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?
Growing up, while her friends went to the beach and learned vital social skills, Robyn had her nose in a book or her eyes on a PBS special. After all, what kind of wrong-headed dolt would want to waste their time partying, when Marty Stouffer is about to talk about water shrews? When Ai and Estraven are braving the frozen wastes of Gethen? When Alex and his droogs are… You know, that time she probably should have gone to the beach.
Now she spends her days working in biotech and her nights thinking up new curse words to adequately describe how horrible people are. Having met with limited success in either endeavor, she vents her frustrations through crime, yelling at clouds, and writing. Her debut novel, The Guns Above, will be released by Tor Books in May 2017.
The Guns Above is a book that has been on my radar for a while, and so when the audio edition became available I decided to take the plunge, doubly excited by the fact that it would be read by one of my favorite narrators, Kate Reading.
From the look of the book’s cover, I had deduced that the story would be a military fantasy, though in truth it is a bit more complicated than that. For one thing, the presence of magic in this world is sparse to non-existent, not to mention that the tone and style of the setting more is more strongly reminiscent of something you’d find in the historical fiction adventure genre. And then of course we have the steampunk allusions with the airships and aerial battles, which certainly injects a fair amount of thrills and action.
As the novel opens, we are introduced to protagonist Josette Dupre, an airship captain in the Garnian Navy. While in general women are not frequently given command posts, her kingdom has been at war for the better part of life—most recently against the nation of Vinzhalia—and the military has need of all the warm bodies it can get. And thus, when Josette unexpectedly turns the tide in a major battle against the enemy while serving as an Auxiliary Lieutenant, she is rewarded with a promotion and an airship of a “revolutionary” design, a term which everyone in the navy dreads because it almost always means an experimental deathtrap. However, Josette is undaunted, taking to her new role as captain of the Mistral with aplomb even when the powers that be are it making no secret their contemptuous dismay at having a female in such a highly placed position.
In particular, Josette’s promotion has caught the attention of a general who is determined to see her fail and removed from the service. As it happens, his nephew, the pampered and foppish Lord Bernat is in need of some focus and discipline in his life, and so the young nobleman is summarily assigned to the Mistral to act as a spy for his uncle. Bernat’s orders are to keep an eye on Josette, cataloguing all her flaws and mistakes for a negative report that will lead to her dismissal from the navy. However, as the airship crew heads into battle against the Vin, Bernat gets to witness Josette’s leadership firsthand, and eventually comes to respect her abilities for strategy and command.
Let me first begin by saying I enjoyed The Guns Above. This book had all the tensions and urgency of one of my favorite genres, which is military sci-fi or space opera, except that the setting here more resembles the era of the Napoleonic Wars, of course. I always find myself caught up in the thrill of the moment whenever I’m treated to scenes of ship-to-ship assaults, reveling at the complete mayhem of hull breaches, blaring alarms, and panicked officers barking out orders. To my absolute joy, the airship assaults featured in this novel can certainly give any epic space battle a run for its money.
But for all the action in the story, I thought the character development was the best part of the book and would have liked to have seen more. Initially, I was perplexed as to why I wasn’t enjoying myself as much as expected, until I realized how much of the plot was dominated by battle scenes and action sequences. Since at the time, my schedule was only allowing me to listen to this audiobook in short bursts, the constant barrage of pandemonium actually became a little tedious when in fact I was feeling in the mood for something more substantial. It wasn’t until the later parts of the novel that I began to feel more invested in the story, and not surprisingly this was also when the friendship between Josette and Bernat finally evolved to the point where their interactions became more interesting. There was one particular bar scene that was my favorite, where the humor and camaraderie between the characters was on full display.
All told, I definitely enjoyed the second half of the novel more than the first, once story and character relationships were firmly established and began to evolve. At the very least, The Guns Above was fast-paced high-flying adventure full of explosive action and intrepid personalities. The audiobook was also a great listen because of the superb narration. As always, Kate Reading nailed the performance, her voice being the perfect match for Josette’s poise and strength. This book is the best kind of escapism, especially if you’re a fan of military fantasy or speculative fiction with a nice steampunk flavor. I’ll be keeping my eye out for the second Signal Airship installment. Given all the groundwork completed here, I think the next one will be great.
A steampunk/military fantasy taking place in a WWI-esque setting.
This starts out really well. The first scene sets up a good potential plot with a natural gravitas. From there unfortunately it never takes off. Things become predictable, simplistic and cliche reading like fantasy 101.
There's also simply too much time spent on the structure of the ship and it becomes tedious. I understand the need to give the reader the sense of the dirigible since the mass of the story takes place in it but it needs to happen in the context of a developing story not at the expense of one.
The writer did have a very easy style and I would consider reading something by her in the future as her craft develops.
An action-packed military fantasy with airships being used as part of war at a level of technology roughly matching the Crimean or Napoleonic wars but set in an alternate world.
Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupre (auxiliary because she's a woman), distinguishes herself in combat after taking over the command of her airship after her captain is killed and turning the tide of a critical battle. As her reward, she is promoted to Senior Lieutentant and given the command of an airship of "revolutionary new design" (read: flying deathtrap). But her performance and promotion has not left her without enemies, and a General that has it in for her assigns his nephew Lord Bernat as a spy to discredit her. When the shakedown flight of the Mistral uncovers a new advance on the part of the enemy Josette and Lord Bernat find themselves fighting battle after battle with an untried airship and crew.
I loved this. Military science fiction is often criticized for refighting the Napoleonic wars with spaceships, and this at least brings the action back to the correct timeframe. The fantastic elements are that it's set in an alternate world, and that the technology around airships has been brought back in time by about 50 years or so to coincide with muskets and cannons. There's no magic here.
Josette coming into her own as the Captain of the Mistral is fantastic to watch, as is the character journey of Bernat. The banter between the two and it's dry fatalistic humor is terrific as well. Bernat's ignorance of everything about airships works well as a way to introduce the reader to the technology and tactics as well, both of which are gone into in extraordinary detail.
I bought this book because I read the preview of the first few chapters in an article from when its release was coming, and I found the tone to be fun and pointed with a sense of humor very reminiscent of Terry Pratchet. If I was going to rate the first 7 or so chapters of the book, I would give it a four or a five!
Unfortunately, the further the book goes, the less it keeps with its initial tone and the more depressing and technical it gets.
A minor nitpick is that the airship descriptions and what was going on were too extensive and thorough to a degree that took away from the narrative. If I can be reading along and skip a full page of technical ship description every once in a while without it impacting the narrative at all, then that description is not really necessary to the book.
A more major nitpick is that this book sets itself up to be something completely different from what it ended up being. You are presented with a canny, hyper-competent, plucky female protagonist that has earned the respect of the men working under her despite the sexist expectations set against her. Soon enough, however, this book turns grim, and the foppish but socially canny man set to be the main character's foil and subvert her goals starts overstepping her personal boundaries and advising her because it turns out that she isn't as competent as you thought. The charming humor also dwindles to occasional spurts of tone-inappropriate jokes, and you are suddenly reading constant play by plays of aerial battles while the advertised female main character is punished for doing her job by the narrative and recurring oppressive sexism, and the tricky spoiled lord (who would have been a much more fascinating snake in the grass if he ever faced any consequences for it) is the only one to face more or less significant character development.
It can be a good book for some, though I maintain that it's really unnecessary to hammer on about how sexist your universe is if you're not actually planning on subverting that sexism in your narrative, but it's not at all the same book that you start out reading, nor that the summary (which highlights the characters, who don't end up developing very much) is about.
Reminiscent of the Horatio Hornblower stories, this book is loads of fun, with plenty of aerial combat and sarcastic banter between Josette Dupre, airship Lieutenant, and Lord Bernat, the aristocrat sent to her airship, by his General uncle, to monitor her and discredit her, and women in general, for the military brass. Josette is competent, which is infuriating for the brass, as her latest action helps turn the tide in a battle, giving her a promotion to Captain. Saddled with Bernat and a new airship (with an untested and new design), she's told to atrol the front lines. Bernat spends much of his time talking to crew and writing a long and damning (and totally false) report about Josette's competence. Josette, meanwhile, also decides to put the new ship through its paces, and while on trial maneuvers, Dupre and her crew discover enemy movements toward Garnia. She decides to engage. We get lots of great descriptions of the battle in the sky, and insight into Josette's character. Despite Bernat's missive to his uncle, his own thoughts about Josette, her crew, and airships, change over the course of the story, and an interesting friendship begins developing between the two individuals, with both having to radically reevaluate their earlier assumptions about the other. I am now looking forward to what Josette does next during the next phase of the war between Garnia and Vinzhalia.
I deeply enjoyed this book. A magic-less (or exceptionally low magic) secondary world full of airships and muskets and trains, still dealing with issues of imperialism and sexism is very much "my kind of thing" and the fast pace and well developed main characters made it even better.
It's a military fantasy without being overly gritty, but doesn't shy away from the realities of war, and it's a story about an unlikely friendship that we actually get to see unfold, rather than just hearing about how two fast friends are so unsuited for each other.
You could certainly read this for the fast paced aerial battles and witty, sarcastic banter, and I loved those aspects, but the underlying topics of sexism, family dynamics, the meaning of heroism and redemption, and imperialism all make it worth taking a bit more time with.
I'm definitely looking forward to the sequel, because while this book wraps up the episode fairly well, I'm not satisfied with the resolution of character motivations and development. Hence 4 stars out of 5.
Net Galley provided me a review copy in return for my honest review.
Overall, The Guns Above was an enjoyable steampunk adventure, with a strong female protagonist and airships and battles.
