Review: The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

Sunday, May 28, 2017
Title: The Guns Above
Author: Robyn Bennis
Genre: steampunk
Series: Signal Airship #1
Pages: 336
Published: May 2 2017
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 4/5

The nation of Garnia has been at war for as long as Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupre can remember – this time against neighboring Vinzhalia. Garnia’s Air Signal Corp stands out as the favored martial child of the King. But though it’s co-ed, women on-board are only allowed “auxiliary” crew positions and are banned from combat. In extenuating circumstances, Josette saves her airship in the heat of battle. She is rewarded with the Mistral, becoming Garnia’s first female captain.

She wants the job – just not the political flak attached. On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat – a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. He’s also been assigned to her ship to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision. When the Vins make an unprecedented military move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself to the top brass?

This is a book that begins and ends with literal bangs. Robyn Bennis is the kind of author that jumps right into the thick of the action and it makes The Guns Above beyond fun. It's...sorryIjustcanthelpit... explosively entertaining from the first page until the last. It's a fast-paced fantasy and steampunk read that feels like a historical fiction adventure a la Master and Commander.. but less stuffy and with more aerial battles and manners.

Though Napoleonic-era type warfare dominates the plot and the world, the book is centered on Garnia's first female airship captain fighting in those battles. Josette Dupre is capable, smart, and very definitely going to be used by military higher-ups for their own purposes. In short, she's in over her head from the start. Doubted at best, unsafe at worst, she is at the mercy of her superiors when she should be receiving their support. But Josette is the kind of woman who rises to any challenge; the kind who doesn't know when to quit - even when saddled with a "revolutionary" (aka deadly) new ship. She's developed into a wonderfully real person; not always likeable, not even close to perfect - all without sacrificing her intelligence or her courage. Her dry humor is rarely seen but makes all the more impression when shown.

Josette's counterpart and foil is that of the dandy Lord Bernat, a louche, fastidious aristocrat whose main talent is the ability to spin an sentence and be a pain in neck. Ostensibly added to Josette's crew to help facilitate in her new role, in reality he uses his first skill to accent and enlarge his second. Placed (using family connections, natch) as a spy to undermine the first female captain via reports and newsheets, the fop begins to show unexpected layers to his personality and to challenge his own many flaws. Drawn in by the captain and her stalwart crew, Bernat evolves into a better if not truly "good" man thanks to his inclusion among the crew of Mistral. He's thoroughly entertaining no matter which role he is currently playing; his snobby-but-funny banter pairs perfectly with Josette's laconic sarcasm and detached first impression.

Set against a backdrop of aerial combat and skirmishes with the enemy not to mention sabotage from her own leadership, The Guns Above balances its character development with plenty of action and tension. There's rarely a slow moment in its pages; rocketing from one kind of engagement to another, the pacing and the plot progress do not slow down. It makes for a story both very fast and very fun. While The Guns Above provides an excellent ending, managing to conclude most of its main plotlines satisfactorily, there are still political intrigues and the more militaristic plotlines left open for further exploration in sequels.

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