Take to the Skies with Robyn Bennis’ The Guns Above
Thu, 04/06/2022 - 2:52pm — Emily Walton
If you’re looking for a fresh, new fantasy to get lost in, take to the skies with Robyn Bennis’ The Guns Above. Flying in from Tor in May, this debut novel follows Josette Dupre as she stumbles (bloodily) into the role of the first female airship captain Garnia has ever seen. But her new position is fraught with trouble when General Lord Fieren assigns his foppish aristocratic nephew, Lord Bernat, to accompany her crew … while recording and overstating any false step she makes!
But when Josette discovers enemy information, it’s up to her, her crew and the maturing Bernat to prove themselves. We were excited to learn more about the crew of the airship Mistral — luckily Robyn answered all of our questions and more!
RT: Josette is the first female airship captain the country of Garnia has ever seen, and while she has the skills to back it up, her promotion is quickly used as political tool. What is it about Josette that drives her regardless of what others think?
Robyn: Alcohol. No, wait. That's what drives me regardless of what others think.
For Josette, though she'd never admit it, her drive comes from her upbringing. She grew up in Durum, a backwater of Garnia where she had to hunt if she wanted to eat. She was conceived out of wedlock — a topic of gossip even as she was growing up — and raised by a single mother after her father died. So she's been enduring bad attitudes and fighting through them for her entire life.
None of this quite prepares her when she's put in the crosshairs by her own commanding officer, however. To keep going through that level of abuse, she'll need to draw strength from her friends, her love for her ship, and … yeah, maybe some alcohol.
Meanwhile, Lord Bernat is sent by his uncle to spy on Josette and her crew for political leverage. Foppish and money hungry, Bernat and Josette have very little in common. What will it take for Bernat to begin to see Josette in a different light?
As is often the case, they have more in common than they realize, and each has qualities the other would admire if given the chance. That's one of the most insidious things about prejudice. It masks personal virtues, impeding respect and making itself that much harder to eradicate. For Bernat to see the real Josette, he'll have to experience the sort of personal growth and clear-sighted reflection that usually takes years. Then again, aboard a flying death trap in the middle of a war zone, a faster sort of personal growth can sometimes occur.
Your apartment is within sight of Hangar One at Moffett Federal Airfield in California. How did real world planes and ships inspire your detailed and intricate descriptions of airships? How did you go about researching and creating their design?
It started with a flight on an actual airship — the Eureka — out of Moffett. While cruising over Silicon Valley aboard a real-life Zeppelin, I divided my time between staring in awe out the windows and peppering the pilot and co-pilot with questions. That was the foundation, and atop that I laid books on airship design, histories of storied airships, and War Department manuals on their operations. Very little of that information actually made it into the book, because that would be boring, but it shows through in the pages. Plus, if there's ever a zombie apocalypse, I'll have a good start on building my own airship.
Can you tell us a little about your worldbuilding and where your inspiration comes from?
The worldbuilding in the air was, if not easy, then at least natural. From the very start, I wanted to bring the Age of Sail to a steampunk world, so I drew inspiration from a source I knew intimately: Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. I blended that period feel with real, historical airship services to create Garnia's Royal Aerial Signal Corps.
The social and political aspects of Garnia required more deliberate planning, which goes to show the sacrifices I'm willing to make for my art. With more than a little assistance from my awesome editor, Diana Pho, I looked for the everyday experience of people living in great societies as they went into decline: Rome, the Golden Horde, and Byzantium in particular. In those societies, decline was accompanied by more and pettier squabbling among the leadership class. And though the history books don't often focus on the day-to-day life of the lower classes, it's difficult to read the histories of those empires and not suspect that the common folk smelled disaster long before their rulers did. I've worked to capture a taste of that in the Garnia we see through Josette and Bernat's eyes.
Your book cover is stunning. Did you have any input regarding the design?
I know, right? I love that cover so much. Tommy Arnold and the Tor art team did an amazing job. As is pretty typical at a big publisher, I had limited input into the cover — which bothered me right up to the moment I saw it. Now I'm quite happy with the process, because you sure can't argue with the results.
This is your debut novel — congratulations! What’s your advice to budding SF/F authors?
Six words: read, read, read, write, write, write. Read everything you can, and write whenever you can snatch a free moment. Apart from being born with freakish natural talent, that's how you make it.
After this engrossing read, fans are sure to be clamoring for more! Are you working on anything else right now?
I'm happy to report that I've just turned in revisions for the sequel to The Guns Above, which currently bears the working title, By Fire Above. So readers are guaranteed at least one more adventure with Josette and Bernat. Apart from that, I have some ideas simmering in the back of my head, ranging from supernatural to space opera. We'll just have to see where the winds take me.
We’re ready to embark! Pre-order your copy from one of these retailers: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | Indiebound