Josette Dupre is an enjoyable protagonist who becomes the first female captain of an airship. Whether this assignment is out of earned respect or a setup to see her fail depends on perspective. Either way, its an amazing opportunity that came her way after becoming a hero when her previous airship crashed. And it turns out her new airship is not just any airship, but a brand new, cutting edge model. Again, since its cutting edge, the likelihood of demise is higher, so whether it was an honor or not is a bit debatable. But Josette is up for the challenge and handles everything with skill and humor. She really is a great character to follow as she lightens things with a great sense of humor and she kicks ass at what she does.
One of the things that didn’t work well for me was the sexism. I know the author has done this on purpose, but the misogynistic characters in this just felt over the top. We get the view point from a an overly sexist character who’s only real defining character trait was being a sexist. This made him essentially a caricature and not much more. Everything that came out of his mouth was negative about women, particularly about how unqualified they are for the military. I believe if it had been toned down it would have had more impact. I’m not saying there are not overtly sexist people in real life, but reading a perspective like that did little more than irritate me and the character felt flat. I found nothing redeemable about the character and just struggled a bit with listening to him and others be so dismissive and derogatory about women. I suspect some readers may actually enjoy seeing the protagonist overcome a character like this, but I just found it depressing and kind of irritating. Turns out I dislike reading sexists idiots in fiction as much as I hate listening to them in real life. There was just simply too much of that for me in this book. It is entirely possible to get the point across about the level of sexism in the world without containing the amount of sexist verbal vomit that character spewed. This aspect of the book made me dock my rating half a star, so it was not a deal breaker, but did impact my rating a bit.
Anyway, outside of that, I really enjoyed the book. Overall, it has a decent pace and fun premise. If you can ignore the sexist idiots, or just laugh at them instead of getting irritated, then its a great read. Even if you can’t, despite my rant, I found more to enjoy than I did to rant about (my rant just took up more words in the review). This is a book that is about fun and adventure (and overcoming overt sexism) rather than shocking plot twists, so I wouldn’t go into it expecting earth shattering surprises, but the journey and story are enjoyable.
This book begins and ends with a literal bang. It's beyond fun. It's... sorrycanthelpit... explosively entertaining. It's a fast fantasy and steampunk read that feels like a historical fiction adventure a la Master and Commander but less stuffy and with more aerial battles. Napoleonic-era type warfare dominates the plot, but the entire book is centered on Garnia's first female airship captain. Very fast and very fun.
The Guns Above is an absolutely fantastic steampunk/Military SF action adventure story. This is one of those stories where it’s science fiction mostly because it isn’t anything else. The only SFnal element is the “not our world” setting and, of course, the airships. Those marvelous airships.
But in its protagonist of Lieutenant Josette Dupre, we have an avatar for every woman who has had it drummed into her head that “in order to be thought half as good as a man she’ll have to be twice as good. And that lucky for her, that’s not difficult.” And we’ve all heard it.
And on my rather confused other hand, it feels like Josette Dupre is Jack Aubrey, which makes Bernat Hinkal into Stephen Maturin. I’m having a really difficult time getting my head around that thought, but at the same time, I can’t dislodge that thought either.
Yes, I promise to explain. As well as I can, anyway.
Lieutenant Dupre technically begins the story as an Auxiliary Lieutenant, because women aren’t permitted to be “real” officers. Or give orders to men. Or participate in battles. Or a whole lot of other completely ridiculous and totally unrealistic rules and regulations that seem to be the first thing thrown over the side when an airship lifts.
Dupre is being feted as the winner of the Garnians’ recent battle in their perpetual war with the Vinzhalians. A war which to this reader sounds an awful lot like the perpetual 18th and even 19th century wars between England and France. (Also the 14th and 15th centuries, better known as the Hundred Years’ War, because it was)
Who the war is with, and which side anyone is one, don’t feel particularly relevant, although I expect they will in the later books in this series that I am crossing my fingers for. What matters to the reader is that we are on Dupre’s side from beginning to end, against the Vinz, against the bureaucracy, against her commanding officer, against the entire world that is just so damn certain that she is incapable of doing the job she is manifestly so damn good at.
And we begin the book pretty much against Lord Bernat Hinkal, because his entire purpose on board Dupre’s ship Mistral is to write a damning report to his uncle the General, giving said General grounds for dismissing the first female captain in the Signal Corps. It doesn’t matter how much utter fabrication Bernat includes in his report, because whatever terrible things he makes up will be believed. There are plenty of reactionary idiots in the Army and the government who believe that women are incapable of commanding, therefore Dupre must be a fluke or a freak of nature or both.
The General is looking for ammunition to shoot down, not just Dupre, but the notion that the Garnians are losing their perpetual war, or at least running out of manpower to fight it, and that womanpower might possibly be at least part of the answer. But the General, like so much of the military hierarchy, is content to rest their laurels and their asses on the so-called fact that Garnia hasn’t lost a war in over three centuries, therefore they can’t be losing this one now.
The past is not always a good predictor of the future, especially when combined with the old truism that generals are always fighting the last war.
But what happens to Bernat, and to the reader, is that we follow in Dupre’s wake, observing her behavior, her doubts, her actions and her sheer ability to command not just her crew’s obedience but also its fear, its respect and even its awe. Dupre, whether in spite of or because of her so-called handicap of being female, is a commander that troops will follow into the toughest firefight – because she is their very best chance at getting to the other side alive – no matter how desperate the odds.
