disrepair.
  • Supervillain Lair: Klaus encourages the creation of these, the more elaborate the better. After all, the more time Sparks spend building these, the less time they have for actual supervillainry. Castle Heterodyne in its heyday was probably the most impressive example in all of Europa.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • The Third Duke of someplace unimportant, who the narration notes didn't take the hint when his lands were removed from existence and do something useful with his life. Gil, who has met him before, can only think after killing him that this means the sum total of human intelligence has risen. Slightly.
    • A footnote points out that being too stupid for their own good is a fully recognised form of death in this setting, and when the late Duke Strinbeck's next of kin were informed of his death in this manner, they didn't even blink.
    • An airman on the Pink Airship suggests tricking the torchmen who are chasing them into attacking Castle Wulfenbach. The captain quickly punches the idiot out, though that is in part because of Airman's honor.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: A recurring theme with Constructs, as Sparks never learn that they will not in fact obey their commands and crush their enemies. A famous Spark researcher died under mysterious circumstances trying to determine the reason why.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Zola underestimates Agatha, thinking she's just some minor detail that needs to be killed at the first opportunity. On the other hand, everyone underestimates Zola. She works very hard to maintain this cover.
  • Unholy Matrimony: The Castle quietly notes that after catching the attention of Dagon Heterodyne with an army of homunculi, the Skull-Queen of Skral and he were very happy together.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Dr. Sun's only remark on seeing Gil fighting two assassins off is to note one of them has a flail, and how rarely people use them.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Duke Josef Carmelita Strinbeck (One of Zola's backers from the Pink Airship), who lost his land to toy automatons. The only reason the other nobles still give him the time of day is because to do otherwise would be gauche. A footnote points out that with his brainless, rude, snide attitude he would have made an excellent head waiter in another life.
  • Up to Eleven: Sparks cause a deep and instinctual fear/loyalty in non-Sparks, especially when they are fully within the Madness Place. Sparks, however, are excited or even aroused by this behavior. When Agatha drinks the Dyne water and begins to ascend, every other Spark in the room tries to run for their lives.


Example of: