Review: The Guns Above
If you were disappointed in my mediocre rating for ARABELLA OF MARS (EBR review), then here is the book that will fulfill your military-steampunk airship cravings and to spare. THE GUNS ABOVE is everything ARABELLA isn’t: engaging characters, easy to read prose, exciting plot, hilarious dialogue, and a lead female character with brains.
The Garnian Airship Corps is integrated–that is, women can be crew members. This is necessary because the long war with the Vin empire has strangled the military’s ability to recruit enough men to battle on the necessary fronts. Josette Dupree, despite General Fieran’s attempts to the contrary, can finally captain a ship of her own, the Mistral. This antagonism has less to do with the fact that she’s a woman and more to do with recent heroics that have stolen his spotlight. It would look bad if he didn’t give her a ship, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try to let her hang herself as a result of her own reckless fighting style.
Enter the general’s nephew Lord Bernat, a dandy with zero military knowledge or experience–other than the blue-blood acceptable rifle hunting and swordplay–who is assigned to Josette’s ship as an “observer” but is really there to spy out unacceptable behavior that would demonize her publicly.
They’re on a week-long testing trip for their newfangled ship, so should have been out of harm’s way, until a Vin scout ship appears and the Garnian Army seems too preoccupied with the main battlefront to bother taking care of it. At the insistence of her crew, Josette, who never runs from a fight, tracks down the scout ship and discovers that it’s a harbinger of a new and unexpected invasion–right through her hometown.
Sure THE GUNS ABOVE isn’t a complicated plot–even straightforward and a little predictable–but coming off the slow-moving ARABELLA, I found myself much more engaged.
First off, the characters were much better rounded. At first the main character Josette might seem a little cold to be a real woman, I have to admit I identified with her in many ways. Maybe not so much to quick-thinking when fighting stronger men or the fearlessness in the face of battle, but definitely the parts about being misunderstood because she doesn’t talk about herself (or really understand her feelings), about her insistence on the best efforts of her crew which often seems mean and demanding, her consistent use of sarcasm, as well as her strategic thinking (if she took the Meyers-Briggs she’d be an INTJ, a female personality I rarely see in novels). She lives in a world where women don’t have the same liberties as their male counterparts, and while it bothers Josette, she just doesn’t have time to worry about it because she has a job to do. The other PoV character is Bernat, who starts out as a bit of a cad, but as we get to know him, we learn there’s more than meets the eye. The main characters’ interactions are so fun to read, their dialogue really brings out the kind of people they are, and are hilarious and clever. Sometimes authors are too clever for their own good and all the characters have witty dialogue; fortunately, Bennis uses wisdom and gives us more character insight via dialogue and interactions in a way that shows us more than mere narration would.
The worldbuiling wasn’t particularly exciting, as most of the time was spent on what was happening; Bennis makes up for this with the setting of the airship Mistral, and the details about how the ship works without being overbearing or dragging down the pacing with boring infodumps. Since so much of the time is spent in the sky we see so little of the world’s terrain, but get a general feel for boundaries, politics, military life, and societal constraints.
THE GUNS ABOVE is a fun read. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s hard to ignore Bennis’ ability to spin a good yarn.
- Recommended Age: 15+
- Language: A handful
- Violence: They are at war, so the book is moving from one fight to the next; death and some gore
- Sex: Innuendo