Review: The Guns Above, Robyn Bennis


Although The Guns Above may be author Robyn Bennis’ first published novel, it certainly reads as though she’s found her voice — and a great story to boot.

Yours truly has found that debut novels can be tricky things. Sometimes you praise them more for the effort that clearly went into creating the world within rather than its execution. Sometimes, however, things work, and you make a note of that author’s name.

For me, Robyn Bennis is one of the latter, thanks to The Guns Above. This is the story of Josette Dupre, airship captain, and it’s also the story of Lord Bernat Hinkal (although he has several more names, all of which he uses when he introduces himself). They’re both aboard the Mistral, a new design for an airship, and it’s wartime, because of course it is.

This book ended up as a one-day reading, and for that alone it gets 4.5/5 stars. A funny, well-written, and well-characterized book like this one certainly shows that Bennis could go very far.

The Good

On the back of the print copy of The Guns Above, a couple of the blurbs talk about the humor of the book. One calls it “quirky,” another says “slyly humorous,” and I’ll go for “the sort of keen, subtle wit that I appreciate.” Bennis has an excellent sort of printed deadpan in this narration that juxtaposes beautifully with the latest absurdity of the situations her characters find themselves in. This stretches to her dialogue, as well (which is also praised on the back of the book, and with good reason, because it also reads wonderfully).

But beyond that, her characters actually work well together. (Some minor spoilers follow.) I enjoy that there didn’t seem to be any romance at all pursued between Josette and Bernat. Although I certainly suspect it could be coming if there are future books (and there are indications that there are, if the little “A Signal Airship Novel” on the front cover of the dust jacket means anything), the development in both characters means it would feel quite natural.

Additionally, I enjoyed Bennis’ casually pointing out the sexism in Garnian society — and particularly the military. It’s not subtle, and nor should it be with Josette as a lead, but nor does it get in the way of the story itself. It makes its points here and there and lets the action do the rest of the talking.

And boy, does the action do the talking. The book opens with a wrecked airship and goes on from there. All in all, the book makes a reader want to find out what happens next, and that quality is not always easy to find.

The Not-So-Good

My criticisms of this book are minor at best. However, there are times where it felt as though locations’ relative positions weren’t explained or weren’t explained enough to let a reader form a mental map. Additionally, a few lines seemed a bit more close to telling rather than showing, though those can be explained in the service of worldbuilding. After all, it’s the first novel. A little establishment never hurts.

The Recommendation

Those looking for a fresh voice with airship/military fiction might very well find it in Bennis and The Guns Above. This book is quite impressive for a debut novel, and yours truly is eager to see where things go from here.

Next: Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin, Sarah J. Maas

The Guns Above is available now.