Dupre, her airship Mistral, and The Guns Above are all winners. The Garnian military hierarchy be damned.
Escape Rating A+: It’s obvious that I loved The Guns Above. I got completely absorbed in it from the very first page, and was reluctant to put it down at the end and leave this world behind. Dupre is a marvelous hero who has clear doubts and fears and yet keeps on going from one great thing to another. Part of what makes her fantastic is that she hears that still small voice inside all of us that says we’re faking it, but forces herself to keep going anyway. She exhibits that best kind of courage – she knows she’s terrified, but she goes ahead anyway. Because it’s her duty. Because she knows that, in spite of everything, she is the best person available for the job. Not that she’s the best person in the universe for it, she has way too much self-doubt for that, but that in that place and in that time she’s the best person available. And to quote one of my favorite characters from a much different universe, “Someone else might get it wrong.”
The way that this world is set up, and the way that the setting up proceeds, reminds me tremendously of the Aubrey/Maturin series by the late Patrick O’Brian. That series features a British naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars, along with the friend that he brings aboard his first (and subsequent) command. Like Dupre, Jack Aubrey is also a lieutenant in his first outing, called “Captain” by courtesy when aboard his rather small ship. As is Dupre. Also like the Aubrey series, there is a tremendous amount of detail about the ship and the way it is rigged and the way that the crew behaves. The reader is virtually dumped into a sea of lines and jargon, and it makes the setting feel real. In the O’Brian series it was real, and here it isn’t, but the feeling is the same, that this is a working ship and that this is the way it works.
Also the focus here, like in the O’Brian series, is on this battle and this action and this fight, not on the greater politics as a whole, most of the time. It feels like the Granians are England in this scenario, and the Vinzhalians, France. This is not dissimilar to the Honor Harrington series, where Honor is Jack, Manticore is England, and Haven is France. “This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.”
Dupre is only a resident of the halls of power when she is about to receive a dressing down, as is Jack Aubrey in the early days.
But the comparison of Aubrey to Dupre makes Bernat into Maturin, and it actually does work a bit. But where Maturin was a doctor and discovered a function aboard the ship early on, Bernat is rather different. He’s a spy for his uncle, and Dupre knows it. He also begins the journey as a completely useless supernumerary whose only task seems to be to foment small rebellions. Also he’s a complete fop and as out of place on a ship of war as fox in a henhouse. Until he gets every bit as caught up in the action as the reader.
The fascinating thing about Bernat is that he neither changes nor reforms. And yet he does. At the beginning of the story he’s a complete fop, more concerned about his dress, his drink and the quality of his food than he is about anything else, including the progress of the war. He believes what he has been taught. At the end of the story, he is still a fop. But his eyes and his mind have been opened. Partially by Dupre, and partially by the rest of the crew. And, it seems, partially by finding something that he is good at. Aboard the Mistral, he has a positive purpose. On land, only a negative one. And it changes his perspective while not changing his essential nature.
At least not yet. Finding out where he goes from here, along with what plan to be the wild gyrations of Dupre’s career, looks like it’s going to be fascinating. And I can’t wait.
The Guns Above has received my first A+ Review for 2017, and will definitely be on my “Best of 2017” list, along with my Hugo nominations next year. This book is absolutely awesomesauce.
The Guns Above is the start of a new series set in a steampunk type world. Josette Dupris has been part of the Air Signal Corp for years; however, as a woman she's never been able to move past a certain rank, and women are certainly never supposed to be involved in a battle. While Josette is no stranger to war, she never expected that she would be given a command of her own, which is exactly what happens in The Guns Above. Due to the Josette's actions and the visibility of said heroics in the press, she is given command of an airship. Unsurprisingly Josette doesn't have a lot of support in a military that doesn't respect it's women. The General decides to send his dandified nephew Lord Bernat to shadow Josette and report back on every thing that doesn't go right for her. At first, this is an easy things for Bernat to do. He doesn't like or respect Josette and has some pretty preconceived notions about women in the service. Of course, war gets in the way and changes Bernat's opinions.
I really, really liked the premise for The Guns Above. Lady steamship captain battling it out against the odds? Um, yes please. That being said, I really would have liked to have seen more character development. If you're a fan of intricate descriptions of steamships and a play-by-play account of a battle, then this book is for you. While I have enjoyed some military fantasy books, I need a lot of character development to keep me interested in the story. And because I felt that there was so much potential for Josette as well as Bernat, I was kind of disappointed that there wasn't much meat to either character. Tidbits were dropped, but the focus of the book was on the battles and that's just not where my interest lies. That being said, this is the start of a series and with that I think that readers will see more character development over the next few books (although that's not as quickly as I would like to see it!).
The Guns Above is an interesting start to a new series. The setup is intriguing, but there is something missing if you like in-depth character development.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.
