I'm trying to figure out how necessary firearms would be in an early to mid-industrial setting. From what I've gathered, it would be a stretch to say that the technology for firearms would go undiscovered in such a setting, but I'm not sure if it is inevitable for them to dominate combat and warfare.
I say this as someone not particularly familiar with the adaptation and development of firearms throughout history, but my understanding of early firearms is that they were slow to reload, generally inaccurate at range, and were not particularly reliable in general. That comes in addition to the hazards and logistics surrounding acquiring, handling, and carrying gunpowder.
I could easily imagine bows and crossbows being preferred over firearms, even as industry and technology advances. So is there just something about firearms that would make pushing them past those original flaws inevitable, or could an industrial society rely on other weapons without it feeling forced?
If alternatives could reasonably be used, what would they be? Bows, crossbows, or something else.
(By the way, just to clarify, I am just asking about firearms not seeing use; not explosives in general and heavier weapons like cannons.)