The nation of Garnia has been at war for as long as Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupris can remember – this time against neighboring Vinzhalia. Garnia’s Air Signal Corp stands out as the favored martial child of the King. But though it’s co-ed, women on-board are only allowed “auxiliary” crew positions and are banned from combat. In extenuating circumstances, Josette saves her airship in the heat of battle. She is rewarded with the Mistral, becoming Garnia’s first female captain.
She wants the job – just not the political flak attached. On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat – a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. He’s also been assigned to her ship to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision. When the Vins make an unprecedented military move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself to the top brass?
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review. This has in no way affected my review of the book.
I haven’t read many steampunk/airship novels, but after this one, I might have to check out some more. The setting and worldbuilding was really well done, and I loved the attention to detail. The world felt like a real character, and an incredibly important element in the plot of the novel, and I enjoy books like that. I will note that reading about airships breaking in half while 10,000 feet in the air over the ocean on a several hour flight might make some of the elements of the story more nervewracking, but most of you will be reading it in more normal circumstances, I expect.
However much I liked the worldbuilding, though, I found the characters, and the plot they drove, largely unbelievable, cliche, and at times annoying. The main character is a “Badass Woman” who is, perhaps, the only competent character in the entire book. Pushing against the bounds of rampant sexism, she must overcome them to be the first female airship captain. At times, Dupris’s character definitely felt forced, in that she was so overly competent compared to everyone else, and could magically solve anything and everything and show those men who was best.
Her main antagonist, Bernat, was an utter fop to a degree that I more or less refuse to believe is actually possible for a human to actually be. But, of course, he’s handsome, has a heart of gold, and will make a miraculous turnaround into a good guy within an unbelievably short period of time. I had to stop myself from continually rolling my eyes while he was onscreen, or we were in his viewpoint.
In addition, the man who is supposed to be running the war, Lord Fieren, was also incompetent, absolutely clueless about political machinations, and I can’t believe that he could rise to such a high rank or hold his country’s army together and kept them in the war for so long with his idiocy.
Ignoring the characters, the war, however, was fairly well done. The characters have several debates about why the war is being fought, and while no conclusion is ever reached, it raises a lot of questions about wars, fighting, and whether it’s really worth it. In particular, there’s a scene where the main characters must ruin the livelihoods of a village of their own citizens in order to impede the oncoming army, and the characters have some very good debates about whether or not this is necessary, and they never really agree in the end, leaving the reader to form their own opinions on this difficult question.
The battle scenes produced by the war, in contrast, are straightforward. The prose and writing here made them quite easy to visualize, and I really enjoyed reading them. They felt highly realistic, gritty, and had a lot of intense moments. They were easily my favorite part of the book, and were an excellent way of showing off the worldbuilding and character competencies, and while I felt many of the elements of the plots felt contrived and forced, the battles were all believable.
However, in many of the moments when we were not in battles, the prose became so heavy-handed and on the nose that I actually did roll my eyes. So many moments where a character thinks something, and immediately, someone else says it or it happens, or, particularly in the scenes with the general and his echo-box aide, a character says something so utterly transparent that nobody could not see through it, and it passes unremarked.
It is a minor quibble compared to my larger praises and issues for the book, but the characters here definitely fell into the larger than life trope of being able to recover from anything, and be back on their feet almost immediately. When we first meet our protagonist, she’s injured after a battle, can barely stay conscious, and can’t even stand up. Within a few days, she manages to get back on her feet, take command of her own airship, and fight in a battle without acting any the worse from the wear. I really wish that books without magical healing would have more impact on their characters from the injuries that they sustain, and here, it really stood out to me that this did not happen.
However, I will admit that having invincible mega-healing characters allowed the author to skip over many parts that could have been boring, go right on to all the awesome stuff, and keep the pacing solid throughout the book. I read it all in a single day, and while I paused some at the beginning, by the time I really got into it, I was having trouble putting it down, and there were hardly any boring moments.
In summary, despite some horribly unbelievable characters, on the nose prose, and a glossing over of character injuries and battle stresses, I enjoyed the world and the war portrayed in the book, and found it to be a good, well-paced read. I give it three of five stars.