Even have a complete disaster work out in your favor? Josette Dupris wakes up after her airship crashes a hero. This is not a Flashman scenario; her quick thinking after the commanding officer bites it truly are worthy of some accolades as the tide of battle was turned by her controlled crash. But deserved accolades or not Dupris finds that the disaster she survived is only going to lead to more problems in the future. Specifically, press she doesn’t want and a promotion that no one wants to give her.
For you see the new coed army thing isn’t going over well among some in the Garnian command. Women are only supposed to be auxiliaries and not actually brought to combat. So taking over a airship, saving the day, and having the nation’s press fall in love with your exploits? Probably not going to go over well with the Brass. Dupris soon finds herself with her own airship, an experimental specimen called the Mistral. And the first Captain’s pins for a woman in the land. But with this comes the certain knowledge that taking the spotlight from her commanders is not going to bode well when it comes time for her new assignment.
Airship battles are cool, even if they can become a bit confusing as they bog down in the minutia. Military fantasy is always a balancing act between accessibility and those gritty little details of who is standing where and doing what. For the most part The Guns Above toes this line just fine; only a couple of times did I want it to get on with things. But be warned, there is plenty of maneuvering and a minutia of detail during battle that stand out dramatically from the books style the rest of the time.
A small airship is a strong setting for a book with a small cast as it forces constant character interaction without it ever feeling forced. In this case the cast mostly consists of Dupris and her resident spy Lord Bernat, spoiled noble placed on the ship only to help bring Dupris down. Dupris is a character I loved. Her struggle at the forefront of a political shift is something she recognizes and doesn’t dismiss but being the best Captain she can is her number one priority. She is also genuinely funny, using a biting sort of humor that allows her to keep some distance.
Bernat was more of a mixed bag. He is first shown as something of a useless fop, my first thought was Jezel from The First Law as a comparison. But luckily he instead proves to be a capable young man without much motivation. He is also funny, and most of his conversations with Jezel are a riot to read. But as real as Dupris felt, Bernat rang a bit false for this reader. His actions at the end of the book don’t necessarily match the man we met at first. And while I concede a first hand look at war could cause major changes in a man I think one extreme to the other is something of a stretch.
Overall this was quite an enjoyable read. Good characters, good humor, and a very quick and fun plot. But layered into it is a story of society on the move along with all the political ramifications that go with it. So while I didn’t fall in love with the book as much as I hoped it is a book to be recommended. A secondary steampunk world with a kick ass air captain is absolutely worth checking out.