Sometimes you want a book to deliver on all fronts: strong characters, engaging story, gripping action, and a world that is both fantastic but also almost believable. I’m happy to say that By Fire Above, the second book in the Signal Airships series by Robyn Bennis, is all of these things. Taking place soon after events in the first novel, The Guns Above, we find our hard as nails airship captain and her crew taking some forced but much needed shore leave as they await the delivery of parts and luftgas for their ship, the Mistral. This sets up an opportunity for the author to have her character engage in a bout of character building that, to be honest, I found lacking in the first book. Not only do we learn more about Bernat via his brother, Roland, but we even get to see Captain Josette Dupre letting her guard down for a short time as she becomes involved with said brother. In the interests of full disclosure, I received a free copy of By Fire Above from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
By Fire Above captures much of the gritty realism of the first book in the series, but in smaller doses, and even then not really until the climatic finish. This isn’t a bad thing, though, because it allows the characters to take a respite from battle. This calm before the storm that is the latter part of the book is needed to inject a sense of normalcy into the characters’ lives and to ground them; no one can operate in the grisly theater of war without a break of some sort. Which is all well and fine, but that’s not why I started reading this book. Fortunately, Bennis moves on in the right amount of time, I felt. The next part of the book gets things moving again, right back into the war and back to Durum, the town Dupree once called home but which was taken by the enemy in The Guns Above.
This book really doesn’t miss a beat from the first one. It’s got more of the same gritty realism, the same bloody fight scenes, and the same tough as all get-out characters kicking ass. We also get to delve more into the mother/daughter relationship between Josette and her mother, as well as the toll the war has begun to take on Lord Bernat, who remains a dainty to some extent but who also bears the mental scars of many battles now. The Mistral remains an amazing yet deadly (to her enemies, but to her crew as well) machine of war and the crew are as resolute and daring as ever.
The only question I have about this series at this time is when is the next book coming out?
I’m giving By Fire Above a solid four rockets. The only reason it fell short of five is because of a storyline involving a certain first officer that, in my mind, didn’t play out especially well. I think the author could have spent more time developing the plot there. Instead it comes across as a way to keep certain other characters busy while events unfold in Durum. I’m intentionally being vague on this, but you’ll see what I mean when you read the book for yourself.