Josette Dupre has managed to become a captain of an airship, though women are not supposed to be in command positions. When she takes off in the airship Mistral, she has a spy aboard, the finicky dandy Lord Bernat, nephew of the general in command of the war effort.
Bernat is determined to discredit Josette, and thus gain a reward from his uncle, money he can use as menus plaisirs to get back to his life of lace and fine wine and compliant older ladies. Josette would love to scare the fop right off her airship.
They begin a trial run, testing untested elements in the airship . . . and because Josette is Josette, they run straight into action, and more action, and yet more--getting caught at the edge of a major invasion.
The narrative voice is brisk, often hilarious, studded with the typical black humor of soldiers in action. It's a funny book, the humor carried mainly by the narrative voice, because the book is also unflinchingly violent. Josette reminds me of Horatio Nelson, whose main strategy could be summed up as "Full speed ahead!" Collateral damage was expected by all, especially in a world wherein airships crashed more often than not.
The banter between Josette and Bernat is one of the book's main delights, the action scenes vivid and tense. The meticulous description of the airship makes me believe I'm going to be seeing one fly overhead today. Bennis has also developed believable tactics for airship fighting, providing air support for rifle and musket ground troops, and ground-to-air fighting.
The relationship is not resolved, and big questions are raised near the end. While this book comes to a satisfactory close, there are so many tantalizing threads that I really hope Bennis is planning a series.
This is a pretty typical steampunk story in my experience so far. The dialogue is fun; sort of a subdued Terry Pratchett style.
“Well, I expect you’ll manage,” the general said. “The ship’s Mistral. It’s a new design.”
Josette’s enthusiasm was momentarily checked, for the general had said the two words every airman dreaded: “new design.” Army flight engineers were forever searching for new and more efficient ways to get airmen killed. When they’d collected enough of them, they put them together in a devious package called a “new design.” But she took heart. At least he hadn’t said “revolutionary new design.”
After a sip of tea, the general went on. “My advisors tell me that it’s quite revolutionary.”
But most of the book is about battles. They’re good battles and well written. I just tend to zone out during fight scenes and battles in both books and TV. It’s just me. I think it’s because they usually lack dialogue and don’t advance the plot very quickly. (I find Brandon Sanderson’s action scenes engaging and brilliant.)
The characters are all fun, although the moronic general is very annoying. (He’s supposed to be.) He reminds me of General Melchett:
Bernie really grew on me, and Josette is my daughter’s middle name.
There’s no romance (YAY!!) but may be in later books. This one had an unrequited crush and an enemies-to-friends arc for the MCs. The editing was really good in some parts and really sloppy in others. I kept stumbling over misplaced commas, which completely interrupted the flow of the narrative.
There’s some rare strong language; no sexual content or graphic violence.
When I started this book, I was really aggravated because I wanted to find some meaning to the whole thing, some purpose to the characters but halfway through the book I realized that in my "mission" to find some meaning, I was letting how awesome it was just fly over my head.
It's filled with so much action and humour that I was really sad when it ended because I'm going to really miss Bernat's banter and Josette's cold humour.
It felt like I was reading a pirates of the Caribbean movie except, the ship was flying and Captain Jack Sparrow was Bernat... who is not the captain but that's who he reminded me of.
I hope I get to read the next book in the series because I already miss Josette and the crew.
Pretty solid military fantasy with muskets canons and airships. After a strong start it begins to enter familiar fantasy territory and the tropes seen in traditional fantasy tales are seen. Good fun fluff fantasy that has an easy breezy writing style that flows very well.
The Guns Above is a whip-smart, fast-paced, and surprisingly funny military fantasy. I didn’t think that I was interested in reading stories about a woman having to overcome systematic sexism anymore, and I was double not interested in reading anything like a redemption arc for that woman’s sexist antagonist, but Bennis manages to breathe some new life into both of those stories. I’m very glad that I was interested enough in airships to read this book despite my misgivings, as it turned out to be a wonderfully readable, remarkably fun and ultimately optimistic (but not cloyingly so) take on its subject matter.
After an act of combat heroism, Josette Dupris gets a promotion that makes her the first woman to captain an airship in a military with strict limits on women’s service. This would be a tough enough challenge on its own, but Josette is also saddled with a spy, Bernat, a spoiled nobleman with no military or airship experience to speak of, but whose job is nonetheless to report back to his powerful uncle on any of Josette’s failings, real or imagined. It’s definitely the sort of thing that one needs to be in the mood to read, especially since there aren’t easy answers to Josette’s problems, but it’s also definitely worth reading. This isn’t a book about one woman smashing the patriarchy single-handedly, and in fact Josette is largely unconcerned with doing so; she just wants to do her job like she knows she’s capable of. The Guns Above is about the way in which an ambitious woman can exist and find ways to thrive in a sexist society, and it’s about the incremental changes and personal fights that slowly push the needle of progress forward. It’s also about gritty, action packed airship battles and snarky humor, which makes it a perfect light-ish summer read.
