Phil and Kaja Foglio’s gaslamp fantasy series Girl Genius is set in a world of automatons and dirigibles, tyrants and heroes, and stories of the famous adventurers, The Heterodyne Boys. It’s a world where a small portion of the population are Sparks, geniuses born with the ability to invent death rays and revenants and robots capable of leveling cities, but usually without the common sense to determine when building something like that is a fantastically bad idea.
Into all this comes Agatha Clay, a bumbling college student with a lot of big ideas, and a track record of creating things that either fall to pieces or explode. Sometimes both. Nothing she makes ever works, at least until the day the locket she’s been told to never take off is stolen. Suddenly Agatha finds herself a hostage aboard a tyrant’s city-sized dirigible, Castle Wulfenbach, surrounded by the brightest and maddest of the Empire, and building actual working inventions in her sleep. And all that’s before she finds out that she is somehow the long-lost heir to the Heterodyne Family.
The ongoing Girl Genius comic series first started in 2001, and has since won the Hugo Award three times for Best Graphic Story; it most likely would have kept on winning if the Foglios hadn’t withdrawn the series from the competition so they could give other artists a chance. In 2011 the Foglios released the first of the novelized versions of the ongoing story, Agatha H and the Airship City. The book retells the story from the graphic novel, with some interesting additions that can give readers a little more back story about the characters and world that the original version may have missed.