Gasbags and Gunnery Created by ggrihn on 9/28/2017 11:04:07 PM
The Guns Above, by Robyn Bennis
Reviewed by Gregory G.H. Rihn, Steampunk Chronicle Literary Editor
The Guns Above is certainly one of the better novels of airship combat to come to my attention.
The protagonist, Josette Dupre, an “Auxiliary Lieutenant” in an air service that grudgingly tolerates female members, finds herself in the uncomfortable position of being a hero, having crashed her crippled airship on top of a strategic enemy redoubt at the crucial point of a critical battle. Her position is uncomfortable because the commander of her army, General Lord Fieren, despises women in the arm in general, and Dupre in particular for having inadvertently embarrassed him.
Fieren decides to deal with Dupre by promoting her into the regular line, confirming her command, and sending her into harm’s way where he hope she will be killed. As insurance, he also saddles her with his ne’er-do-well nephew, Lord Bernat Hinkle, who has instructions to spy on Dupre and distort her actions to her detriment.
Fieren’s plans run aground on the shoals of Dupre’s initiative and competence, not to mention her bloody-minded attitude. What follows is a good war story that includes what I think must be some of the most realistic depictions airship-to-airship combat to date. One’s initial thought of “gasbags armed with cannons” are similar to the description of WWI era battlecruisers as “eggshells armed with sledgehammers,” but Bennis makes both the vulnerability and the resilience of her airships credible. The climactic air battle scene with the airships hunting one another in a cloud bank has a level of tension approaching the submarine combat in The Hunt for Red October.
Although this world isn’t our world, the otherwise Napoleonic level of technology and tactics inspires inevitable comparison to C.S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian. There’s also a good bit of Richard Sharpe in Josette Dupre, particularly when the battles get down into the mud and the blood, which is all to the good.
Lord Bernat, despite himself, becomes impressed with Dupre, and a valuable member of the crew, becoming a sort of cross between Sergeant Harper and Dr. Maturin to Dupre’s Sharpe/Aubrey.
This is a very well-written Steampunk military adventure. Dupre’s career will be worth following.
The Guns Above at Amazon