The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

7.8/10
A lot of fun, with tense battles and a main character you quickly come to love
The Guns Above book cover

If you enjoy black powder fantasy, you are sure to love The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis. Combining elements of naval tradition with airships and pulse pounding action, there is a great deal to love in the first Signal Airships novel.

The Guns Above is a unique combination of fun tropes. The protagonist and much of the action remind me of the early Honor Harrington novels. However, Josette Dupris is far less of a Mary Sue than Honor. Also, instead of spaceships and discussions of zero-g tactics, we have airships and tense aerial battles. Bennis has obviously put a significant amount of time and thought into developing the ideas in this novel. But as you’re reading, you never feel as if information or complex ideas are simply being dumped into your lap. That she has put a great deal of work into building a realistic vision for airship combat is obvious, but what information the reader receives is perfectly relevant to the story at hand. This was excellently done. I quickly found myself in love with Dupris, the main character. Her struggles were interesting and engaging. I think Bennis did a fabulous job representing the privilege that men enjoy vis-à-vis women, particularly in traditionally masculine roles such as the military. Yes, it’s a secondary world, and therefore she could have crafted a world where those prejudices did not exist. But this world feels much like our own, and there is a great value in that. It was also impressive that she was able to craft a second character, Bernat, who I disliked so intensely at the start of the novel but who grew on me as time went on—and as he grew as an individual. I enjoy stories where characters have a discernible arc of growth and development, and that’s certainly the case in Bennis’ yarn. Two other elements of the novel deserve praise. The first is the genuinely witty and enjoyable banter, especially the banter that develops between Dupris and Bernat in the second half of the novel. The other is the vivid and engrossing battle descriptions, particularly the aerial combat. Bennis is second to none in crafting engaging battle prose.

There were a couple things that didn’t work as well for me. The first quarter or so of the novel felt like setup, and perhaps more setup than was strictly necessary. There were moments in the first chapters where I was sort of scratching my head as to where the action was. Once the action and suspense kicked in, they very rarely let up, but it did feel like it took perhaps just a tad too long for that to happen. I also found Bernat to be incredibly annoying early in the novel. I believe that’s intentional, and not a negative in and of itself. There were a couple moments, however, when it felt like he was almost over-the-top in being an idiot. This certainly allows for impressive character growth, but he starts from a place that is nearly comical, he’s almost more a caricature that grows into a character. I did love seeing that growth, so I can’t complain about this too much.

Bennis’ The Guns Above is a lot of fun, with tense battles and a main character you quickly come to love. If you’re a fan of Horatio Hornblower or Honor Harrington, but you also love airship, this is one you should pick up posthaste.

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