The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis is the humorous, female-led steampunk military drama you didn’t know was missing from your life. This debut novel, which came out last May, tells the story of Josette Dupre, Garnia’s first female airship captain, and her fight to keep her position, her ship, and her crew. The book gives an intimate and unromantic look at the harsh realities of war, while also managing to be an uplifting tale about trust, leadership, and unlikely friendship.
The story is told through the alternating perspectives of Josette and a foppish aristocrat, Lord Bernat. Josette unexpectedly rises through the military ranks when she takes command after her captain dies and leads the crew to a surprising victory. Though the country of Garnia has strict rules that are meant to keep women out of combat, Josette’s superiors have no choice but to grant her a captaincy and an airship of her own. Meanwhile, Lord Bernat could be given a military command in a heartbeat since his uncle is a prominent general, but Bernat much prefers to spend his time in gambling halls and the bedrooms of much older women. After squandering all of his money away, though, Bernat is force to apply to his uncle for help. He ends up agreeing to spy on Josette and sabotage her reputation before the presence of a talented female captain can embarrass the general any further. However, after watching Josette lead her ragtag crew through harrowing battles to impressive victories, Bernat is forced to reevaluate his loyalties.
One aspect of the book that I really wasn’t expecting, was the way it goes into fascinating detail about the mechanics of airships. You could tell that the author had done a lot of research. Personally, I have trouble visualizing these kinds of things, especially since I have no familiarity with the sorts of structures and machinery it might have been based on, so I sometimes got lost in these paragraphs of description. But for those who appreciate this level of detail and come to sci-fi for well thought-out depictions of science and tech (even of the early industrial variety), The Guns Above has plenty for you!
This book also had significantly more battles and warfare than I am used to reading about. I can’t say that anything with the words “military drama” in the description usually catches my attention. But in The Guns Above, the intricate battle scenes along with the depictions of daily life among the enlisted crew were truly integral to the story and managed to keep me completely enthralled. This book is about the camaraderie that naturally develops between those who risk their lives together, so with each battle or passing day in danger, you can see clear developments in the interpersonal relationships between the characters. It’s also quite simply a David and Goliath story of sorts, about one small woman and her crew up against seemingly insurmountable odds. And who doesn’t love seeing the little guy (or girl) win?
The Guns Above was simultaneously fun and light-hearted while also somehow deep and moving. If you’re a long-time fan of steampunk or just looking for something new to try, I highly recommend it. You can find The Guns Above at your local bookstore or click the affiliate link below to purchase it online from independent bookstore and support The Gothic Library in the process: