Genre: Steampunk/Gaslamp fantasy
Synopsis: In a world where mad science is a superpower and those that have it–Sparks–rule cities and empires, Agatha Clay is a research assistant at a university. She thinks she’s just some girl with a penchant for headaches, until her locket is stolen–and she finds out the locket was somehow suppressing her own Spark. The person who gave her that locket–her uncle–must have been hiding her existence. But why?
Unfortunately for Agatha, she’s probably going to find out. Because the same day she loses that locket, Baron Wulfenbach–the Spark who rules Europa with an iron fist–and his son visit the university. These are exactly the sort of people a young lady in hiding should avoid at all costs, but Agatha is in real danger of coming to their attention.
Series: Some 16 or so volumes so far.
I’ve Read: Everything that’s up so far.
I’ve been a loyal follower of this webcomic for a long time. It’s so much fun, and it’s so unique. This is an epic story about a girl taking control of her own destiny in a world where every Spark vies for power. It makes great use of its mad science themes, where a lot of its humor comes from. And it really expands the mad scientist genre by moving beyond the trope to make many of the major characters–protagonists and antagonists, villains and heroes–into mad scientists.
Agatha is a fun character to follow. No one will give her the benefit of the doubt, because many of her relatives have been of the supervillain variety. Even the famous example of her father and uncle, known as celebrated heroes, doesn’t do much to offset that image of her. But if she isn’t the hero her father was, she certainly isn’t the villain plenty of her other relatives were, either. Agatha generally has a good set of morals, when she doesn’t get too excited to remember them.
And while being a Spark comes with a certain amount of flair, she can be pretty grounded too. It’s cool that this depends on the situation–sometimes she’s freaking out at other people’s antics, and sometimes it’s the other way around.
The adventures she gets caught up in, or even ends up launching herself, are entertaining, rollicking rides. Between escaping airships, traveling with a circus, and fighting off a siege–with a castle powered by an evil AI and a bio-engineered army, no less–the action is always captivating. The worldbuilding is rich, providing us with a railroad system run by monks and a republic of librarians in the Parisian underground.
The cast is made of colorful, memorable characters. A Smoke Knight who insists she’s terrible at her job, even while demonstrating some serious sleight-of-hand skill. An adventurer who’s absolutely convinced he’s the hero of this story. An airshipman who manages to survive everything, even dragging the Baron to safety with a broken arm and leg. An ex-pirate queen who now works for the Baron, and can be counted on to gleefully attack his enemies (and sometimes his allies).
The story is so rich, and so sweeping, it’s hard to say much without giving too much away. I love this webcomic, though. Its characters are great, it manages to be genuinely funny, and the sense of adventure to it is captivating.