Audiobook Review: The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of Signal Airship
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (August 29, 2017)
Length: 11 hrs and 57 mins
Narrator: Kate Reading
The Guns Above is a book that has been on my radar for a while, and so when the audio edition became available I decided to take the plunge, doubly excited by the fact that it would be read by one of my favorite narrators, Kate Reading.
From the look of the book’s cover, I had deduced that the story would be a military fantasy, though in truth it is a bit more complicated than that. For one thing, the presence of magic in this world is sparse to non-existent, not to mention that the tone and style of the setting more is more strongly reminiscent of something you’d find in the historical fiction adventure genre. And then of course we have the steampunk allusions with the airships and aerial battles, which certainly injects a fair amount of thrills and action.
As the novel opens, we are introduced to protagonist Josette Dupre, an airship captain in the Garnian Navy. While in general women are not frequently given command posts, her kingdom has been at war for the better part of life—most recently against the nation of Vinzhalia—and the military has need of all the warm bodies it can get. And thus, when Josette unexpectedly turns the tide in a major battle against the enemy while serving as an Auxiliary Lieutenant, she is rewarded with a promotion and an airship of a “revolutionary” design, a term which everyone in the navy dreads because it almost always means an experimental deathtrap. However, Josette is undaunted, taking to her new role as captain of the Mistral with aplomb even when the powers that be are it making no secret their contemptuous dismay at having a female in such a highly placed position.
In particular, Josette’s promotion has caught the attention of a general who is determined to see her fail and removed from the service. As it happens, his nephew, the pampered and foppish Lord Bernat is in need of some focus and discipline in his life, and so the young nobleman is summarily assigned to the Mistral to act as a spy for his uncle. Bernat’s orders are to keep an eye on Josette, cataloguing all her flaws and mistakes for a negative report that will lead to her dismissal from the navy. However, as the airship crew heads into battle against the Vin, Bernat gets to witness Josette’s leadership firsthand, and eventually comes to respect her abilities for strategy and command.
Let me first begin by saying I enjoyed The Guns Above. This book had all the tensions and urgency of one of my favorite genres, which is military sci-fi or space opera, except that the setting here more resembles the era of the Napoleonic Wars, of course. I always find myself caught up in the thrill of the moment whenever I’m treated to scenes of ship-to-ship assaults, reveling at the complete mayhem of hull breaches, blaring alarms, and panicked officers barking out orders. To my absolute joy, the airship assaults featured in this novel can certainly give any epic space battle a run for its money.
But for all the action in the story, I thought the character development was the best part of the book and would have liked to have seen more. Initially, I was perplexed as to why I wasn’t enjoying myself as much as expected, until I realized how much of the plot was dominated by battle scenes and action sequences. Since at the time, my schedule was only allowing me to listen to this audiobook in short bursts, the constant barrage of pandemonium actually became a little tedious when in fact I was feeling in the mood for something more substantial. It wasn’t until the later parts of the novel that I began to feel more invested in the story, and not surprisingly this was also when the friendship between Josette and Bernat finally evolved to the point where their interactions became more interesting. There was one particular bar scene that was my favorite, where the humor and camaraderie between the characters was on full display.
All told, I definitely enjoyed the second half of the novel more than the first, once story and character relationships were firmly established and began to evolve. At the very least, The Guns Above was fast-paced high-flying adventure full of explosive action and intrepid personalities. The audiobook was also a great listen because of the superb narration. As always, Kate Reading nailed the performance, her voice being the perfect match for Josette’s poise and strength. This book is the best kind of escapism, especially if you’re a fan of military fantasy or speculative fiction with a nice steampunk flavor. I’ll be keeping my eye out for the second Signal Airship installment. Given all the groundwork completed here, I think the next one will be great.