Monday, January 15, 2018

The Guns Above (Signal Airship #1) by Robyn Bennis review

    THE GUNS ABOVE is an excellent steampunk novel which manages to include a lot of the tropes of the genre while combining them with an action movie. The book has its flaws: it tends to take the view of the aristocracy as a complete bunch of mouth-breathing incompetents and the heroine is unlikable at times. On the other hand, there's a lot of entertaining bits and a surprising bit of character development from one of the antagonists.

    The premise of the book is Josette Dupre, Auxiliary Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, oversteps her rank after the death of her captain to command her ship in battle. This results in a resounding victory and her position as the first female airship captain. Unfortunately, her victory also humiliates the head of the Garnian military. Assigned an experimental airship which may fall out of the sky at any time, she's ready and willing to prove herself in action against the invading army of Vinzhalia. Unfortunately, she's been assigned a spy in the foppish Lord Bernat who has the job of digging up dirt to ruin her career before it's even begun.

    Josette is a hard nosed character and deeply bitter about her position. Having worked incredibly hard to move through her position, the fact she's being held down because of her sex is less galling than the fact the people doing so barely remember doing so. Her contempt for the nobility and the society she fights for is oftentimes fascinating but also a bit depressing. It's hard to root for Garnia when they're a nation of such jackasses. The only real thing they have over Vinzhalia is they're probably no worse.

    Lord Bernat is an intriguing character as while he starts as a gross parody of a nobleman: spoiled, lazy, not terribly bright, and addicted to older women--he's also a master rifleman. Gradually, we get a good deal of insight that provides him with a chance to grow and expand. While not a big fan of "the military will straighten out a character", I think it was believable here. I also like his and Josette's "not relationship" that I hope turns into something more.

    Much attention is paid to the specifics of flight and how battles between airships might be waged. I enjoyed these technical aspects and how the various things which might go wrong actually do go wrong. The action scenes are quite memorable and exciting as well as terrible. I also like how the dark side of them is also treated. Our protagonists winning isn't all glory and honor since the people they're killing are just like them. They also suffer casualties which can be horribly brutal like individuals losing their hands.

    In conclusion, I really enjoyed this novel and am definitely going to pick up the sequel. Josette may not be the most likable protagonist and Bernat is a bit of a page hog but the world of Signal Airship is fascinating. I want to see the villains punished and the heroes succeed--which is more than most books can claim.


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