This was an enjoyable read but there was perhaps a little too much battle over character development/exploration. That’s a personal gripe as I love good characters over fast paced plotting, although there was little plot here other than battle after battle after long winded descriptions of airships after battle after battle (you get my gist).
I enjoyed it enough to finish it, and i may read the second one after I read the blurb. But the overly descriptive narrative concerning the ships became tiresome early on and not even Bernie’s excellent quips could overcome that annoyance.
There were parts that I rather enjoyed but overall, the whole thing seemed a bit thin. The characters were cartoonish, the plot barely developed, and the tone terribly uneven. It wasn't painfully bad, though, just tedious and uninteresting.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review through Goodreads.
Two very nice people told me they thought this book would be a hit for me and they were absolutely right! This military fantasy world fit right into my "favorite" slots and ticked all the boxes. Author Robyn Bennis has given readers a debut novel that feels more like the work from a published author with multiple novels to her credit. This was fun to read with the snarky, witty comments flying back and forth between Josette Dupree and Bernat Hinkal at every opportunity. Josette is trying to prove that women can serve well in His Royal Majesty's Aerial Signal Corps and in her case pilot an airship. Bernat is the spy, sorry - observer, on her airship who is being paid to dig up the dirt on how incompetent she is. That shouldn't be too hard, right? After all, she is just a woman.
The comments fly thick and fast while fulfilling the function of explaining the setting of this fantasy world with the airships playing a vital role in the many wars these folks are constantly fighting. The steampunk style mechanics of the airships is explained fully along with the use of armament aboard the ships to fight other ships in flight or troops on the ground. The Bernat character should have been the villain of the piece but he was just so darn complicated that I loved reading on to find out what the author had in store for him by the end of the book. Some of the battle scenes, especially the final one, went on long enough that I got tired of them, but I still wanted to see what was going to happen to all the characters. The second book in the series has already been published so you can jump straight into that one after you finish the first.
This book is so much fun--action, humor, interesting characters slowly developing respect for one another--and at the same time, it hits some deeper notes about things like patriotism and equality. It looks like there will be more books set in the Signal Airship world, and that fills me with delight.
This is a very cool concept, but I feel like Bennis maybe got a little bit too excited about how awesome air ships are and threw every single piece of relevant terminology at her reader in her enthusiasm, without pausing to explain what they actually meant or referred to. And don't get me started on the constant conversations about weights and balances, and engineering. (There's a reason why I'm majoring in English Lit.) Even the attempts at explaining the world-building and the motivation for the wars currently being fought were confusing, and sparse at best. Which is definitely a shame, since I was fully prepared to enjoy this novel. Maybe I'll come back and give it another try some day in the future, but for now, I'll be setting this one aside.
Lieutenant Josette Dupris has just been given the command of an airship and is the first woman to to so. That command is the bane of the General commanding the troops so he sends his nephew as his spy to bring her down. Lord Bernat, a foppish aristocrat, is the spy. Josette know why he is there and what happens is a story full of laugh out loud lines wrapped into the blood and guts of battles. I loved how Bernat changes his attitude but not his personality as the story progresses. Josette seems to stay the same while overcoming incredible odds. I really loved this story and hope it is the first of a series. Following Josette and Bernat was such fun I want more.
I liked this much better than I expected I would. A nice Horatio Hornblower mixed with Catch-22 set in a steampunk universe. The character "transformation" wasn't handled as deftly as I would like, but a fast, fun read.
Even have a complete disaster work out in your favor? Josette Dupris wakes up after her airship crashes a hero. This is not a Flashman scenario; her quick thinking after the commanding officer bites it truly are worthy of some accolades as the tide of battle was turned by her controlled crash. But deserved accolades or not Dupris finds that the disaster she survived is only going to lead to more problems in the future. Specifically, press she doesn't want and a promotion that no one wants to give her.
For you see the new coed army thing isn't going over well among some in the Garnian command. Women are only supposed to be auxiliaries and not actually brought to combat. So taking over a airship, saving the day, and having the nation's press fall in love with your exploits? Probably not going to go over well with the Brass. Dupris soon finds herself with her own airship, an experimental specimen called the Mistral. And the first Captain's pins for a woman in the land. But with this comes the certain knowledge that taking the spotlight from her commanders is not going to bode well when it comes time for her new assignment.
Airship battles are cool, even if they can become a bit confusing as they bog down in the minutia. Military fantasy is always a balancing act between accessibility and those gritty little details of who is standing where and doing what. For the most part The Guns Above toes this line just fine; only a couple of times did I want it to get on with things. But be warned, there is plenty of maneuvering and a minutia of detail during battle that stand out dramatically from the books style the rest of the time.
A small airship is a strong setting for a book with a small cast as it forces constant character interaction without it ever feeling forced. In this case the cast mostly consists of Dupris and her resident spy Lord Bernat, spoiled noble placed on the ship only to help bring Dupris down. Dupris is a character I loved. Her struggle at the forefront of a political shift is something she recognizes and doesn't dismiss but being the best Captain she can is her number one priority. She is also genuinely funny, using a biting sort of humor that allows her to keep some distance.
Bernat was more of a mixed bag. He is first shown as something of a useless fop, my first thought was Jezel from The First Law as a comparison. But luckily he instead proves to be a capable young man without much motivation. He is also funny, and most of his conversations with Jezel are a riot to read. But as real as Dupris felt, Bernat rang a bit false for this reader. His actions at the end of the book don't necessarily match the man we met at first. And while I concede a first hand look at war could cause major changes in a man I think one extreme to the other is something of a stretch.
Overall this was quite an enjoyable read. Good characters, good humor, and a very quick and fun plot. But layered into it is a story of society on the move along with all the political ramifications that go with it. So while I didn't fall in love with the book as much as I hoped it is a book to be recommended. A secondary steampunk world with a kick ass air captain is absolutely worth checking out.
If you are a woman in business of a certain age, you have had the experience of being ignored when out with a male colleague. You say something at a meeting, and the answer goes to the man next to you. You might go to a conference, and the men ware spoken to first. You might be meeting a new client, and the man is the one who is greeted as sthe one in charge.
That is the overriding theme of this book. Oh, yes, there is a war on, and there are battles, and there are of course politics, but the underlying theme is that she is not respected as the first female steamerjack ship (a sort of war blimp).If anything, the general in charge is hoping that she will get killed in the ongoing battles, and the newspapers will stop writing about how wonderful she is.
The book has whit and humor, with the bantering between Bernart, an auristicat assigned to the ship, and Josette. And the world building is very well done. The disrespect that Josette receives is very real.
So, then, why the there stars? Because there is not suspense. You don't really fear for her life, nor for Bernat's life. Sure, the ship my get destroyed, and they might get wounded, but for the most part you never really feel that they could get shot. THey are important to the story, and they can't be removed.
So, it is a good war novel, told from both a woman's point of a view, as well as a toad of a lord. And I might read the next book, as the writing, as I said, is often quite whitty, but I hope they can get me to worry more about one or the other surveying.
Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review
Yet another lovely, underrated jewel to add to my collection 😁
This is a steampunk-military-fantasy(?)-historical-ish book that's got nearly everything I love; a badass female lead that shows the world just how capable and awesome she is, a crew I understand and love, more banter than I knew I needed, and the believable redemption of a hilarious and witty weirdo.
I didn't understand all the technical jargon. I don't seem to mind not understanding everything, and I didn't want to put down the book to sit and look everything up. Some explanations here and there were lost on me, but it didn't hamper my enjoyment of this. The dialogue and banter, though, was amazeballs.
I loved that even though Dupre was a female Captain, and the first at that,
I loved the character development and the way the characters subtly altered their minds about people and things. It was believable and realistic, and paced well.
And the action. It was non-stop, and things didn't go smoothly. There was damage and injury and changes to plans and desperate decisions. It was so intense.
And guys, no. romance. I'm so glad the author didn't feel a need to put it in there because it really didn't suit the scenarios and the characters in this instalment. The focus was purely on our characters and their challenges with fighting a war and doing what was right.
I'm so glad this isn't a standalone, and I can't wait to get my hands on the next book. I'm ready to see some more from this world.
The story had real promise. If it wasn't for the fact that every character hated women...
See, the whole point of the book is that men don't want women in the armed forces. The female POV did something amazing off camera before the book started and got her own command direct from the crown because of it. The General takes offense and sets about bringing her down by installing his nephew as a spy on the ship. He's our male POV.
Now, if this was a story about overcoming misogyny, that would've been one thing. It wasn't, though. Instead, the bulk of the book was spent hating women. The men hated the women. The women hated the women. The inanimate objects hated the women. Everyone hates women.
Until at a certain point it just stops being mentioned because: battle.
One the captain has to win or she'll be shipped off to some backwoods outpost that needs Quartermasters and "whores." Apparently, the army can't just order you to fuck. So, you know, institutionalized rape.
I am on a kick where I really want to read some bloody, snarky, cynically hilarious military fiction, and this DELIVERED. I care about everyone. I REALLY Care about Kemper, and Jutes, and Jossette, and the fop I guess, and ahhhhhh the war is ongoing and leadership is corrupt and pleeeease everybody survive I need you to survive.
It's technically fantasy cause it's an invented world but the tech level is a mashup of napoleonic war and WW1? Flintlock Fantasy, like Django Wexler's The Thousand Names, which is also quite good.
Within the writing style, it has a really good opener of the main character not knowing which war this is, they've been at war so long, for so little provocation. And then we get settled into doing our jobs and surviving, but that flavour of this all being for not much kinda seeps through, which makes the whole thing even MORE dangerous. Cause even if we survive, we may get thrown away if it's politically expedient, or in the next war.
An amazing first novel! The Guns Above delivers on its premise with a novel that's full of great characters, exhilarating airship battles, and unexpected humor. I didn't expect this book to be half as witty as it ended up being, but there are more than a few scenes where I wanted to take note of the banter to use next time someone was annoying me.
