Review: The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis
Narrator: Kate Reading
Series: Signal Airship #1
Published by Macmillan Audio, Tor Books on May 2nd 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Steampunk
Length: 11 hrs and 57 mins
The nation of Garnia has been at war for as long as Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupris 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?
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.
Audiobook Note: The narration for this was well done. Often when I struggle with a particular character, I feel like the inflection of the narrator can amplify the qualities that I’m struggling with (playing up aspects of the personality rather than toning them down as I might if I read in my head). I feel confident that my dissatisfaction with the character in this book was solely due to how the character was written and not the performance. I never felt like the sexist aspect of it was exaggerated from the text. And everything fun about this book was conveyed quite well.
Review originally posted on The Speculative Herald.