THE GUNS ABOVE
By Robyn Bennis
We love this book! The reasons for this overwhelming reaction are many and we’ll happily elaborate for your edification. Years ago, while still in high school, we discovered the works of British writer C.S. Forster and his clever navel hero, Horatio Hornblower. It was a romantic saga filled with action and heroes; the stuff teenage boys dream of. Then along about that same period in our creative evolution, we discovered the grand airships of old, from the German made Zeppelins to their American Navy counterparts, the Los Angeles and Macon. We began promptly collecting everything we could in regards to these fantastic clippers of the cloud.
Thus is should be no surprise to anyone that when we began our own publishing venture, we labeled it Airship 27 Productions. Now, we report all of this because in lieu of the ever increasing popularity of steampunk, more and more books have been written dealing with airships; including “The Guns of Above.” When we saw an ad on-line for the title, we immediately reached out to Tor Books and asked to receive a review copy. They were gracious enough to respond and last week it arrived, wrapped in a truly beautiful cover by artist Tommy Arnold.
Lt. Josette Dupre is an executive officer on a Garnian Army’s Aerial Signal Corp airship during the bloody war with their enemy, the neighboring nation of Vinzhalia. As the book opens, her ship, the Osprey has crash landed in the middle of a savage battle and her captain killed. Dupre takes command of the survivors and rallies the ground forces to salvage a victory from sure defeat. As a reward for her gallantry, she is promoted to Captain and given her own ship, a small scout christened the Mistral.
Now in the grand tradition of steampunk, we must explain these are not the more recognizable airships of our own reality, but actual steam powered rigid crafts containing multiple gas bags and armed with canons locked into wheeled tracks. The airmen fire powder and flint rifles. Considering this level of technology, it becomes all too clear within the first few chapters that life aboard these airships are fraught with peril, if not from enemy airships, then the very fragility of the ships themselves. And it is in this world where life and death waltz together in the heavens that Captain Josette Dupre finds her calling.
Whereas the mores of the time are not as advanced as the sciences and though women are allowed to serve in the aircorp, they are forbidden to participate in actual combat. Dupre’s promotion has nothing to do with her skills or heroism, but rather the fact that the war has decimated the ranks of qualified officers and that is why she is given Mistral; there was no else available. A fact she is all too aware of. But it doesn’t deter her from recruiting other women for her own crew and treating them as equals.
She even has a spy to contend with. The Commander of the Garnian Army, one General Hinkal, wants to see her fail and so orders his aristocratic nephew, Lord Bernat Hinkal to fly with the Mistral and there write up a secret report detailing Dupre’s failings so as to provide the General with the evidence he requires to have her dismissed and removed from command.
All of which would be easy enough to accomplish if not for two things. The first being Josette Dupre is very much a capable leader and skillfully leads her new ship into one hazardous mission after another gradually inspiring her crew and gaining their loyalty. While at the same time winning over Bernat, a spoiled dandy who, for the first time in his life, is given the opportunity to act like a man, to find his own self worth and in the process become Dupre’s most unlikely ally.
“The Guns Above” is a rousing adventure from first page to last and what is even more unbelievable is the fact that it is the author’s debut novel. It has been a long time since this reviewer has been so enamored with a fictional character so brilliantly conceived and realized. Captain Josette Dupre is such a figure and when you’ve read her adventures, you’ll add her to the ranks of such heroes as Hornblower and James T. Kirk. When Jan. 2018 rolls around, we will be nominating “The Guns Above” for the Pulp Factory Awards in the Best Novel category. Now go grab a copy and join us.