Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Guns Above, by Robyn Bennis

Today I'm looking at a steampunk novel titled The Guns Above, by Robyn Bennis. This book is the first in a planned series chronicling the adventures of Captain Josette Dupre, Lord Bernat, and the crew of the Mistral as they fight to save their nation of Garnia from enemies on all front. This book is good, but I don't think it pushes any envelopes or goes into any new ground which means it fails to stand out among all the other stories that are out for the reader of steampunk fiction.

The book is set in the fictional country of Garnia, a nation that seems to be perpetually at war with its neighbors over territory or other petty reasons. Garnia may have been a military superpower in the past, but the situation has definitely deteriorated to the point Garnia is utilizing women soldiers in ''auxiliary'' capacities, theoretically non combat roles but in reality whatever role they need to fill. This is especially true in the Air Signal Corps, where getting volunteers courageous or insane enough to fly and fight on the incredibly dangerous airships is particularly difficult.

Josette Dupre is one such auxiliary and through the circumstances of everyone above her dying, she ends up in command of her airship and helping to save the Garnian army outside the city of Arle. As a dubious reward for her actions, Dupre is appointed captain of the new, revolutionarily designed airship Mistral. Forced upon her as well is the foppish Lord Bernat, nephew of the commanding Garnian general, and definitely a spy to find Dupre's every weakness and expose it so Bernat's uncle can get rid of Dupre once and for all and ensure the army remains a man's institution.

As I said, this doesn't feel like it's really pushing any envelopes. As I've pointed out before and will probably point out again, it seems almost obligatory for a steampunk work of fiction to have a feisty, female airship captain, scientist, or engineer who defies societal convention by being a woman in a ''traditionally'' male field. And may, horror of horrors, shock and tribulation, wear pants! I'm all for women being captains, scientists, engineers, spies, doctors, stockbrokers, greengrocers, bakers, telegraph operators, locomotive engineers, or any other profession they darn well please. But in 2018 having a woman as captain and it being a shock is quite frankly kind of passe. We've had female captains since the 1990's. Is it accurate for a Victorian society to be surprised at women doing things like being airship captains? Yes. Is it necessary for a fictional steampunk society to have the same surprise at women being captains? No, I don't think so.

So with most of the conflict being ''Dupre's a woman, and women shouldn't be airship captains'' I feel like this book didn't cover ground that hasn't already been covered by who knows how many books before it. Honestly I think an improvement would have been just have Dupre be unpopular with the Garnian high command because she's a commoner and more competent than the nobles are, which is why they send one of their own to spy on her and try to bring her down. Otherwise I thought this book was okay. I could have used a map of the countries to get a better understanding of where everything was geographically, but otherwise it was okay.

If you're looking for a steampunk military adventure, this is a pretty good choice, but don't expect it to bring anything particularly new or innovative to the table. At least, that's my opinion.

- Kalpar

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