Fantasy · historical fiction

The Philosopher’s Flight – Tom Miller

5 Stars

Lately, it seems like I’ve been accidentally gravitating toward books that have an element of “reverse-sexism” in them. In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan with her gender flip in Elven society and now, The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller, his debut novel. Let me tell you, I was blown away.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

The Philosopher’s Flight is an epic historical fantasy set in a World-War-I-era America where magic and science have blended into a single extraordinary art.

Eighteen-year-old Robert Weekes is a practitioner of empirical philosophy—an arcane, female-dominated branch of science used to summon the wind, shape clouds of smoke, heal the injured, and even fly. Though he dreams of fighting in the Great War as the first male in the elite US Sigilry Corps Rescue and Evacuation Service—a team of flying medics—Robert is resigned to mixing batches of philosophical chemicals and keeping the books for the family business in rural Montana, where his mother, a former soldier and vigilante, aids the locals.

When a deadly accident puts his philosophical abilities to the test, Robert rises to the occasion and wins a scholarship to study at Radcliffe College, an all-women’s school. At Radcliffe, Robert hones his skills and strives to win the respect of his classmates, a host of formidable, unruly women.

Robert falls hard for Danielle Hardin, a disillusioned young war hero turned political radical. However, Danielle’s activism and Robert’s recklessness attract the attention of the same fanatical anti-philosophical group that Robert’s mother fought years before. With their lives in mounting danger, Robert and Danielle band together with a team of unlikely heroes to fight for Robert’s place among the next generation of empirical philosophers—and for philosophy’s very survival against the men who would destroy it.

The Philosopher’s Flight was an unexpected hit for me. I had been told it was good by a friend and added it to my library holds list. It came in and sat on my nightstand as I passed it by to read other things. Until two days before it was due back at the library, and I couldn’t renew the book. I finally sat down to read it and I am regretting my tardiness.

I loved everything about this book, except for one little thing. I just don’t understand why sigilry is called empirical philosophy. Something like “applied theoretical physics” would have made more sense to me. Calling it philosophy just never clicked for me, and kind of turned me off from the book at first. Philosophy evokes this sense of the guys at my college who were philosophy majors and absolutely insufferable. However, that is not the case here and that small nitpick aside, I LOVE LOVE LOVED this book.

Robert Weekes is such an earnest man. His mother is his hero and he wants nothing more in the world than to join the US Sigilry Corps and fly Rescue and Evacuation in the wars. But, he’s a man. So there’s no way he can keep up with the women. It’s women’s work and he should be content to stay home and keep house.

This is where that delicious reverse sexism element comes into play. Robert faces challenges that are easy for women to relate to. They’re challenges that women have faced in society time and time again – and continue to face even now. An additional element to this is the Trenchers. They were an interesting foil to the Sigilrists. They read like religious anti-abortion activists, feeling a lot like today’s Men’s Rights Activists.

The Philosopher’s Flight doesn’t shy away from including other elements of the political atmosphere of the time. The people of color in the book still face racism and discrimination but in a twist, the civil rights movement, women’s rights movement and sigilrist’s rights movement seem to be working intersectionally, if not in unison, at least with some cooperation.

This book was just so well written and fleshed out so beautifully. I am already tapping my foot with impatience for the next book in the series, which is slated for June 2019.

 

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