The tag line for the book Agatha H and the Airship City is “Adventure! Romance! Science!” In this steam-punk twist, there are people who are Sparks, meaning individuals with the talent of a mad-scientist. Sparks of the past and some of the present are of the deranged evil scientist variety, and they tend to rule the world or at least part of it. Almost 20 years before the current story, a pair of Spark brothers from one of the most notorious Spark families, the Heterodynes, decided to be heroes instead. The Heterodyne brothers then disappeared, but their legacy remains in the form of stories and plays.
Agatha Clay is a student at Transylvania Polygnostic University who can’t seem to do anything right or build anything functional. Her life is about to change. A former associate of the Heterodyne Brothers, Baron Klaus Wulfenbach who currently rules most of the known world, shows up with his airship Castle Wulfenbach and takes Agatha along as the assistant/girlfriend of the newly discovered Spark, Moloch Von Zinsser. In reality, Moloch is not a Spark, and Agatha does not like him. Agatha had been given a locket by her uncle which Moloch’s brother stole, and she wants it back. While she is without it, Agatha and the Baron’s kind of cute (?) son Gilgamesh discover that she might actually be a powerful Spark herself. The rest of the story follows the adventures of Agatha, Gil, and friends as they all try to figure out a lot of secrets that surround them.
There are several things I like about the world of this story. First, unlike a lot of steampunk, there is a focus on scientists as a breed, and how dangerous and ethically questionable technological (and sometimes biological) experimentation can be. Second, and on a related note, the story is mostly a humorous adventure, but it also manages to combine the fun with serious and dark implications. Character complexity is another feature that I liked as well. There are very few who are strictly evil or strictly good. For example, the Baron, who looks like the main villain, is actually trying to keep the world from descending into war-torn chaos, and he also really believes in what he and the Heterodynes had been doing before they vanished.
I haven’t seen the graphic novel series upon which this novel and its 2 sequels (so far) are based, but I’ll be interested to see if the spirit remains the same.