Friday, September 29, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Steampunk Airship Warfare with a Woman Captain

The Guns Above, by Robin Bennis (Tor)

Just wonderful! This steampunk military drama incorporates brilliantly realized airship technology, with the same level of loving detail and respect for the resourcefulness of the people on those ships as found in Patrick O’Brien’s novels, with international intrigue, military maneuvers and derring-do. 

Josette Dupre, one of the few women aviators in a made-up European country, became captain of her own airship almost by accident by being the highest-ranking surviving officer after a disastrous battle. Her troubles are only beginning, though, for she is sent on patrol with a crew that doubts her abilities, an experimental airship that is likely a death trap, and a dandified observer with a secret mission to prove women have no place in the air corps. 

Josette has a complex, appealing blend of confidence based on experience, keen common sense, bravery, and self-doubt. The book is nicely paced, full of exciting twists, and intriguing technology. As with the O’Brien books, I was struck by the level of scientific, engineering, and mathematical knowledge of the airmen. I’m not a military buff, but I found the action engrossing and the characters appealing. The sly humor, aimed mostly at the dandified aristocracy, added a wonderful touch. I found the geography and political history of the various fictional countries unnecessary and confusing at first, detracting from the dramatic action, and would have preferred closer parallels with existing European states. Otherwise, this was a fun, lively, and ultimately satisfying read.

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