The premise is Josette Dupre is a young peasant girl from the nation of Garnia. Garnia is a stand-in for Great Britain that is in the middle of a massive war with the nation of Vinzhalia. The war is not going well for Garnia because its commanding officer is a complete moron who doesn't know any other modes than attack. Things are, sort of, looking up for Josette despite this due to the fact she managed to score one of the few victories in the war by seizing command of her airship when its commanding officer was killed. This results in her becoming the first female commanding officer in the Signal Corps (the Air Force) which makes her a political target for those who think her actions make the leadership look bad.
What follows is Josette being assigned command of the "revolutionary new design" The Mistral. Choosing a mixed crew of men and women, she is assigned an "observer" in Lord Bernat who is actually there to spy on her and accumulate enough dirt to justify her removal from command. Josette knows this from the beginning and is determined to do her job to the best of her ability even if she's been set up to fail.
I really liked this book and am happy to give it 4 out of 5 stars. The best part of the book is the interaction between Josette and her crew. I like how she's a woman who is deeply frustrated with the limitations put on her career and suspicious of when things are going her way. We get a real sense of how she's ambitious but not really a reformer.
It's an interesting duality because you expect someone like her to want to change up things but Josette really just ants to keep her head down. There's even a time when she's revealed to have disguised herself as a male crewman when it was illegal to be a woman in the service. Robyn Bennis doesn't make Garnia a nation we particularly want to root for. They're a bunch of sexist, greedy, imperialists but our protagonists are on their side. Furthermore, it's implied their enemies are no better. It makes the conflict between them and their foes a bit of Gray and Gray Morality that I find fascinating.
I wasn't a big fan of the character Bernat because he's a bit too much of a chinless wonder and spoiled aristocrat. He gets a lot of character development but I think there's almost too much as his story starts to take over Josette's. I also think a bit too much time is spent on the physics of airships versus the character building. The battle scenes are incredibly well-described and quite violent but not in a bad way. It makes the sense of danger real and works well for the story's tension. We actually think our heroine is in danger and that's a rare feeling in sci-fi.
Despite this, I really enjoyed The Guns Above and think it's an amazing work. For those who love steampunk, military science fiction, and plucky heroines engaged in brutal battles where people get their hands blown off then this is the book for you. Really, the biggest problem of this book is the price tag. At nearly fourteen dollars, you could purchase a good two or even three equally entertaining works. Still, I think it was worth it.