By Fire Above by Robyn Bennis
Note: By Fire Above is the second book of the Signal Airship series. This blog post--including the description of the book itself copied from Amazon--contains spoilers for the first novel, The Guns Above. If you haven’t read that yet, and want to, then read my review of that book here.
You can also check out the interview I had with the author Robyn Bennis here. We had a little too much fun with that one.
Anyway, one final warning: spoilers for book one of the Signal Airship novels, The Guns Above! (But none for By Fire Above. Promise.)
"All's fair in love and war," according to airship captain Josette Dupre, until her hometown of Durum becomes occupied by the enemy and her mother a prisoner of war. Then it becomes, "Nothing's fair except bombing those Vins to high hell."
Before she can rescue her town, however, Josette must maneuver her way through the nest of overstuffed vipers that make up Garnia's military and royal leaders in order to drum up support. The foppish and mostly tolerated Mistral crew member Lord Bernat steps in to advise her, along with his very attractive older brother.
Between noble scheming, under-trained recruits, and supply shortages, Josette and the crew of the Mistral figure out a way to return to Durum―only to discover that when the homefront turns into the frontlines, things are more dangerous than they seem.
I was extremely excited to get my hands on the sequel of The Guns Above, though I was a little worried when I read that bit about Bernat’s “very attractive older brother,” because that means there’s a romantic subplot centered on Josette. If you read my review of The Guns Above, the fact that Josette doesn’t have a love interest is one of the things I really like about that book. But I thought, You know what, this is Robyn Bennis. If she adds a romantic subplot, it’ll be hilarious and won’t detract from the main story.
And what do you know? I was right!
Well, sort of. The funniest thing about it is Roland’s (the love interest) bickering with his younger brother Bernat. Honestly, Josette’s relationship with Roland is born of their mutual desire to troll the hell out of Bernie. Which, speaking as an older sister and a woman with several guy friends...yup! Accurate.
The romance itself is really only present for the first third of the book. Then Josette hops back on her airship and resumes blowing things up, occasionally thinking about Roland and wondering what the heck she’s going to do with this thing between them. But mostly, he exists to act as her guide to the world of Garnia’s messed-up court.
Josette may have ended The Guns Above as a hero, but she’s still a woman with a unique ship, so getting the right supplies to repair all the damage is extremely difficult for her. It’s a common theme in Bennis’s writing, the realization that, “Oh, yeah, these seemingly insignificant details that most other stories would just skip over are really freaking important and will cause a fiery death for everyone if not addressed properly.”
So basically, Josette spends her time in the first half of the book trying to find a rich guy at court to pay for her repairs, trolling Bernie with Roland, while simultaneously trying to convince the military higher-ups to reclaim her hometown of Durum, which was taken by the Vins in battle The Guns Above.
Like all good sequels, By Fire Above did a great job of expanding on an intriguing world and cast of characters without overdoing it. We got to see a little more of who these Vins really are, especially when a majority of the fighting is actually up close and personal on the ground. While most of book one was split between Bernie and Josette in terms of POV, By Fire Above adds Ensign Kember, a somewhat minor character in the first book who finds herself with some very big shoes to fill and tough decisions to make.
Bennis gets bonus points for adding an LGBT+ angle, without making it a big freakin’ deal or the sole focus of the characters it affects. (Though, given some of the other characters’ reactions, this is going to cause some excellent conflict in book three.)
All total, By Fire Above is an excellent sequel to The Guns Above. Both books should be read by anyone with a passing interest in steampunk, military fiction, or SFF feminism.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!