Josette Dupre is a character I can't wait to revisit. Cocky but not ridiculously so, respectful of authority but willing to buck it when necessary, and sure of herself but not to the point where she becomes insufferable. She's a person who is still growing into a position she knows she deserves while understanding she can still make mistakes. But if she thinks she knows better, you can be damn sure she'll let you know.
This was a fantastic read, and Robyn Bennis has earned a spot on my must-read list!
My favorite line in The Guns Above is one I wish didn’t have such truth embedded in the fiction’s dialogue. When protagonist Josette Dupre, commanding the Mistral signal airship for which the book series (“A Signal Airship Novel”) is named, is ranting about the uselessness of her efforts versus the incompetence of her commanding officers, she is asked, “’an entire war will be lost due to ego and bureaurcracy?” To which she responds: “’If you read between the lines of your history books, my lord, you may find it’s more common than you think.” (p 197)
It isn’t the snappiest dialogue in the novel because much of the dialogue is equivalent to Hawkeye Pierce’s better lines in M*A*S*H. But it is my favorite line because it perfectly epitomizes the tragic arrogance of a war set in an alternate history (or perhaps, fantasy history) between two fictional nations reminiscent of a combination of France-Britain and Germany during WWI. In this case, the territory being fought over (seeming vaguely like Alsace-Lorraine), seems to be fought by the Garnians versus the Vinzhalians. Strangely, since it is the “Vins” who are accused of being “dumpling” eaters, one somewhat associates them with the Germans when “Vins” would be expected to be applied to the wine-making, wine-loving French.
Regardless of the quality of the writing, it is difficult to categorize this series. Is it “science-fiction” and its sub-category of “steampunk?” The vessels are driven by steam and they don’t have exact counterparts in history. Is it alternate history? I hesitate to call it so when there aren’t any historical players amidst the fictitious war. It is not historical-fiction but it very much resembles those marvelous novels of “fighting sail” I love (Aubrey, Bolitho, Drinkwater, Hornblower, Lewrie, and Ramage). I suppose one could categorize it as pulp adventure, but I would normally ascribe some “super” or “supernatural” aspects to such. Yet, I think pulp adventure is the right category for this series (judging rather prematurely from the first volume).
The cast of characters is intriguing. The Guns Above begins with a misogynistic assumption which is carried forward by a vindictive and arrogant commanding officer who epitomizes the concept. Yet, the protagonist is a female who refuses to be consigned to a role of weakness. At times, she seems patient beyond that of Job (who wasn’t really all that patient if you really reading the whole Book of Job) within the straitjacket of military tradition, but at other times, she can’t resist reacting in a flame of temper. Her anger, resentment, cynicism, and closely-held secrets make her a well-rounded character.
Her counterpart starts out as a paper doll of an aristocrat. It would not be a spoiler to suggest that dimensionality is added as the book progesses, predominantly as a legitimation to keep the fellow aboard the Mistral. It was a brilliant stroke by Robyn Bennis to portray this “noble” who uses women as a blade who seduces older women. In this way, Bennis can stoke the would-be sexual tension between Lord Bernat and Josette and keep the badinage lively without having to worry about expectations to consummate any feelings prematurely and ruin the series (as seemed to occur after the coupling in television’s Moonlighting and I Dream of Jeannie to reveal my age).
As for my wishes, I only wish there were a few more weird inventions to cap the “steampunk” feel and more of a sense that I had skin in the game (I automatically add in historical considerations in the “fighting sail” novels that are missing for me in this book unless I draw in the comparisons of Alsace-Lorraine post-Franco-Prussian and WWI). Yet, as adrenaline-pumping pulp adventure and bold military action, I still have to rate this novel above my normal escape fare.
JUST the ticket: tons of logically choreographed maneuvers and military action that never seems repetitive, gender expectations being upset, tension between the two main characters that reads more like friendship than romance, and world class wit, to wit:
Josette walked up to the desk and casually brushed the papers aside. “Memoirs of a Woman of Ill-Repute,” she said. “That’s a damn fine book.” The cover was blank, giving no indication of the book’s title or pornographic content. The clerk looked at her with wondering eyes.“ I recognize the scuff marks,” Josette said. “That book’s been passed around more than the titular character. What are you up to, chapter seven? That’s my favorite one.” Behind her, Martel chimed in, “Chapter eight is my favorite. Those twenty-seven pages have gotten me through many a long flight."
One of the advantages of airship service,” Dupre said, closing the curtains. “Fresh air. If this were an army bivouac, it would already be filled with that musty, farty smell that follows the army around wherever it goes, like some olfactory badge of shame.” “You missed your calling as a poet,” Bernat said, rubbing his fingers together where they’d touched the lid. “Many have said so.”
“I figure you must have decided to blow your bloody hands off,” Jutes screamed, red-faced, “because that is the only reason a dumb bastard such as yourself would do such a bloody poor job of swabbing out a goddamn cannon! I could do a better job if I shoved my dick in there and pissed down the barrel. I’d demonstrate, but it’s too big to fit.”