Review: By Fire Above

Posted: June 13, 2018 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Robyn Bennis, Steampunk

Josette is the captain of the airship Mistral, and after the events of THE GUNS ABOVE (EBR review), she’s made enough of a name for herself that she doesn’t have to worry about the powers-that-be of taking her ship away from her. But the war with the Vins continues to rage, and making a name for oneself means that her and her crew are thrown once again into the fray to fight for Garnia.

But the scariest thing Josette will do is navigate the Garnian royal court.

You see, Josette may be a woman, but she’s also he captain of a military air ship, and as a result hasn’t really cultivated the gentler aspects of the fairer sex. So when called to appear before the king, Bernat (son of a duke, ship’s mascot) is terrified that she’s going to make the kings angry and lose everything. Instead, she gets exactly what she asks for: a chance to free her hometown of Durum from the Vins.

This request doesn’t come without problems. Hers is the only airship sent, along with a ground army of untested conscripts who do better with a pen than a bayonet–and a timeframe that doesn’t give Josette much leeway. They arrive at the city walls only to discover that there are more Vins in the city than expected, so Josette must get creative if the Garnian army will have a chance to win. And, of course, nothing goes to plan and everything explodes. It’s kinda awesome.

After winning many important aerial battles for her country, Josette's biggest challenge may not be the enemy above but the politics below in BY FIRE ABOVE.

The best part of BY FIRE ABOVE are the characters and their interactions, many of which drive the story. As mentioned in my review for THE GUNS ABOVE, Josette’s personality isn’t one I often see in female characters, and I appreciate the consistency from book to book. She’s a woman in a man’s job, and very good at what she does. She has a hard time navigating relationships (romantic and family-related), because she isn’t always sure what she should feel. But at the same time is comfortable in her platonic relationship with Bernat; their witty dialogue exchanges are especially fun to read. By now Bernat has shown his quality, that despite his often foppish behavior, he’s proven himself useful in a fight, with common sense and courage despite often impossible odds. His relationship with Josette’s mother is a source of consternation for our hero captain.

The storyline is the fight for Durum, so it’s one small battle in the larger scheme of things, so at first it seems like BY FIRE ABOVE is too small a story for one book. But thankfully Bennis doesn’t spare us the nitty gritty of re-taking a walled border town, so we can appreciate Josette’s ingenuity and learn a little bit more about where she came from and what makes her tick. This time around we get more of Kember, the female Ensign aboard the Mistral, from whom Josette expects competence and hard work. We watch as she deals with a bullet wound from THE GUNS ABOVE and has lasting scarring on her face, copes with a new and incompetent lieutenant, and has to make a hard decision that could very well affect the survival of the Mistral‘s crew. I like her, but, dang, that poor kid has to go through so much. She looks up to Josette and tries to make the kind of decision that her captain would. Josette is fortunate to have such a loyal crew.

I don’t want to spoil too much for you, because the details, turn of events, and character interactions are something you need to experience for yourself.

  • Recommended Age: 14+
  • Language: A handful
  • Violence: They are at war so there's a fair amount
  • Sex: Referenced and a brief post-scene

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